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Women helping women: United Way initiative improves 6K lives, officials say

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NATASHA LINDSTROM / TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Brenda Combs, a domestic violence and homeless advocate of Phoenix, shares how the kindness and support of other women changed her life during the keynote address at the annual breakfast of United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania's Women's Leadership Council at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh hotel, Downtown. The group's 'United for Women' initiative helped more than 6,000 women avoid crises and plans to reach more than 2,400 women next year.

Some needed just a minor boost — like enough cash to pay a utility bill or make next month’s car payment.

Others confronted life-threatening crises, such as escaping domestic violence, finding a stable place to call home or caring for a sick child.

In total, more than 6,000 women sought and received help through the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s “United for Women” funding initiative that began five years ago, the nonprofit grantmaker announced Thursday.

The initiative, a program of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council , aims to help women who are struggling financially overcome or avoid crisis. Its coverage area spans Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette and southern Armstrong counties.

Last year alone, the United for Women initiative reached more than 2,300 people in need — including 945 women who avoided homelessness or found permanent housing, 1,671 women who received financial assistance and 434 women who needed help finding a job or advancing a career, officials said. More than 20 percent of the women assisted were veterans.

Since 2012, more than 8,000 people contributed a combined $3.6 million toward the initiative.

Officials discussed the initiative’s achievements and their hopes for expanding its reach at Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh hotel, Downtown, during the annual breakfast meeting of the Women’s Leadership Council, a network of more than 2,000 women devoted to philanthropy, volunteering and helping each other succeed.

“Five years of impact through United for Women. That’s a big deal. It’s humbling to hear the stories and know this initiative is making a difference for women in need,” said Christine Bryant, senior vice president at Covestro LLC and co-chair of the council, the third-largest of its kind among more than 1,000 United Way local chapters in the U.S. “I think I can speak for all WLC members when I say, we are proud to be part of this amazing network of women helping women.”

The initiative will continue and has set the goal of reaching more than 2,400 women next year.

As a broader organization, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania focuses on regional efforts to improve lives of children, families, the elderly, veterans and individuals with disabilities and strives to create “long-lasting change for the betterment of community.”

United Way, which gets much of its support through employee paycheck contributions, reports that about 88 percent of every dollar donated goes toward programs and grant-making. Grant recipients are asked to disclose financial information and complete an independent audit.

Combined, the nation’s United Way local chapters form the largest charity in the U.S. by donations. United Way Worldwide — which includes chapters in 40 countries — brought in nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2016, tax records show.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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