Last week, United Way of Central Maryland’s affinity group, Women United, hosted its 2nd annual Women’s Forum at the American Visionary Arts Museum. Celebrating the “power of women,” this group calls on the community to create a force for change through volunteering, advocacy, networking and educational events.
Overall, the work of United Way is to help families facing poverty create stability and self-sufficiency through programs focusing on Housing and Income, Education, and Health. They believe that these building blocks are the key to change for many of the societal challenges we face in Baltimore, in Central Maryland, and beyond. The United Way’s five affinity groups are the volunteer legs of the organization, providing financial support, advocating for the organization and the families it serves, and participating in hands-on service. Women United has raised over $2 billion to support change for Maryland’s families.
I spoke with Marianne Mattran, President and Co-Founder of Foundry Wealth, about her volunteer experience with Women United. A former chair of the local affinity group of over 1,400 local women, she now sits on the Women United National Council. Her enthusiasm for the work of Women United is contagious, and she invites us all to get involved. She shared that the Women United groups around the country have coalesced around the signature issue of education, and are making great strides, focusing on impact and efficiency.
The 400 guests at AVAM heard from a panel of experts about how education affects family stability. Moderated by WJZ’s Denise Koch, the panel included Dr. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, Barbara Siemer, of the Siemer Institute for Family Stability, and Dr. Michelle Gourdine, CEO of Gourdine & Associates. Together, they highlighted the challenges of many youth in our region who must navigate homelessness, hunger, health challenges, and other barriers to staying in school.
Dr. Balfanz’ research on high school drop out rates was brought to life for the crowd through the “Frontline” segment titled Middle School Moment, featuring a young girl from the Bronx, Omarina Cabrera. Omarina was an “at risk” child, struggling in school, combating poverty, and moving around. Her teacher and principal intervened, providing support and guidance to Omarina, helping her stay in school, and giving her a reason to care. Because of their help, Omarina excelled, and was recruited to an elite boarding school in Massachusetts for high school. She will attend George Washington University this fall. She shared this good news with the audience in person. The pride and joy in the room was palpable – everyone wanted to be a part of her success story.
Although the luncheon kicked off with a fantastic performance by the Furman L. Templeton Elementary School Choir, and ended with the inspirational comments of best-selling author Laura Lippman, it was clear that the star of the show was Omarina. The ability to change a life like that is powerful, and Women United is a gateway for this change.
To see the calendar of upcoming events and get involved, check out their website.