Dream Corps

Tonie Willis

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Dream Corps

Tonie Willis

Tonie Willis


Founded in 2012, Ardella’s House is a service and advocacy non-profit organization committed to
helping women with criminal justice histories realize new possibilities for themselves and their families.
Our programs make it possible for women to obtain work, housing, and health care; to rebuild their
families; and to participate fully in civic life. Through her Institute on Women & Criminal Justice, Tonie is
realizing her vision as a tireless advocate for a rigorous policy, advocacy, and research agenda that
brings new perspectives to public debates on women and criminal justice and the enormous toll that
mass incarceration has taken. Most recently she has been a vociferous advocate for the “Dignity Act,” a
series of bi-partisan legislation provisions in Pennsylvania to bring dignity to incarcerated women; to
end shackling of pregnant women; to provide adequate access to feminine hygiene products; to
support keeping families together by limiting the distance of a woman’s incarceration so that she can be
closer to her family; and to recommend diversionary sentencing for women who have been convicted
of non-violent crimes.
As a cut#50 Pennsylvania Ambassador, Ardella’s House has hosted the National Day of Empathy in
Philadelphia to generate empathy and to humanize and uplift the stories of women and their families
who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. This work has created a new vocabulary that
changes not only how we speak about incarcerated women, but also provides a moral clarity about how
with think about restorative justice.
As a visionary leader, Tonie’s advocacy supports access to transitional housing for family reunification.
This has been a priority especially when as many as 60 percent of incarcerated women are mothers. Her
work at Ardella’s House provides assistance to over 800 women and their families annually and offers a
continuum of care in the areas of employment, housing, family, health and wellbeing, and criminal
justice compliance.
Over the years Tonie has received many honors including being selected as a “Game Changer” by CBS TV
and has been honored by City Council for her compassionate advocacy for women. In 2016, Tonie was
appointed by Mayor James Kenney to serve on the Philadelphia Commission for Women
commission-for-women where she continues her advocacy on behalf of incarcerated and formerly
incarcerated women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been a leader in providing resources to
women released from jails and prisons by providing food, masks, transportation, and housing referrals.

Tonie was recently appointed to the board of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Community
Empowerment Opportunity https://www.phila.gov/2021-02-01-ceo-announces-the-appointment-of-13-
new-board-members/ where she elevates the economic and employment needs of formerly
incarcerated women. She is a former member of the Parole and Probation Advisory Board, serves on
the Working Group on behalf of the rights of incarcerated women, and on the Council of Incarcerated
and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls.
Dedicated to her late mother, Ardella Willis, Ardella’s House is a place with a purpose to bring hope and
to lift the spirit of others. This was Ardella’s life’s work and it is Tonie’s too.

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