By: Sarah Zelhart, Finance and Operations Director, Make-A-Wish America
Women United Steering Committee Member
“Women United and Valley of the Sun United Way have lofty goals. One that we are highly passionate about is ensuring children have the food they need to succeed. We know children who are hungry, struggle to pay attention. Without concentration, learning is more difficult. Children who struggle with learning are more likely to drop out. Individuals without a high school education will struggle to earn a livable wage. Without a livable wage, risks for homelessness and living below the poverty line increase.
As part of the Women United group, we were educated about the link between hunger and learning and a lightbulb went off. This was a problem we could address. We could purchase equipment for schools that would help serve Breakfast in the Classroom. Serving every child in a school a nutritious breakfast sets the tone for their day.
All we needed was about $4,000 for each of the 134 schools that had students who were 85% poverty or above. All we needed to do was raise about $550,000. Seems simple right?
We decided to put on a show. In the movies, it is easy. You find a way to bring people together, you explain the problem, you bring the community together and you ask for their help. Could that work for us?
Yes. It could. And why? Because we believe in women. Specifically, we believe in the women in our community. If we could gather the women (and men) of our community and explain this very simple solution, our community would respond. If we could do it in a beautiful setting, with a delicious lunch, with an inspiring speaker? Our goal would reach itself.
We set out to raise the $550,000 over three years. We knew it was a Herculean task. Starting anything new always is. There was no map or list of what worked last year.
We assembled a team that was all in. Staff, volunteers, planners, vendors. We found our first inspiring speaker in Leigh Ann Tuohy. The mother of Michael Ohr, Collins and Sean Tuohy was portrayed spot-on by Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”. She rallied our troops, she spoke from the heart. (Also, Sandra Bullock did not overplay her, at all.)
Our brilliant auctioneer, Leticia Frye. Who could possibly say no to a passionate, six-foot blonde in the highest heels I have ever seen? Many of us saw her work the room, but what we may not have seen was her insistence that she go see Breakfast in the Classroom. It was important to her. She made it important to everyone in the room.
This idea started with a spark of a conversation over a glass of wine. Could we? Would people come? Could we really raise the money?
The answer you already know, we did. You have seen Geena Davis, Vanessa Williams, our brilliant staff and volunteers and teachers who came to express their gratitude. We did it, dear friend, not in three years but in two. Now we have turned our focus to doing even more in the fight to end child hunger.
I am inordinately proud that I was a small part of those first conversations. That we created a way for all of us to join the fight. We continue to rally the troops. We know we can make a difference. We know we need your help. So, please, come see the show this year. Hear our plea. Help us demonstrate the power of Women United in our community.”