Women United for a Cause

In recognition of Women’s History Month, Women United, a philanthropic arm of the United Way of Thurston County, recently participated in an interview regarding Thurston Community Media’s Mission Non-Profit series.

Women United was previously known as the Women’s Leadership Council here in Thurston County. They recently evolved the program with the idea of being more inclusive to all types of women. There are Women United representatives all over the world including over 70,000 members nationwide.

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The YWCA of Olympia is one of the organizations that has benefited from the generosity of Women United. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia.

As a philanthropic network and giving circle, members contribute dues and raise funds to distribute to local non-profits through an annual grant process. Their focus is on supporting agencies that specifically help women and girls, with a particular emphasis on those who work to empower them to become financially stable and self-sufficient.

In 2016 Women United gave out $50,000 in grants to programs like the YWCA’s Economic Empowerment Program and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County’s Smart Girls Program. Grants typically range from $1,000 up to $15,000, and recipients are selected through an application process stewarded by the Women United Grants Committee. This year’s grant process closed on March 10, and finalists will be announced at the upcoming Power of the Purse fundraiser on April 28.

According to Hillary Soens, CEO of the YWCA, “Women United has been really instrumental in enabling us to help women become financially stable and move into careers that are beyond minimum wage.”

Other past grant recipients include Family Support Center – Pear Blossom Place, CIELO – Stitch by Stitch, South Sound Parent to Parent – Effective Communication, Dry Tikes/Wet Wipes, GRuB’s Project MAMA and the SafePlace Children and Youth SPEAK Program

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Power of the Purse is the main fundraising event for Women United. Photo courtesy: United Way of Thurston County.

Power of the Purse is their largest fundraiser of the year, with the majority of funding raised coming from this event. This year there will be a both a live and silent auction as well as a dessert dash. All of the proceeds will go into the grant funding pool, and they are hoping the event will be so successful that they will be able to award more grants than currently planned. Their other large event is the annual Shelter Shower, typically held in December.

Randi Nandyal, development officer and Women United’s liaison for United Way of Thurston County, shared how the funding distributing works, “All of the money stays in this area, all the gifts stay local here in Thurston County, which I think is so important. You get a bunch of women in the room having fun, philanthropy kind of comes naturally. Women are a philanthropic force.”

Because of the inclusive nature of the group, they often get to see their efforts come full circle. At a recent member retreat, a graduate of the YWCA’s Economic Empowerment Program, which received a grant from Women United, spoke about her experience as a victim of domestic violence and her struggle to get back on her feet after leaving her abuser. After successfully graduating from the program, she became a member of Women United in order to give back.

Miss Moffett's Mystical Cupcakes
With three locations around Thurston County, Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes owner, Rachel Young, is definitely busy. She gives back through Women United. Photo courtesy: Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes

The Women United Volunteer Committee pulls together members to support local non-profits with service projects like painting or hosting events. Randi said, “One day you’re painting the walls of an organization like Cielo, and the next day you’re at a job fair, showing young women how to put together a resume.”

Members are invited to give back in ways that play to their strengths. Rachel Young, the owner of the local bakery, Miss Moffett’s Mystical Cupcakes, has figured out her niche. In addition to contributing desserts for their fundraisers, she shared how she remains involved, “I’ve started doing a monthly cupcake birthday party at a local women’s shelter that I found through Women United. Once a month I take cupcakes there and, with the kids that live at the shelter, we decorate cupcakes and celebrate their birthdays, and it’s really special.”

Women come to the group for lots of different reasons, and those from all walks of life are welcome. According to Randi, “We have lawyers, we have mothers, we have cupcake connoisseurs, we have women who have run other businesses, and we have women who have worked for the government, all sorts of women.”

Randi initially started at United Way of Thurston County with only a part time role with what was then the Women’s Leadership Council, but after she watched things evolve over the course of six to nine months, she was inspired to throw herself into the effort full time. “The positivity that surrounds it was just something that I really wanted to be a part of, and I want everyone in my life to be a part of,” Randi explained.

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Women United will be raising funds on April 23, 2017 through Power of the Purse. A dessert dash is sure to be a hit. Photo credit: United Way of Thurston County.

Rachel was raised by a single mom of seven kids, and they struggled with financial hardship themselves and relied on the support of social service agencies to help them get by. “I didn’t grow up knowing what philanthropy really was. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to the United Way and the ability to make a difference in the community because I feel like I’ve come so far in my life and learning skills like resourcefulness. Now I’m able to give back,” Rachel offered.

The shared mentorship among members was one of the key reasons Rachel felt drawn to participate. Members mentor each other to build on skills and strengths like leadership. She shared, “The relationships and the bonding that we do, it’s truly a sisterhood…It truly is Women United, a very special group of women.” Randi added, “When you get women together, leadership isn’t necessarily a hierarchy, it’s more of a collaborative leadership. We work better when we’re all lifting each other up.”

Women interested in joining Women United can attend any of the monthly membership meetings. There is also a newsletter archive on the United Way website, which gives information about current and past projects. There are annual membership dues. Membership is a financial contribution to the giving circle, which they are then able to turn into grants. For more information, contact Randi Nandyal at 360-943-2773 x 115 or email rnandyal@unitedway-thurston.org.

To watch a complete video detailing the work of Women United, click here.

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