Sharmila Anbu (second from left) and her family
March 22, 2018
Written by Katie Kuhn, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County
After moving to a new city, as Sharmila Anbu and family did in 2016, it can be difficult to meet people who share your values. Luckily for Sharmila, she knew just where to turn.
Sharmila had been involved in the Women United group, called Women’s Leadership at the time, through United Way Manitowoc County since 2013. Together, the new United Way Manitowoc County Women’s Leadership Council gathered community support and sponsorships to build a Born Learning Trail in a local park. The trail is comprised of activities that adults and children can do together to learn and be active.
“My husband was involved in United Way, and he told me about how they help the community,” remembers Sharmila. “I knew I wanted to get involved, too.”
After taking time away from her career in project management to raise her daughters, Sharmila started helping out at their elementary school and her family’s church. “Volunteering gave me a sense of gratification that I was giving my time and talents to the betterment of my community,” says Sharmila.
As her daughters got older, Sharmila began looking for a new way to have impact on her community. United Way’s mission resonated with her, so she met with the local executive director and joined the team re-launching a local chapter of the Women’s Leadership donor network.
United Way Worldwide had announced a transition in the branding and approach to women’s involvement from “Women’s Leadership” to “Women United.” Sharmila and team knew it was time for a rebrand. “Women United indicates all women coming together to empower each other. It was a less formal title than ‘council’ that had the potential to be something truly great,” says Sharmila.
Together with United Way Manitowoc County’s director in 2016, Sharmila and her team took steps to relaunch as Women United. “We thought long and hard about what this change meant,” says Sharmila. “We wanted Women United to be a proper network of women who can offer time, talent, and treasure in an efficient way that produces results in improving our community.”
As the relaunch date approached, Sharmila had to move to Milwaukee for family reasons. She was able to complete her relaunch effort at United Way of Manitowoc county and knew for sure that once her family got settled in their new home, that she would call United Way. She attended the Women United Bruncheon and knew she wanted to get involved.
In 2017, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s Women United chapter decided to expand their focus to include ALICE, which stands for Asset-limited, Income-constrained, Employed; those who work, often multiple jobs, but still do not have enough income to make ends meet. A full 42% of Wisconsin residents are ALICE.
United Way funds a number of programs and initiatives that help individuals and families become financially stable, and Women United decided to put their muscle behind these activities. “In Manitowoc, which is such a small community, we helped everyone – men, women, and children,” says Sharmila. “The most pressing issues affect everyone, and ALICE is no different. In addressing issues that affect ALICE, we would automatically be serving out purpose of helping women, because many who fall into the ALICE category are women and children.”
“I am so excited to learn more about how United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County’s Women United group can get involved and have an impact on this issue,” says Sharmila, a new member of the Women's Leadership Council for 2018.
What keeps Sharmila coming back again and again to her work with United Way is the influence it will have on her daughters. Now in high school and college, both would love to incorporate service in their lives either through their careers or by getting involved in charity organizations like United Way. “It is ingrained in them,” says Sharmila. “and I know the decision to lead a life that involves service to others has, in part, come from watching me help others.”
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