Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This is the foundation of the Women’s Leadership Council, a group supporting the goals and values of United Way of Seneca County (UWSC). UWSC focuses on three areas: Education, Income and Health with the idea that if these areas can improve then communities improve as well as individual lives.
The membership of the Council consists of 30 women from different walks of life. Schools, social agencies and businesses are all represented on this Council. The focus is to increase the high school graduation rates with the belief that if students graduate, they are more likely to improve their chances to acquire better jobs; with better jobs they can receive better health care and pay. In this manner, education is the foundation of improving income and health.
How does this Council set about improving education? They start early with The Red Book Shelves. In this program, organizations donate books for children from of all ages and places them on the Red Book Shelves sprinkled throughout the County. Specifically, WLC collects board books. These books go to children and families in the WIC program. Families are encouraged to read to their children to build skills at a young age. New books, provided through grants, private funding and donations, as well as helpful Literacy hints, are also gifted. Books in Spanish and English are provided for Spanish speaking families. Bilingual book offerings find that the grandmother may learn English from the English while the children can learn Spanish from the Spanish, not losing their heritage.
From the SEARCH Institute, the Women’s Leadership Council has developed positive values for each month that parents, schools and any organization can reinforce with children. These values help build children into responsible citizens by first allowing the children to find the best in themselves. For example, A Positive View of Personal Future was the value to reinforce in December 2015. It encourages adults to assist children in many areas such as identifying positive attributes and accepting compliments. The belief is that if children learn to accept who they are, they will feel better about themselves and be less likely to bully others.
As would be expected, schools are a main focus of the Council. In September the Council kicks off school Attendance Awareness by sending messages to schools, parents and posting on their Facebook page. In October they volunteer at the Wellness Fair at Waterloo High School for freshmen where students sign anti-bullying pledges while also gathering information from various organizations on healthy choices and opportunities. In May, the Council recognizes teachers noting that teachers spend a great deal of time with children and can make a huge difference in their lives. In the spring they also host a Career Exploration Day where students can find out what local opportunities in careers are available. June finds the Council focusing on the Summer Slide. They encourage children to continue reading throughout the summer so that their skills do not “slide” backwards. They work with local public libraries promoting the concept that children read a book a week to continue building on skills learned in school. Presently, the Council has sent surveys to staff at schools asking them to identify why they feel students do not graduate.
All of these are worthy aspects of education on which the Women’s Leadership Council focuses. Here’s the thing, though. They do not know if anyone has graduated from school because of anything they do. Most of us would not continue to work on this goal without hard statistics to show that these activities make a difference. These women, however, believe that they must do something to assist others. They believe that as a small group they are making a difference. They believe that if one child has improved their life with opportunities they have provided, then it is all worth it. This is a group of selfless women who work as a single unit to make Seneca County a better place to live for the future generations. This is a group that represents the true spirit of UWSC: “Advancing the common good for all.”