YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Within the two largest United Way chapters in the region are female-led programs that target needs specific to the areas they serve.
More than 70,000 women throughout the world participate in the Women United affinity groups within United Way, including the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and the United Way of Trumbull County.
The groups target focus areas determined by their members. The Youngstown group, established in 2015, targets educational efforts of the United Way chapter. The Trumbull group, launched in 2018, addresses diabetes in that county.
Women United provides a vehicle to bring together “great women in our community” who volunteer and donate to United Way, and “give them some ownership in their passion through United Way,” says Tina Chance, director of workforce campaigns for the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way.
“It was a way to tap into them,” adds Roxann Sebest, Youngstown/Mahoning Valley director of resource development. With more women working and owning businesses, they are among United Way’s fastest-growing donor demographics.
The idea of getting women together to do more than they could individually, particularly with United Way providing “a strong foundation to build from,” resonated with Sue Filipovich, broker and co-owner at Burgan Real Estate, Boardman.
Filipovich was part of the original steering committee for the Youngstown Women United and serves as president of the committee.
“I am passionate about the whole concept of women helping other women, women helping families,” she says. “There isn’t another group that started with just women currently in the area. So there was an opportunity that needed to be filled.”
Launching a Women United group at the United Way of Trumbull County “was on my radar,” says Christine Cope, director of development and marketing at the Trumbull chapter.
According to a Women United fact sheet, 15% of adults in Trumbull County have been diagnosed with diabetes, well above the national average of 10.5%. “Right now, there isn’t any organization focusing solely on diabetes in Trumbull County and we are considered to be in the diabetes belt,” Cope says.
The Trumbull group provides help with prescriptions to qualifying individuals through a partnership with Franklin Pharmacy. The auxiliary group at Trumbull Regional Medical Center provided $50,000 in seed money for the initiative. Since 2019, more than 250 prescriptions for insulin have been provided, Cope says.
The group also works on raising awareness of the prevalence of diabetes in Trumbull County and what people can do to address it. It is in the process of finishing the Born Learning Trail in Perkins Park, an interactive trail to inform children informed about the need to stay healthy.
“We’ve been able to accomplish a lot and help quite a few members of the community,” says Julianna Begalla, vice president/marketing and communications for Cortland Bank and communications chairman for Trumbull Women United.
“It’s incredible to hear the stories from those who have been helped by the insulin assistance program,” she says.
Begalla, who interned and later worked at Trumbull United Way, says she values the work the chapter does. When Cope reached out to her about helping to assemble the committee, she described herself as excited to work with others in Trumbull County.
“It’s a great group of ladies,” she says. “There’s no ego involved. “Everyone is there to help and to figure out what can be done with regard to diabetes and, more broadly, to “make Trumbull County a better place for women to succeed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley and Trumbull Women United groups to adapt.
“We had to rethink our whole plan for the year,” Filipovich says.
The Youngstown group, which had to pause its Women’s Wednesdays networking events held at local restaurants, conducted a school supply drive and a literacy program that coincided with food giveaways at city schools.
In addition to providing age-appropriate books, they distributed what Sebest calls “fun summer toys” to get children to play outside,
And the group provided emergency funds for families in need, Filipovich says.
The Trumbull Women United Group is preparing to launch a fundraising and educational campaign to target its core mission. It is also considering adopting a second focus, mental health.
“Expanding our focus to include mental health is a natural progression to our work,” Begalla says. “It’s so important to let people know what resources are available to them.”
As the pandemic and its associated restrictions ease, the Youngstown group is planning to resume its Women’s Wednesday events, with the first to occur July 28 and the second in late fall or early winter, Sebest says.
The summer event will raise money for back-to-school hygiene kits for kids, Chance says. The second will raise money for winter gear.
The events provide an opportunity for female professionals to network and learn more about Women United.
“A lot of times ladies come to our events who are not totally aware of all that we do,” Chance says. “It’s a great way to get our message across and recruit some volunteers.”
The group has sent out an annual appeal to the 200-plus women on its email list to raise money for a fund to be used for meeting emergency needs, Sebest says. And it is working on setting up volunteer opportunities, such as it once did, with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
For Begalla, being involved in Women United is about being able to make a difference in people’s lives and helping people in her community.
“It’s very empowering to work with a group of women who are truly dedicated to helping others,” she says. “I admire the women in this group. Their energy is contagious. I look forward to expanding and gaining new members.”
Pictured: Sue Filipovich from Burgan Real Estate is the president of the Youngstown Women United committee.