Speakers drive charitable women forward

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At their Eighth Annual Breakfast Sept. 16, the United Way of Allegheny County’s Women’s Leadership Council recommitted themselves to continuing their philanthropy after celebrating raising an estimated $11 million in the eight years since its inception in 2001.

A study released in June by the Foundation Center and the Women’s Funding Network determined that giving by the 55 women’s funds analyzed in the report rose by 24 percent between 2004 and 2006. In comparison, overall foundation giving increased by only 14.8 percent.

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STRONG WOMEN—United Way President Robert Nelkin, center, and Bertice Berry with the women of the Urban League Young Professionals.

“Even in tough times like these, we’re seeing people step up,” said WLC chair Diane Holder. “It’s not the amount of money people give. It’s that they’re willing and able to give what they can.”

WLC works to promote female involvement in philanthropy through financial contributions and volunteering. Each member contributes a minimum of $1,000 annually to support United Way programs.

This year’s keynote speaker was Bertice Berry, author and comedian, as well as a philanthropist in her own right. Berry entertained a crowd of 800, sharing the positive impact philanthropists have had on her life and encouraging them to continue their work.

“We know that abuse and poverty are the new forms of slavery and you are the abolitionists,” Berry said. “When you walk with purpose, you collide with destiny.”

As one of seven children growing up poor in Wilmington, Del., Berry was told she couldn’t attend college. However, with the help of a philanthropist, she attended and graduated from Jacksonville University in Florida and went on to earn a Ph.D. in sociology at the age of 26.

Since that time Berry has gone on to become an award-winning lecturer appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “20/20.” She also wrote the best-selling inspirational memoir, “I’m On My Way, But Your Foot Is On My Head.”

“I started speaking from teaching and that’s how I knew I had something to say,” Berry said. “You always have purpose, you just might not know it.”

Berry combined humor with heartache as she told the audience how she adopted her sister’s three children, who were born addicted to crack. She is also the mother of two other adopted children.

“Success is not what you have, it’s the impression you leave,” Berry said. “Even the inspirers need inspired.”

Another inspiring speaker was Stacy Johnson, a youth support specialist with the Allegheny Department of Human Services, who went through the foster care system.

After being removed from kinship care at 18, Johnson said she was often without a place to stay during college breaks. She explained how having a mentor helped her and encouraged the crowd to become mentors as well.

“I am young in age, but have experienced a lot,” Johnson said. “Know that the gift you give doesn’t just support programs, it saves lives.”

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