When women unite, futures are improved. No group of women better exemplifies this statement than the members of Women United at United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA). They empower each other to help individuals, families and neighborhoods access the resources they need to lead a better life. As we continue to celebrate National Women’s History Month (NWHM) throughout March, we want to recognize a few Women United members who uplift entire communities each day through their work at UWCA partner agencies.
Doing Great Work During the Toughest Times
Take Leisa Smith, for example, President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Alabama (BGCCA). For 35 years, she has worked to provide a safe space where teens have resources to succeed in academics and relationship building. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, Leisa and her team quickly innovated, moving programs traditionally hinged on in-person gatherings to wellness calls and prepared meals and activity packets for club members and their families.
“When school went virtual, we opened our clubs during the day so that our members could access their classes with help from our youth development professionals,” said Leisa. “During the summer of 2020, we partnered with the Food Bank of Central Alabama and distributed 600 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables weekly provided by the Farm to Family program.”
Pivoting during the pandemic became a recurring challenge for UWCA agencies. YWCA of Central Alabama CEO, LeRhonda Magras, knows the feeling well after adapting the organization’s Domestic Violence Services program to continue to meet the growing needs of victims and survivors.
Pressing pause on providing these critical, life-saving services was not an option. The public health crisis put additional pressure on those experiencing domestic violence and victims found their options more and more limited.
“Our emergency shelter and 24-hour Crisis Line operations kept operating with added protective measures in place for the safety and health of clients and staff,” said LeRhonda. “YWCA Central Alabama Domestic Violence Services continued to provide case management and advocacy virtually and in person when feasible. Last year we responded to thousands of crisis line calls, and about 400 clients benefited from more than 1,100 services – even in a pandemic.”
Inspiring New Women Leaders
These women have not only responded in heroic fashion under unprecedented circumstances, but they’re also setting examples for generations of rising leaders. Katrina Watson, President and Executive Director of The Literacy Council of Central Alabama, has helped people flourish for the five years she’s been at the nonprofit.
She’s improved the careers and lives of adults through literacy education and become a catalyst for progress in her organization. By building genuine relationships with the people around her, Katrina blazes a path for others to follow.
To the rising generation of women in Central Alabama, she offers this advice:
“You are enough,” said Katrina. “You are prepared to be right where you are. Mistakes will happen, don’t let them deter you or define you. Seek mentors and sponsors to help you reach your professional goals.”
CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham Sue Johnson, sees young women setting positive examples all the time through the Big Sisters mentoring program. But you don’t need to be an official mentor to be a model for others; anyone can do it with the right heart and mindset.
“Always consider yourself a mentor,” said Sue. “Help younger women to find their way, encourage them and build them up, especially in the workforce. Even if you are not officially serving as a mentor, you are being observed. Let your words and actions inspire other girls and women to be their best.”
Meet Our New Board Members
Did you see that UWCA recently welcomed three new female members to its 2022 Board of Directors? These women are also members of Women United, and their continued support and passion for our mission inspire others.
- Rebekah Elgin-Council, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
- Kirk Forrester, Contributing Editor at Flower magazine
- Liz Huntley, Senior Counsel & Director of Community Relations & Engagement at Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC
“I first learned about United Way when I began my career at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama over 25 years ago. The UWCA supports so many areas of need in our community. They do their due diligence and ensure that the funds get to those who need them most. I am proud and honored to be a part of this organization whose mission is focused on caring for others and improving our community.”Rebekah Elgin-Council, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama
“I am passionate about making Birmingham and our region a better place to live. Our community has challenges, as all communities do, but it has also shown a unique willingness to try to tackle them. United Way leads the charge in that effort, and I am grateful for the opportunity to support its work.”Kirk Forrester, Contributing Editor at Flower magazine
If you enjoyed meeting these exceptional women, don’t forget to visit United Way of Central Alabama on Instagram every Wednesday to hear from even more Women United members and partner agency directors about the work they do for our community.