United Way of Story County (UWSC) celebrated five years of its Women with Initiative affinity group by hosting a lunch event at Prairie Moon Winery in Ames. Approximately 50 members, mentors and guests attended. Women with Initiative Chair Elizabeth Wilt-Cable welcomed the group. Kristin Pates, campaign director at UWSC, expressed gratitude to the women members who contribute at least $1,000 to the LIVE UNITED campaign to be used specifically for financial education for women. The keynote given by Dawn Oliver Wiand, executive director for the Iowa Women’s Foundation, focused on how investing in women and girls has changed from a social issue to an economic one. Jean Kresse, UWSC president and CEO, closed the event with a call to become involved during this year’s campaign.

"As the coordinator for the Women with Initiative program, I have the privilege to see firsthand the difference in the lives of women as a result of our donors’ support," says Jerri Baumeister. "It’s rewarding to see our participants open up with each other and share personal stories of struggle and success as they participate in classes, learn new skills and gain confidence in their financial abilities. More than 80 percent of the women who attended last year reported that by the end of the Money Management series, they had ‘identified several important steps they have or will take to improve their money management practices’ – a great beginning to gaining financial stability and accomplishing their goals."

UWSC’s Women with Initiative program was established in 2008 with the purpose of aligning women’s leadership and philanthropy with an urgent community priority - helping women achieve self-sufficiency and confidence through financial education. In partnership with Iowa State University Extension, Women with Initiative builds financial skills through two strategies - a series of four basic financial management workshops and one-on-one mentoring. The program provides meals for women attending, as well as free, on-site child care and transportation assistance for those that need it. After graduating, participants are invited back to participate in special, topic-specific trainings throughout the year.

Due to the generosity of the donor members, Women with Initiative also has a competitive scholarship component as well. Past graduates are eligible to apply for a $1,000 annual scholarship for continuing their education with a GED, AA or BA.

Finally, the program has expanded into hosting a series designed to deliver financial information to senior women at Heartland Senior Services. Topics have included taxes, estate planning and fraud prevention.