A sisterhood of support

“Once women find sisterhood, there is nothing stronger.” — singer-actress Zoë Kravitz

It was the 2004 “Stepping Out” Gala — celebrating the 70th anniversary of Greenwich United Way with bites, bubbly and shoe theme — that led to the creation of its fundraising women’s initiative, Sole Sisters. 

What began as a small group of women has grown into a large one, with a number of them already being honored as lifetime members. Following their motto, “Women Stepping Up to Help Others Step Forward,” Sole Sisters selects a
specific cause to support each year, assisting the United Way in its mission of identifying needs of the community, raising awareness for those needs and creating lasting solutions.

Sole Sisters recently served lunch at a homeless shelter, applied a fresh coat of paint to the library at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich and collected more than 1,000 pairs of shoes for donation to United Way partner Neighbor to Neighbor. Their biggest event, the annual Sole Sisters Luncheon, takes place each spring and features a well-known keynote speaker. Past speakers included Gretchen Carlson, Arianna Huffington and Gloria Vanderbilt. The keynote speakers themselves draw in hundreds of attendees from Fairfield and Westchester counties.

At the 13th annual luncheon at Greenwich Country Club this past April, Melissa Bernstein of  Melissa & Doug, a toy manufacturer headquartered in Wilton, was the keynote speaker. She shared the inspiring words of her success story and encouraged the 350 attendees not to be afraid of failure.

“I implore you to get out of your heads, where fear, doubt, insecurity and worry lie, and move into your hearts, where it is all about experiencing each moment, taking risks and living life to the fullest,” Bernstein said. 

Failure is the “key to success,” she added.

The recent addition of a “shoe cam,” sponsored by The Saks Shops at Greenwich, allows luncheon-goers to show off their kicks, adding lighthearted fun and tying into Sole Sisters’ shoe-themed origin. Additionally, a fashion and accessories boutique made up of local vendors donated a portion of the proceeds to the Sole Sisters’ fundraising efforts. 

“People think the need isn’t here,” says David Rabin, Greenwich United Way CEO. Rabin, who left a career in banking almost three years ago to lead the United Way, says his biggest regret was not doing so sooner.

He explains that the United Way’s dual philanthropic program, which includes the annual grants process and, now, efforts to help close the Early Childhood Achievement Gap (ECAG). Six percent of Greenwich’s population lives under the federal poverty line, and 22 percent is  considered asset-limited, income-constrained but employed, known as ALICE — which makes up almost one-third of the town’s population. Children from ALICE families naturally enter school at a disadvantage, which the United Way hopes to remedy through the ECAG program. 

Among the efforts to close the achievement gap is Reading Champions. This successful program brings trained professionals to all Greenwich elementary schools to teach students how to read. Now, the program is also at three after-school centers. Rabin also told us about Financial Champions, a new program which will be based at the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club to help increase financial literacy among 5th- through 7th-graders. This program is designed to teach kids about handling money in ways that most school curriculums do not.

Since its foundation, Sole Sisters has raised more than $2 million to help support the Greenwich United Way. At the spring luncheon, Sole Sisters Chair Jamie Eisenberg announced a partnership between the organization and Melissa & Doug. The brand made a donation of educational toys to help support the ECAG program. 

While members of Sole Sisters may not be united by blood, they are instead united by a shared passion for philanthropy and support for the people of their community. Without Sole Sisters’ efforts, thousands of Greenwich residents would be without the aid they need to better their lives. 

For more, visit greenwichunitedway.org. 

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