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400 of Baltimore’s Women Leaders Convene and Call for Change at the 2016 Women’s Forum Hosted by United Way of Central Maryland

BALTIMORE, MD (April 15, 2016) – Nearly 400 of Baltimore’s most influential women joined United Way of Central Maryland’s “Women United” leadership group on Wednesday at the 2016 Women’s Forum. Dynamic business and community leaders joined together to improve the stability of children, individuals and families through education, housing and income and health. The thought-provoking and interactive afternoon included a panel discussion with trailblazers speaking about stabilizing families through education, housing and income, and health and a breakout session exploring the most pressing issues facing our nation and local community. The program concluded with keynote speaker and local New York Times best-selling author Laura Lippman.

Hosted at the American Visionary Art Museum, the Forum also served as a platform for the announcement that United Way of Central Maryland’s “Women’s Leadership Council” will now be known as “Women United” to celebrate 16 years of the group’s success.

“Women United represents a stronger, more unified name that better describes who we are,” said Women United Chair and Shareholder at Jackson Lewis, Laura Pierson-Scheinberg. “Our group is a force for good, poised to change the world, one child and one family at a time. We give, advocate, and volunteer — and we work side by side to improve education for kids and to help communities throughout central Maryland.”

A panel including Barbara Siemer of The Siemer Family Foundation and The Siemer Institute for Family Stability; Dr. Michelle A. Gourdine, primary care physician, health policy specialist and expert in preventative health and wellness; and Robert Balfanz, Ph.D., research professor at the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University School of Education and co-founder of Diplomas Now, spoke about the trends in homelessness, education and health and what we can and are doing to make progress in these areas.

The Siemer Foundation has seen great success with their approach of involving whole families in their programs, with United Way of Central Maryland as one of their best case studies. Siemer believes that stabilizing families in their home is the first step to success.

In the U.S., 25 percent of children live below the poverty line. Siemer believes that to effect change, collaboration across industries must occur, and she thinks United Way is the perfect umbrella organization to make that happen.

Since the inception of United Way’s family stability programs in 2012, 753 families have overcome or avoided homelessness; and 99 percent remain safely housed today. The stability of families also has an impact on school performance in children – it can affect attendance, the biggest contributor to dropout rates.

In Baltimore, 9,000 high school students, ranging from elementary to high school, miss a month or more of school each year, Dr. Balfanz added. That’s why United Way’s Family Stability work is so essential; as the organization’s programming has helped 995 at-risk children successfully avoid a disruptive school transfer.

Mark Furst, president and CEO of United Way of Central Maryland, announced a new education pilot program that will help struggling students succeed in school beginning this fall. Through a grant from Exelon, and United Way’s fundraising efforts, the nonprofit will establish the region’s first Early Warning Response System that will leverage data to identify local children in middle and elementary schools who are falling behind or at risk of dropping out of school and help them and their families before it’s too late.

“Although our country’s graduation rate is improving, about one in four students still do not graduate on time,” said Furst. “Since we began working to keep children and families in their homes, the number of students missing a month or more of school has decreased. Our new education pilot program will help us continue to help children and families and keep these kids in school. We need to help our children and be their advocates, and we can only do that together.”

Omarina Cabrera, a high school senior at the prestigious Brooks School in Massachusetts, shared her story as a participant in a New York City school that uses Dr. Balfanz’s model, which Baltimore’s new Early Warning Response System is based on. Ms. Cabrera’s chronic absenteeism at Middle School 244 in the Bronx was flagged by the program, and a team of educators and social workers mentored her through middle school. Expected to attend George Washington University in the fall, Omarina is a tremendous success story. Cabrera credits the people that made her mentor program possible for that success. She views education as her mentor and hasn’t let the trials she’s faced shape her.

Dominique Moore, United Way board member, founding chair of United Way’s Baltimore City Partnership Board Chair and attorney at the Law Office of Dominique S. Moore, LLC, shared her Baltimore success story. The beneficiary of a scholarship to The McDonogh School, she knows personally what it takes to change the trajectory of a child’s life. “It’s knowing that someone cares for you; it’s that human touch,” said Moore, as she introduced United Way’s text to give campaign to support the launch of the organization’s new education program – which raised more than $18,000 during the forum.

United Way of Central Maryland’s Women United is part of a global powerhouse of 70,000 women leaders in 160 communities across six countries who have raised and invested more than $1 billion since 2002 to create lasting change that lifts up entire communities. The group includes more than 1,400 local women committed to helping central Maryland residents in need and stabilizing families facing poverty.

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About United Way of Central Maryland
For 90 years, United Way of Central Maryland has been changing the odds for families and communities by investing in the building blocks of a self-sufficient life: quality education, safe and affordable housing, and access to healthy food and health care. Family Stability is at the core of this work, which includes helping children attain the education they need to be successful; preventing homelessness and providing, safe, affordable housing; and increasing access to healthy food and health care. All of this work is underpinned by a safety net of critical service supports to meet people’s basic needs, plus the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline, which answered more than 100,000 calls for help last fiscal year. United Way of Central Maryland serves Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties and Baltimore City. To help change the odds for families and communities in central Maryland or learn more, visit www.uwcm.org.

400 of Baltimore’s Women Leaders Convene and Call for Change at the 2016 Women’s Forum Hosted by United Way of Central Maryland