“My father always instilled the value and necessity of giving back to the community,” said Spain. “So even when we didn’t have a lot of money and the family business was just growing, he felt a real responsibility to give back to the community. My father was my business guru in life and my mother is my social and community guru.”
Bernard passed away in January 2021, but his memory and all that he held dear continue to fuel Spain on a daily basis. Spain, 52, who resides in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood with her husband, Walt Moore, and their two rescued cats (two more rescues reside in her office), explained that when one goal has been reached or one problem solved—whether in philanthropy or business—she moves on to the next. Resting on her laurels has never been an option for this entrepreneur. Rather, her MO has long been rolling up her sleeves and doing what it takes to complete a job—with only the utmost quality.
Her charitable endeavors run the gamut, all with a profound impact throughout the Philadelphia region, a place she has called home her entire life.
Spain, her older sister, Debbie, and their parents, lived in Montgomery County until she was 16. They then moved to Washington Square. In fact, to the same high-rise condominium complex where she currently resides.
Her foray into volunteering and philanthropy began before she was a teen. She distinctly remembers that first event—a fund-raiser her parents were coordinating for Moss Rehabilitation Center. “When I was 12, going on 13, some friends and I went from table to table and sold scrip (like monopoly money) for the casino charity night,” she said.
Spain also worked in the family business throughout her early years. Yet, she initially decided to take a different professional path. After graduating from Northwestern University with a dual major in International Political Science and French, she worked as a French translator on the currency option exchange. “This was before the euro,” she said. “I worked for a French bank. We had to translate deals from English to French.” Spain, who is fluent in the language, said her father wooed her back to the family business.
For 12 years, she was director of training and communications for Spain’s Gifts/Dollar Express, until it was sold in 2000. She was also the COO and owner of Philadelphia Style magazine, expanding the publication to the Washington, D.C. market.
Currently, Spain is the managing partner of Spain Property Group, a real estate development company that focuses on historic rehab and the revitalization of Philadelphia neighborhoods. In 2018, she became director of community relations for Volumetric Building Companies (VBC), a global business that specializes in modular construction. “We’re one of the only end-to-end modular construction companies,” explained Spain. VBC has plants in Pennsylvania, California and Poland.
“After the Northeast, the West Coast is VBC’s second-largest modular market,” said Spain, adding that the company is involved in the architecture, engineering, manufacturing and sometimes even the actual construction of a project.
Modular construction, Spain noted, has a multitude of benefits. “Construction can take place year-round in an off-site, climate-controlled environment.” And not only is the process more environmentally friendly than traditional construction, but manufacturing is much faster. The constructed components are then shipped to a site, unpacked and put together on the spot—much like one would snap Legos into place.
Spain’s history with VBC goes back to 2016, when, while wearing her real estate developer hat, she built her first modular building with the owner. She then became a consultant to the company. With a growing interest in the potential of modular, in 2021, she founded and became president of the company’s charitable arm: VBC Giving Foundation. The foundation, Spain noted, was born from the COVID crisis and escalating housing shortage. The purpose: to build affordable housing for vulnerable populations.
That goal has translated into Spain’s most recent philanthropic endeavor—the construction of a 47-unit modular building that will house veterans, a population she describes as largely underserved. Located in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, the Veterans Village is scheduled to open this summer.
“It is their first step back into permanent apartments,” said Spain, elaborating that the project is a direct evolution from HAVEN (Helping Achieve Empowerment Now), a homeless shelter she founded in 2016 for female veterans.
“The government was putting these women back into squalor,” said Spain. “There were scattered sites in the middle of nowhere. Some had no appliances.” These women, added Spain, were ready to get on with their lives. She grew exhausted and frustrated by what she saw and spoke with her father about finding a solution. They decided, with mutual resolve, to build a high-quality building, open to all veterans.
The first $1 million to fund the building came from the Joan and Bernard Spain Family Foundation. The donation was made shortly after her father’s passing. “It’s my father’s legacy project,” said Spain, though he didn’t live to see it come to fruition.
Spain’s passion for veterans was a sentiment she shared with her dad. “My father was an Army veteran of the Korean War era,” she said. “He later became a CPA. He always felt that veterans got a raw deal. They go and fight for their country to keep our freedom, and then they come back and are left to drift. He was very passionate about that.”
Spain aspired to serve the country by “serving those who served.” That segued to board membership and later becoming president of Liberty USO and as a consultant for the Veterans Multi-Service Center. Prior to that, her love and compassion for animals led her in 2005 to the founding of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which operates veterinary clinics, adoption centers and retail stores throughout the region. “It’s the city’s largest no-kill center,” said Spain, who was at the helm for 11 years. “We went from a high-kill city with a save rate of 11 percent to a no-kill city, with a save rate of 85 percent.”
Spain is also a longtime supporter and former board member of Mural Arts Philadelphia. She commissioned a mural that appears prominently on one side of the new veterans’ building. She previously commissioned murals for PAWS—in Brewerytown and Northern Liberties. “I promised Jane Golden, executive director, that whatever building I build, it will have a mural on it,” said Spain.
Although her dedication to making the world a better place continues to drive her, Spain still finds time for hobbies and simple pleasures, including yoga, kayaking, fishing and horseback riding, whenever she gets the chance. She described her husband as an avid fisherman. The two enjoy quality time kayaking and fishing. Moore, who was in law enforcement for 25 years, retired in 2016 and now works as a boxing trainer for professionals and amateurs.
Before the pandemic, the couple, who married in 2020, frequently traveled abroad. “We would spend every New Year’s Eve in Paris,” said Spain. Their worldwide adventures included African safaris. That all changed in 2020. Yet, they continued to be mobile, traveling to various parts of the United States and renting Airbnbs.
Last year, the couple shocked their family and friends when they purchased a 318-square-foot RV and a pick-up truck to “see this great nation.” It’s given them the opportunity to visit numerous destinations, such as Las Vegas, Utah and Arizona—one of their favorite places. “It’s a full home on wheels,” said Spain. “Like a little Manhattan apartment.” They traveled the country from February through May of 2022 and will get back on the road in late July.
Not only have they seen the nation’s beauty and relished the great outdoors, but Spain has also taken the time to visit VBC sites and meet with clients.
Spain’s long list of accolades includes being honored by former Governor Ed Rendell as one of the 50 best businesswomen in Pennsylvania, named one of 40 under 40 by The Philadelphia Business Journal and the Next Generation Philanthropist by the Association for Fundraising Professionals.
To what does she attribute her vast success? “You’ve got to be mission-driven, tough and have a strong stomach for risk,” said Spain. “You’ve got to do the hard work. There’s always more to do.
“Every five to seven years, I either change careers or charities. My father said that I bore easily, ‘so keep it interesting.’” Spain has heeded his advice.
“What I like about any business venture—whether it’s for-profit or non-profit—is the organic growth stage,” she said. “I like the roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty. Take a need and address that need. Once it becomes sustainable, I kind of look at my watch and say, ‘I did what I need to do here, there are other wrongs to be righted’ and I move on.”