The “power of the purse” is a phrase that typically has nothing to do with actual purses, but more as a reference to a means by which one group might exert power over others or reward success, threaten to withhold funds unless conditions are met or award funds as a reward for achieving a goal.
However, United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore has found a way to recognize the real power of the purse, framing one of its newer annual fundraisers with that phrase: UWLES’s Power of the Purse event is a fundraiser to support two local initiatives.
“Come and bring a friend,” said Cathie Thomas, Leadership and Planned Giving Officer at United Way of the Lower Eastern Shore. “It’s a fun evening, but it’s what we do with the money that matters most.”
Read to Succeed, a Women United-created mentoring program for at-risk children in second and third grades, has provided more than 800 hours of support to improve reading skills in Wicomico County elementary schools and thereby help assure these children are reading at grade level.
Girls on the Run, Heart and Sole, is a 10-week program that integrates running and life lessons through engaging activities that incorporate movement. Volunteer coaches work directly with sixth- through eighth-grade girls twice a week, culminating with a noncompetitive celebratory 5K run. The process fosters a sense of confidence through accomplishments that can last a lifetime. Girls on the Run is a national program with a local chapter participating through Women United.
An example of the impact participation has on a young girl:
One of the lessons involves placing a Post-It note on the wall with a girl’s name on it. As each teammate passes a particular note, they stop and leave a compliment for the named person, again on a Post-It note. At the end, the compliments are given to each girl. One of the girls became teary-eyed after reading her compliments. She told the group that she knew she was valued for her intelligence because people always asked her to help them with schoolwork. But she said had never realized that people thought she had a pretty smile or a great sense of humor. She didn’t realize people thought of her as anything except a smart girl.
Girls on the Run currently has nine volunteer coaches. Read To Succeed mustered up to 128 volunteers in two counties and in five different schools, before Covid-19.
The causes supported by Power of the Purse are important, but Power of the Purse is also a fun social event. Purses, handbags, shoulder bags, wallets and more are available for purchase. There is even a selection of one-of-a-kind and luxury bags included, ranging in price from $50 to $1,000. For an additional $20 donation, choose a mystery bag from the Wallet Wall, which may contain a gift card or gift certificate, or may just be a great wallet.
Everything will be sold via online auction, allowing shoppers to bid on purses and other items without paying the ticket price or attending in person. Of course, there are advantages to attending the event.
This fourth annual Power of the Purse event will be held at Dove Pointe, and attendees will enjoy gourmet food, signature beverages and, of course, shopping for purses. Mystery wallets may include a gift card or other treat. A Mystery Box or Two will also be available, with hints referencing the contents to be delivered to those in attendance throughout the evening.
Power of the Purse is the signature event for Women United, an affinity group for that’s sponsored by United Way. Members of Women United may or may not be United Way donors. In some cases, they may or may not be women.
“When we created Women United,” said Thomas, “we chose to become an organization whose main purpose is to provide hands-on volunteer opportunities. For example, our Read To Succeed program also includes men as readers, but most of the opportunities for women. However, we do not exclude anyone.”
In addition to financial and volunteer support of various causes, Women United also hosts Community & Conversation meetings, which are every other month and take place in the morning before most people report for work. Their purpose is to network, inform and inspire.
Women United not only coordinates its two major programs, it has also taken on a variety of smaller or one-time initiatives that include assembling Literacy Kits for Judy Centers in all four Lower Shore counties; working with United Way’s Emerging Leaders on a Secret Santa holiday food and gift project that benefits 25 to 30 families each year, providing both Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts; providing materials for “Welcome Home” bags for new residents of the Anne Street Village, a group of tiny homes to shelter homeless Salisbury residents; and Adopt-A-School, an initiative of KindSBY, as a three-month “adoption” of Chipman Elementary School during the 2021-22 school year.
“Our goal is to expand our programs into all four Lower Shore counties,” said Thomas. “The funds we raise go toward all these programs and more, as a need arises.”
By Susan Parker