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Powerful change agents: United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast

Posted by Chad O'Connor  November 26, 2012 11:00 AM

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Seventeen years ago, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley hosted its first major Women’s Leadership Breakfast event. At the most recent breakfast at the Westin Copley Hotel, the Boston area witnessed a sea of driven women leaders taking part in an inspiring and powerful event that changes lives for the better. More than 1,200 women attended the annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast, which raises more than $1 million.

United Way Women’s Initiative Co-Chairs, Jan Cooper and Carla Marcinowski, said “The United Way's ability to bring together so many committed individuals in support of its important work is both inspiring and gratifying.” “Year after year, many of the same women look forward to attending the Women’s Leadership Breakfast – they know they will be inspired,” Alicia Canady Adamson, the United Way’s Development Director of Affinity Programs. According to Canady, those that attend the Women’s Breakfast are high profile women leaders, including CEOs, CMOs, Vice Presidents, Managing Partners, politicians, and major philanthropists. Canady said “The energy in the room is not duplicated at other events, and every year there is an amazing speaker.” Myra Kraft was a huge supporter of the United Way Women’s Breakfast until she passed away in 2011.

Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer and Divisional Vice President for Walgreens and author of “A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home,” was the keynote speaker at this year’s Breakfast. Pemberton, a ward of the state for much of his childhood and now an advocate for helping others, believes it is critical to support agencies that deliver services such as the United Way, as they have the ability to bring together organizations to make a stronger impact. Pemberton said “I look at what wasn’t there for me. I would have so benefited from somewhere to go as a child.”

According to Pemberton, people need to see examples of the possibilities available to them. The United Way invests in organizations that provide mentoring like Big Sister and Girl Scouts. Mentoring is critically important, and there is a great need for those willing to provide guidance, insight, and advice to others. Not only does such awareness and mentoring help individuals, it also impacts future generations and helps break damaging cycles.

Pictured in photo: Steve Pemberton and First Lady of Massachusetts, Diane Patrick
“In the highly technical age we are in, communication can get lost, and it is important not to lose the element of human touch. It is also important to give back regardless of your station in life. The beauty of the human condition is that you don’t always see the difference in impact of things that you do. Our country has a history of outreach and assistance to fellow men and women – that is one of the things that separates us from other countries,” said Pemberton.

Rebecca Chasen, Co-Chair of the United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast and Partner at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services LLP, a founding sponsor, has seen the Women’s Breakfast grow over the years and said “It was a huge honor for me to co-chair a breakfast where 1200 plus women are making a difference in the community. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.”

Through the United Way, women are impacting education and volunteerism in addition to philanthropy. As an event Co-chair, Chasen had the opportunity to see things from a very different perspective. She was able to visit agencies the United Way supports and saw the impact that is being made not only through financial support but also through the difference dedicated staff and volunteers make with their time. “It is critical that assistance is available early in people’s lives as it truly changes the trajectory of their future. The United Way helps youth and families in their personal lives as well as the community,” said Chasen.

The holiday season is a great time to reflect and be thankful for all the things we have in life, consider what others do not have, and give back with your time and financial support. As Pemberton and Chasen alluded to, someone being there for you when you need them can make an enormous impact, and the United Way’s programs like the Women’s Initiative help make that happen and truly change lives for the better.

For more information on how to get involved in the United Way, visit their website.

Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, is a member of the City Year and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, and is a Boston World Partnerships Connector. She can be contacted at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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