There was an idea, nearly a century ago, that the best way, maybe the only way, to address the fundamental basic needs of individuals and communities without access, was to present a united effort for support.
Fast forward 100 years later, UWBA is still championing the fight against poverty, bringing together corporations, agencies, and officials with communities, donors, and volunteers in spaces where meaningful dialogue and shared resources can have a profound and collective impact. On May 19, 2022, United Way Bay Area brought together sponsors, hosts, donors, partners, and many honored guests for a once-in-a-lifetime Centennial Celebration.
To kick off the evening, held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, guests were greeted outside with a reception where San Francisco City Attorney, David Chiu, presented a Mayoral Proclamation, officially making May 19th United Way Bay Area Day. Guests were then welcomed to their tables to experience classical covers of pop hits performed by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music while enjoying a delicious meal by The Red Door Catering.
For many, the momentous occasion also marked the first time attending a larger group gathering since the start of the pandemic in 2020; an experience itself highlighting the ever present and continuing need for community support.
United for Impact Awards were given to partners in recognition of their overwhelming and continued support and who embody the meaning of the word “partner.” UWBA Ambassadors, Jamie Kearns and Juan Salinas, and UWBA Vice President of Development, Carolina Martin, were presented awards to community partners East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and the Children’s Network of Solano County, and to corporate partners Callan and Dodge & Cox.
Grammy Award Winning Vocalist, Dionne Warwick, Olympic Gold Medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi and San Francisco Giants Manager, Gabe Kapler appeared via video message to congratulate UWBA on its continued achievements and offer thanks for its long-standing commitment to Bay Area communities.
“What you’re doing is unbelievably phenomenal!” – Dionne Warwick, Grammy Award Winning Vocalist
“Keep up the great work and here’s to a hundred more.” – Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic Gold Medalist
“I’m really genuinely and specifically glad to be a part… because of the great work you’re doing.” – Gabe Kapler, SF Giants Manager
“Poverty IS NOT a deficit of talent or character or hard work!” – Kevin Zwick
Before formally addressing the audience, UWBA Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Zwick first acknowledged the “gun violence fueled by racism and white supremacy over [the] past weekend,” targeting Black residents in Buffalo, NY, Taiwanese churchgoers in Orange County, CA and Asian-owned businesses in Dallas, TX. “It is impossible to be united for equity without addressing the deep roots of… racism and hatred in our society,” he said, inviting the audience to join in a moment of silence.
He went on to deliver an impassioned speech, reflecting on Bay Area history from the Roaring 20s to now, juxtaposing the “economic and cultural renaissance” of the time with present struggles, and charting United Way’s evolution through it all. “500,000 local families… struggle to meet their basic needs,” he said. “To make ends meet, a family needs to earn at least $110,000 per year, yet two adults working full-time at minimum wage can bare make half of that. The math doesn’t add up.”
Kevin’s words were a stark reminder of why UWBA is here, why the need is great and why the work to be united for equity must continue for the century to come – “to help families and individuals struggling to meet basic needs, assist students and workers seeking employment and better careers, support our neighbors working to achieve financial stability, and advocate for housing justice for all Bay Area residents.”
He closed by recognizing all former volunteers and staff, including former UWBA CEO, Anne Wilson, who dedicated 40 years of her career to the organization, then presented Ambassador Storyteller Awards to Jess Hudson, Juan Salinas, and Apollonia Williams who shared their inspiring personal experiences including how United Way Bay Area has been an important part of their journey.
Bringing so many individuals with a passion for improving the lives of Bay Area residents under one roof wasn’t the only cause for celebration. This was also a chance to launch into the next 100 years of impact, united for equity with the Fund-A-Need campaign. Guests attending in person, and watching at home, were invited to make pledges of support throughout the remainder of the evening. These pledges would help prevent families from experiencing homelessness; connect people with vital resources like food, shelter or mental health services through 211; provide financial stability and career opportunities and help the advocacy efforts for equitable and poverty-fighting policies and so much more. Thanks to overwhelming generosity, UWBA has received over $700,000 through this event to continue this vital work.
Rounding out the evening’s festivities was a special thank you to all the elected officials, who work tirelessly with UWBA to promote and support public policies that fight poverty and improve equity. This recognition included the presentation of UWBA’s inaugural Legislative Champion Award, honoring public servants who have provided outstanding support for the United Way mission. Representative Barbara Lee of the 13th Congressional District received the award for her commitment to the fight against poverty through advocacy in housing and economic initiatives to enhance the quality of life for all Bay Area residents.
The final words of the evening came from UWBA’s VP of Impact Strategies Ena Yasuhara Li, re-imagining a work of one of her favorite authors, Oh, the Things We’re For by Innosanto Nagara. Ena magically condensed the reasons for the night into a few words – further cementing United Way’s legacy of impact and its push forward to a more just and equitable tomorrow.
“So, let’s start giving,” she read. “Let us start building the Bay Area we’re for.”
Bringing the entire event to a close, guests were treated to a live DJ, playing music as they exited to the dance floor to groove and mingle once more – it was a party after all.