Sell-Out Crowd Goes “Wild” for Cheryl Strayed at Women’s Leadership Luncheon

March 3, 2015

It was perfectly suiting that a crowd of nearly 1,100 women attended the Women’s Leadership Luncheon.

“1,100… One for each mile of the Pacific Crest Trail that I walked…”said Cheryl Strayed, keynote speaker and New York Times best-selling author of “Wild.”IMG_3562

More than 1,000 prominent Central Florida community leaders joined Strayed on Feb. 26 for the 8th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon hosted by Heart of Florida United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council. Strayed shared how hitting rock bottom led to an inspirational journey across the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie version of the book hit theaters in December and starred Reese Witherspoon as Strayed. The program highlighted the Women’s Leadership Council’s impact in local schools through videos (in case you missed it, click here to see the videos). Over the past year, 10 Title-I Orange County schools received an online reader program impacting more than 6,000 students. 163,000 books were opened and all schools made lexile gains.

“I was always poor growing up,” said Strayed. “I was one of those kids that United Way is helping.”

The event at the Hyatt Regency Orlando raised nearly $150,000, which will be invested in United Way’s local education and literacy initiatives. Luncheon supporters included gold sponsor Tupperware Brands Corporation and silver sponsors Fifth Third Bank, Lockheed Martin, Massey Services, Orlando Health, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Publix Super Markets, Sorensen Moving & Storing, University of Central Florida, Wells Fargo Financial, Florida Hospital, and media partners WFTV Family Connection, Orange Appeal and The Orlando Business Journal.IMG_3293

The Women’s Leadership Council strives to improve the Central Florida community, as well as expand educational opportunities. Chaired by retired banking executive Karen Dee and Vice Chair Pat Engfer, area vice president and general manager at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, the Council has more than 440 members who donate more than $830,000 annually.

“Each year, we’re grateful for esteemed speakers like Cheryl Strayed who advance our mission of supporting youth education,” Dee said. “We are also thankful that Heart of Florida United Way gives us a platform to raise awareness of critical issues impacting our community.”

Get a peek of all event photos on Facebook or Google+. Share using #WLL2015.IMG_3588



“Wild” author Cheryl Strayed to Speak at Women’s Leadership Luncheon

December 3, 2014

There’s no question the world is full of great stories. But sometimes we encounter a book that leaves us wanting to know more. Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” was that kind of book for thousands of people, including Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon, who stars in the film adaptation being released December 5th. It may be one of the most dramatic examples of how a chance encounter with a book can change a life.

When Strayed was 22 years old, her mother died of lung cancer. It left her so devastated that she began questioning her marriage, turning to other men for comfort and using heroine. Her life was in a state of collapse for more than three years. Then one evening, while moving through a check-out line at a store, she spotted a book about hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail. She bought the book, then made the radical decision to set out on the trail herself. Alone.

The Women’s Leadership Council is excited to announce author Cheryl Strayed as the keynote speaker for the 2015 Women’s Leadership Luncheon, February 26, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. It’s a unique opportunity to hear first-hand how powerfully motivating reading can be. Strayed’s decision to pick up a book led to a life-changing event and then authorship. This compelling story led fellow author George Saunders to note, “Cheryl Strayed reminds us in every line that if defeat and despair are part of human experience, so are kindness, patience, and transcendence.” Every day, United Way encounters people suffering defeat and despair, as well as those stepping forward with kindness and patience. By continuing to support the messages of literacy and reading, the Women’s Leadership Council can continue to help women and children better their lives through the kind of determination exhibited by Cheryl Strayed.

To purchase tickets, click here. To learn about sponsorship opportunities, email

Cheryl Strayed - Joni Kabana

New York Times best-selling author Cheryl Strayed.


