15th Annual United Way Women’s Leadership Breakfast


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Melissa Luse, Sue Miller, Aerin Lauder, keynote speaker, Leslie Miller Saiontz and Lauren Miller Melissa Luse, Sue Miller, Aerin Lauder, keynote speaker, Leslie Miller Saiontz and Lauren Miller

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United Way of Miami-Dade welcomed more than 1,000 women to the 15th Annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast, with special guest speaker, Aerin Lauder, creative director and founder of the lifestyle brand AERIN. Aerin spoke of the history of the Estée Lauder Companies, and the wisdom and lessons she inherited from her grandmother, drawing comparisons between business and charitable work. “‘Telephone, telegraph, tell-a-woman,’ Estee’s motto still holds true today, because the power of women and communication is priceless.” The breakfast was held at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami, its home for the past 10 years. UHealth, and Sue Miller and Leslie Miller Saiontz were the presenting sponsors.

Darlene Boytell-Pérez, United Way board member, chaired the event and spoke about United Way’s work, particularly in the health arena, her passion and life’s work, “because health influences everything from how well a child learns in the classroom to how much an adult earns in the workplace.”

In her keynote, Aerin addressed the important and admirable work of strong-willed women in today’s business and philanthropic world and shared personal, charitable and professional experiences: “So many daring, creative, brilliant, fearless women have influenced me throughout my life. Women today are moving in all kinds of directions managing a home, a family, a career and volunteer work - making it a particularly exciting time to build a brand that focuses on women’s needs.”

“Touching women to make that human connection; rubbing cream on their hands, dusting blush on their cheeks and telling them how beautiful they were…is how Estée would establish connections and market her products.” It was through her grandmother’s beliefs that Aerin learned “the communities we build must be founded on these personal and meaningful connections.”

Aerin thanked the women for their dedication to build stronger families through education, financial stability and health. “The remarkable work you all do depends on your power to build connections and communities, and you do this with care, creativity and compassion,” she said.
She also spoke about the benefits of great partnerships. “As you all know from the work you do with United Way, good partnerships are essential. They offer us new possibilities and pave the way for important, new initiatives.”

Aerin closed with an inspiring message, acknowledging the women for their extraordinary accomplishments and urging them to continue working hard at their labor of love. “The great work you do doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes it requires more energy than we think ourselves are capable of having; yet we must continue to build and follow our dreams.”

Rosary Plana Falero, United Way Women’s Leadership chair, kicked off the breakfast program, sharing her personal experience with United Way. She was followed by seven Women’s Leadership members - all representing different generations, diverse backgrounds and industries, who also shared their individual connections to United Way. Later in the program, Jayne Harris Abess, former United Way board chair, welcomed University of Miami’s First Lady, Dr. Felicia Knaul to the breakfast. Dr. Knaul, the wife of UM’s new president Dr. Julio Frenk, was recognized as an advocate for women and health, cancer care, gender equity and children in poverty.

To emphasize the power of the female voice, Boytell-Pérez invited everyone to advocate for children’s health via social media - on the spot. “Don’t for a minute think that our voices don’t matter,” she said, as she asked the 1,000 women to support KidCare bills HB 89 and SB 248 on social media. All 32 United Ways in the state are supporting these bills to remove the current Florida law, which requires children of lawfully-residing immigrants to wait five years before they can enroll in Florida KidCare, the state’s health insurance program for all uninsured children.

Boytell-Pérez also introduced Nicole Crooks, a single mom who believes it takes an entire village to raise a child. The Barnyard and Big Brothers Big Sisters, two United Way-funded programs, helped her boys with homework, kept them safe, supported and nurtured them, so Crooks could work fulltime to provide for the family. “My children and I are living proof of the lives United Way changes, and all of you helped to make that possible,” Crooks said, as she thanked all the women in the room for being a part of her “village” and contributing to the success of her boys, now pursuing careers in computer science.

The most entertaining part of the morning came when the dynamic mother-daughter duo of Sue Miller and Leslie Miller Saiontz took the stage. For the first time, they were joined by two of Sue’s 11 grandchildren, Lauren Miller and Melissa Saiontz Luse. The three generations of Millers recounted how United Way Women’s Leadership started 15 years ago, when Sue invited Bonnie McElveen-Hunter to have lunch with a group of her friends. Back then, only 200 women attended the event in a small downtown ballroom. Since then, the program has grown to nearly 2,000 women and raised $81 million.

Guests of the breakfast also supported United Way’s ReadingPals program by purchasing children’s books. These donations will provide children transitioning from preschool to kindergarten with a bag full of age-appropriate, take-home books to continue enhancing their literacy skills and love of books beyond the classroom.

Along with presenting sponsor UHealth, and Sue Miller and Leslie Miller Saiontz, top level sponsors include: Jayne Harris Abess, Sari Agatston, Carol Greenberg Brooks, Carnival Foundation and Fathom, Cisneros, Cobb Family Foundation, Allison Garfinkel, Annelies Da Costa Gomez, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Jose Milton Foundation, Elizabeth Leight Psy.D., Melissa Medina, Lisa Mendelson, Jeffrey Miller, The Paresky Family, The Related Group, Betsy Sherman; media sponsors include: South Florida Business Journal and The Miami Herald Media Company; and digital sponsor, Roar Media.

For women who are interested in becoming Women’s Leadership members, please contact womensleadership@unitedwaymiami.org.




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