A Legacy of Inspirational Women

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I think about how fortunate we are to live in a community with a legacy of so many inspiring women. We do not have to look far in our community to find women with vision and a heart for service.

Catherine Evans Whitener was a young woman whose ideas and entrepreneurial spirit were the foundation for our local industry. Our United Way began when Mrs. M.E. Judd made a bet with Lamar Westcott in the 1940s. The “Empty Stocking Fund” was established as a result of this bet. For the first time, Mr. Westcott organized the raising of funds much like we do today - with businesses and community citizens stepping up to help our neighbors in need. Mr. Westcott raised $4,000 from a community of just 3,000 and won the bet. The fundraising for the ‘Empty Stocking Fund’ inspired by Mrs. Judd continued throughout the years and formed the Community Chest. The Community Chest evolved into what we now know today as United Way of Northwest Georgia. United Way of Northwest Georgia exists because a woman with a vision challenged a local community member to step up and help those in need.

Today, many local female leaders continue to lead the charge and inspire change in our community. One-third of our Board of Directors are women, and we have over 300 members of our Women’s Leadership Council making a meaningful difference. Eighteen of our Community Partners are led by women, and we operate with a diverse, all-female staff at United Way of Northwest Georgia.

Every year we have the honor of recognizing outstanding volunteers who embody the spirit of volunteerism. We are excited this year to honor an extraordinary Murray County leader, and former United Way of Northwest Georgia Board Member. We are also recognizing a young woman who is forging a path for change for the next generation as a founding member of our Youth United Council.

Lori McDaniel gave a total of 670 hours in 2022 to make Murray County a better place. She has given 80+ hours to Murray County 4-H youth leadership organization. She is a member of their Program Development team, coaches the Cotton Boll and Consumer Judging Team, and chaperoned the 1-week trip to the State Congress speech competition this past summer. Lori is the President and Treasurer of Murray Arts Council. She has given 460+ hours to MAC to share her love of art with the citizens of Murray County through Concerts in the Park, Art Shows, Summer Children’s Theatre, Ukulele Festival, board meetings, social media, marketing, and presenting to Leadership Murray. Lori is also a member of the Spring Place Ruritan Club. She has given 120+ hours to this organization to raise funds which will be given out in the form of grants in Murray County to better the community. Lori’s impact in Murray County is profound, and I’m honored to be able to present her with United Way’s Elaine Butler Award for Outstanding Volunteerism in Murray County.

Anna La is a senior at Dalton High School. Anna’s passion for improving lives has led her to devote much of her time to volunteering and creating many of her own volunteer events. One of Anna’s favorite projects from this past year has been her "Thankful for Literacy" book drive event. In November, Anna collected over 300 children's books for United Way's summer reading initiative and Books for Change nonprofit organization going towards promoting early literacy and easier access to these resources. In 2022, Anna collected over 160+ volunteer hours, displaying her commitment to this community. Anna La will receive one of the Elbert Shaw Memorial Scholarships sponsored by Shaw Industries. With her $5,000 scholarship, Anna has several options to continue her higher education, with her top two being Columbia University and Rice University. 

Next month, the United Way Women’s Leadership Council is hosting its first Power of the Purse event! The event will bring together hundreds of area women who want to build a stronger community by giving, advocating, and volunteering for literacy initiatives and other United Way programs. The Power of the Purse event will feature door prizes, raffles of mid-to-high-end purses, and a luncheon featuring guest speaker Kim Kinard Schuessler, a native of Dalton. Kim is an artist, educator, and philanthropist. She is one of the most popular figurative painters in the southeast. Sourcing paper from each destination she visits, she employs color, texture, and pattern to create collages and paintings that connect the viewer to everyday experiences. It will be a fun event where women will be encouraged to be strong stewards of their community. (This is a re-branding of our annual WLC Spring Symposium). On April 19 at The Farm Golf Club, Kim will share with us how to pursue our passion, find joy in everyday occurrences, and cherish those we love. Event registration is open on our website ourunitedway.org/events.

I am so thankful to live in our community where we celebrate the Power of Community and the inspiring leadership and service of visionary, philanthropic women who contribute time, talent, and treasure to build a community where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Live United!

Amanda Burt is the President of United Way of Northwest Georgia.

The mission of United Way is Improving Lives. Inspiring Donors. Uniting Community.