Banning together 12 years ago, a group of local women sought out to help foster youth establish healthy lives after emancipation. Now, with a membership of more than 300 women, Women in Philanthropy, a nonprofit program of the United Way California Capital Region, has helped approximately 400 foster youth and raised nearly $1.3 million for support programs.
Now, former WIP chair Lisa Watts is passing the baton to two new co-chairs who will continue to lead the cause. Ruth Miller and Lorrie Wilson, the new leading ladies for WIP, have long-established names within the United Way.
“The main focus will still be youth empowerment,” Miller says. “But, I definitely see that [our vision] will change over the course.”
The two chairs see huge benefits to helping foster youth and being involved in a passion-filled organization.
“To actually talk with [foster youth], teach them a few life skills … that is probably the most rewarding,” Wilson says. “Working with the members of Women in Philanthropy and meeting the people involved in the agencies that are helping these foster youth — it’s all very, very rewarding.”
Miller and Wilson are both committed donors to United Way’s three focus areas of health, education and income. Miller, who served on United Way’s Yolo Leadership Council from 1999 to 2002, now serves on United Way’s board of directors and on the Health Impact Committee, helping to steer the Fit Kids project, a program designed to help children establish healthy eating and exercise habits. Wilson serves on United Way’s Income Impact Council, helping to lead the $en$e-Ability project, a program assisting youth in becoming financially self-supporting, and as a liaison for the California State Employees Charitable Campaign to raise money for local communities.
“We’re like the perfect pair here, Ruth and I,” Wilson says. “We have different backgrounds. We love each other dearly, respect each other dearly. And she can bring in one population; I can hopefully bring in another and really build up our membership.”
WIP helps support the $en$e-Ability Project, which offers financial coaching and matched savings accounts. Through the program, foster youth are able to establish bank accounts and develop life skills such as budgeting, cooking and resume development. The group also holds events, including luncheons, towel drives for emancipating foster youth and other fundraisers.
Recently, the organization hosted a Day at the Capitol event at which 24 foster girls were introduced to five female state executives to discuss professional and personal aspirations. The two chairs hope events like this will influence the youth in future career decisions and hope to host them annually with the inclusion of foster boys.
“Working with the foster youth is just a real passion that I have found, and I haven’t always had it. But, I definitely have found that through this organization,” Miller says.
Wilson says having hands-on experience with the foster youth and seeing what WIP does for them is what initially compelled her to become a supporter.
“I was involved with a few of the activities that Women in Philanthropy are involved with for the first year and was able to see the impacts to youth through some of these activities,” Wilson says. “So, I just did a little dipping my feet in for the first year or so and decided, if I could play any part in that at all, I wanted to be involved.”
The primary vision of the co-chairs is to increase membership so the group can hold more events and continue to reach additional foster youth. While Miller is hoping for 500 members in WIP, Wilson’s personal vision is to bring aboard more state employees.
“Ruth and I, sometimes we’re the sounding boards,” Wilson says. “It’s our leadership council that is coming up with some fantastic ideas, and I think it’s our role as co-chairs to help make it happen.”
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