United Way of Central Iowa announced a new name for the Women’s Leadership Connection (WLC) at its 2018 Premier Event on August 30, 2018. The new name—Women United—honors a diverse and vibrant group of women leaders who are making an impact locally for kids and worldwide through the United Way network. In central Iowa, more than $21 million has been contributed to kids ages 0-8 over the group’s 16-year history.

“Women United means we are part of a global effort to make our world better, with more than $1.5 billion in investments from 70,000 women leaders,” said Natali Justiniano Pahl, outgoing chair of Women United and assistant vice president of human resources-talent at Principal. “Our local group is a model among the United Way Worldwide network for how women can engage in issues that are critical to our community and leave a legacy of change that will transform future generations.”

Women United was founded as Women’s Leadership Connection in 2002 with 42 members who wanted to address the complex issue of providing quality child care in low-income neighborhoods. It has been a part of United Way Worldwide’s network from the beginning, which today represents more than 165 U.S. communities and six countries.

Locally, Women United has more than 700 central Iowa members who contributed $1.6 million last year. Donations go to strategies that promote safe, enriching environments for young children and build their early literacy skills, so that they can start kindergarten ready to learn and continue on a path to graduate from high school. The group funds 17 child care centers and 200 in-home child care providers; wrap-around services such as dental care, mental health care, and literacy support; and professional development opportunities and wages for teachers.

“This group of women leaders is having an incredible impact in our community as the children we first invested in 16 years ago are growing up to graduate from high school and have new opportunities,” said Elisabeth Buck, president of United Way of Central Iowa. “This will in turn create more opportunities for their children. It’s a huge impact that will make our community stronger in the future and help us meet our goal of increasing the percentage of central Iowans who graduate high school.”

Last year, Women United members had the following impact:

  • 3,321 children ages 0-8 participated in high-quality early literacy programs.
  • 1,305 children had a developmental screening to assess age-appropriate skills and identify developmental delays; 11 percent received additional resources to improve school readiness.
  • 161 preschool children read weekly with a volunteer mentor through Book Buddy, a program Women United founded. 74 percent of kids in the program showed growth in literacy skills last year.
  • Members successfully advocated for changes to reduce the “Child Care Cliff Effect,” so that more parents can afford quality child care as their wages increase and their public benefits decrease.

“The work we do through Women United is so much more than giving,” said Jem Gong-Browne, incoming chair and director of corporate strategy at Principal. “We are the group that’s speaking up to make sure our youngest community members have what they need to succeed lifelong. It’s amazing to see what can happen when women unite around this critical effort.”

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Topics: Education, Women United

Ka'Meka Lowery

Written by Ka'Meka Lowery

Ka'Meka Lowery is former director of United Way of Central Iowa's Women United.