Erin Gruwell Praises the Power of Education at Women’s Leadership Luncheon

March 13, 2014

2014-Wordpress---WLL-Erin-GruwellIt was a packed house at the Rosen Centre on Wednesday as more than 700 prominent Central Florida business and civic leaders joined Heart of Florida United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council for the Seventh Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon featuring keynote speaker and best-selling author Erin Gruwell. Thanks to the generosity of guests in attendance, the event raised more than $100,000, which will be invested in United Way’s local education and literacy initiatives. A video shown at the event demonstrates why the Council chose reading and literacy as its primary focus issue.

Gruwell, author of the New York Times best-seller The Freedom Writers Diary, described her journey as a teacher with 150 high school students who were labeled as “unteachable.”  Her inspiring true story was the basis for the film Freedom Writers. From her career as a high school teacher to being portrayed by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, Gruwell shared her experiences that led her to become an education advocate.

“When you look at the graduation rates we have been faced with across the country, it would be easy to get discouraged and lose hope,” said Gruwell. “But we have a great opportunity to improve that situation because of you. And Heart of Florida United Way is paving the way with their goal to create lasting, measurable change through a focus on education. It is truly a collaborative effort and every single one of us can help in some way.”

Thanks to our event sponsors, which included Tupperware Brands Corporation, Fifth Third Bank, Florida Hospital, Lockheed Martin, Orlando Health, Publix Supermarkets, University of Central Florida, BakerHostetler, Darylaine Hernandez Law Firm, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, McGladrey LLP, and Orlando Magic.

To see photos from the event, visit HFUW’s Facebook page

Best-Selling Author, Educator Erin Gruwell Sends Heart of Florida United Way a Personal Message

February 10, 2014

Sometimes it takes just one person who believes in a struggling child’s potential to completely turn his/her life around for the better. For the tough inner city students at Long Beach High School in California, that person was teacher Erin Gruwell.

Heart of Florida United Way is looking forward to hosting Erin Gruwell as the keynote speaker at the 7th Annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon on Wednesday, March 12. The event will take place at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando. And, Erin is excited, too! In fact, she sent us a video telling us so!

In her New York Times best-seller, The Freedom Writers Diary, Gruwell shared the touching story of how she helped her class beat the odds.  In 2007, two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank played the role of Gruwell in the feature film Freedom Writers based on the real life events.

The Women’s Leadership Council brings together Central Florida’s most influential female leaders to use the power of philanthropy, volunteerism and advocacy to boost every child’s chance for success in school and in life.  United Way has put a stake in the ground on education with our national goal to cut the number of high school dropouts in half by 2018.

Tickets can be purchased by visiting, emailing or calling (407) 429-2911.

Heart of Florida United Way’s Women’s Leadership Luncheon Hosts Best-Selling Author, Educator Erin Gruwell on March 12

January 22, 2014

2014-Wordpress---WLLTickets and corporate tables are now on sale for the 7th Annual United Way Women’s Leadership Luncheon, featuring educator Erin Gruwell, author of the New York Times best-seller, The Freedom Writers Diary.

The book chronicles Gruwell’s extraordinary experience with 150 high school students who were written off by the education system. This true story also attracted Hollywood’s attention with the release of the film Freedom Writers, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank.

The luncheon will take place on Wednesday, March 12 at the Rosen Centre Hotel located at 9840 International Drive, Orlando. The luncheon is the latest in a series of annual events that support HFUW’s advocacy of improving educational opportunities for children in Central Florida.

With another sell-out audience expected, now’s a great time to reserve your corporate table or purchase tickets for this inspirational event, which is annually attended by more than 800 of Central Florida’s most influential women. The event will take place at the Rosen Centre Hotel located at 9840 International Drive, Orlando.

The United Way Women’s Leadership Council, chaired by Karen Dee, President, Florida and Mid-South Regions, Fifth Third Bank and vice-chair Pat Engfer, Area Vice President and General Manager, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, combines the power of philanthropy, volunteerism and awareness to support local women and children in need.

So don’t delay! Click here to purchase tickets and learn more.

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