United Way Forum reveals the power of women

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— The United Way has realized progress in issues facing the community and one goal of the nonprofit is to continue to have a positive effect locally and in cities throughout the country, according to the organization’s national president.

“We’ve been incredibly encouraged by the power of women [that] come together and tackle tough issues. Women aren’t afraid to get involved,” said Stacey Stewart, United Way’s United States president, who addressed the recent United Way of Central Maryland’s Women’s Leadership Council Forum in Baltimore. “They have an incredible amount of energy and compassion to care for their families and community.”

Stewart leads the strategy for the 1,200 United Ways across the country.

The forum convened to celebrate dynamic business and community leaders who are committed to igniting the power of women to advance the common good, officials said.

“This was the council’s inaugural Women’s Forum, celebrating the Council’s 15th anniversary and United Way of Central Maryland’s 90th anniversary,” Stewart said. “The forum focused on the immense impact its members have had, changing the odds for families and communities right here.”

The forum also brought together more than 400 women business and community leaders from many sectors throughout central Maryland who are united in our desire to lead and change things for the better.

“The energy in the room was contagious. A lot can happen when women come together. It’s electric and these women are part of the largest women’s movement in the world,” Stewart said.

Many of the stories shared at the forum focused on women working together for the community. Speakers included Patty Brown, the senior vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine and president of Johns Hopkins HealthCare LLC, who shared how a friend invited her to an event where she joined the council. Brown now chairs the United Way of Central Maryland’s board.

Many of the panelists like Dr. Pamela Brown, the executive director of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, told the forum about how they call each other to get help for families in need. Brown called Sandy Monck at the United Way, and together they successfully helped a woman and her family of nine who were living in a one-room motel.

“As Mika Brzezinski shared at the forum, ‘you can help more people if you increase your value.’ When women come together and feel empowered and encourage each other, they can change the world,” Stewart said.

In Maryland, there are several issues that need attention to help family stability, she said.

For example, in Baltimore City, 86 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch and Maryland ranks as the 4th most expensive state in the country for housing costs, and families are the fastest-growing homeless group.

Stewart says the child food insecurity rate in Harford County stands at 18.7 percent and, in central Maryland, 345,000 families are food insecure and are lacking healthy food which prevents children from learning because they tend to get sick more often.

“The good news is, we are making a difference. United Way’s Access to Healthy Food Initiative has already provided 8.2 million pounds of food to low-income families in central Maryland. That’s millions of meals,” Stewart said.

Since its inception, and as a result of its family stability programs, 213 families still have a place to call home and 479 children have remained in their school of origin.

“We worked with 18 teen parents so far at the new United Way Family Center at Ben Franklin High School to provide the support they need to stay in school, graduate, and look to the future,” she said.

Stewart says the second of its two scheduled forums for 2015 will be held on Saturday, June 6, 2015.

“My goal as president is to work with the more than 1,200 United Ways to create opportunities for a brighter future for all of us by focusing on the building blocks of a successful, self-sufficient life, [including] education, financial stability and health,” Stewart said. “By working together and addressing the root causes of issues in each local community, we can ensure kids come to school ready and help more young people graduate from high school and get on the right path to a successful future.”