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May 14, 2021


By: Barbara Bennett

I never ever imagined myself being a “lobbyist.” But for a day in mid-February last year (right before the California State Capitol shut down for the Pandemic), I was part of a team of staff and volunteers from United Way Bay Area racing from office to office in the State Capitol. We were there to advocate for key legislation that would help keep families and communities in our region out of poverty and able to thrive.

The funny thing is, I found I liked the experience! The Greater Bay Area legislators and staff we met with were genuinely interested in the issues we raised. And it was clear to me that they have a lot of respect for United Way as a nonpartisan organization focused on improving the lives of disadvantaged Californians. So, I re-upped for virtual meetings last June with the Bay Area’s federal legislators, and again for virtual meetings this year with our state legislators.

How did I manage to get involved in something I thought I’d never do? The short answer is I got involved with United Way Bay Area’s (UWBA) Women United. Women United is a network of philanthropic women who are affiliated with their local United Way chapter and support United Way’s mission of breaking the cycle of poverty.

I had been a long-time donor to UWBA through my employer’s annual campaign when I attended a United Way-organized panel discussion. There, I learned how UWBA focuses particularly on policy advocacy, in addition to funding nonprofit organizations that provide direct assistance.

I knew then that I wanted to do more than just donate money. I wanted to leverage my interest in policy and donate my time to help bring about systemic change in the lives of Bay Area residents who aren’t as fortunate as I have been. Women United provided that opportunity – not only to become an advocate, but also to make new friends with like-minded women and educate myself about the factors that contribute to poverty.

This year, along with my fellow Women United members, we are advocating for Healthy (Re)Start, a grant program that will help create community schools in disadvantaged communities where children and their families can access the financial, health and educational resources they need to succeed academically. We are also raising funds for a SparkPoint Ambassadors scholarship, to help even more SparkPoint clients participate in an effective leadership and career development program. And we are hosting webinars and other events to educate Bay Area residents on key anti-poverty programs and policy issues.

Barbara Bennett

Chair, Women United Steering Committee

To learn more about Women United and/or get involved, please contact womenunited@uwba.org.