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Volunteer of the Year: Sally Stewart

Sally StewartSally Stewart, a United Way of Greater Cleveland board member and co-founder of its Women’s Leadership Council, embodies an organic connection to charitable work. That work has been recognized as she is the 2015 United Way of Greater Cleveland Volunteer of the Year.

Stewart was revealed as this year’s honoree by 2014 Volunteer of the Year Paul Clark at the March 4, Annual Meeting.

“This award recognizes an outstanding humanitarian with a proven spirit of giving through contributions of time, leadership and resources in support of United Way’s work,” Clark said.

When Stewart and her husband Terry, former president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, moved to Cleveland in 1999, she felt an immediate connection to the city and its people.

“Cleveland welcomed us with open arms and allowed me to have a voice,” she said. “And I realized what a need I had to exercise that voice to impact the community, to make a difference, especially through the work United Way is doing.”

Stewart said her United Way ties go far back into her past.

“I became involved with United Way at my first job in Connecticut,” she said. “My boss was high energy and enthusiastic and led the United Way campaign.” She said when her employer asked her to help with the next year’s campaign, she took United Way training and realized she had a very personal connection to the charity. “I finally understood the reach United Way had in my life,” she said. “My sister was born with Down syndrome and in all the years we were involved in events, I never realized the United Way connection. I joined an afterschool mentoring program and I later learned that was also supported by United Way. I’m still not sure everyone who is being helped by an agency or program knows it is often funded by United Way.”

In 2011, Stewart and several Cleveland women met to discuss forming a Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) to direct their networking power into a charitable cause. The group selected United Way as its beneficiary. “We wanted to make a difference and connect to the community,” she said.

“Our call to action was to make a commitment of money, time — and heart and soul — to connect to philanthropic work. United Way was a natural choice.”

The WLC’s chosen signature cause for 2014-2016 supports early learning initiatives to ensure all children in Greater Cleveland have access to quality education. In partnership with The Centers for Families and Children’s 2,000 Days Pledge, the WLC cause helps children attend early learning programs, encourages effective parent-teacher partnerships and assists parents in choosing high-performing primary schools.

The WLC also hosts the annual fundraising event Rock the CATWALK, a fashion show that draws more than 500 guests. “We use some community models, and it was really powerful to have women in the fashion show who received life-changing services through United Way,” she said. “To see someone who was once incarcerated walking down that runway, feeling good about themselves, feeling proud, was a powerful testament to the mission.”

Stewart, a realtor with Howard Hanna, said WLC is inclusive, offers networking opportunities and channels the talents of local women into a powerful leadership force. “It’s the perfect opportunity to get involved. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t believe in it and if we weren’t appreciated,” she said. “I know I have a voice in this community; when people see me involved with United Way, they should feel that I vetted it for them. Seeing the impact United Way has, and understanding the connection to all the agencies it’s partners with, all in the context of networking and cultivating relationships, is a great eye-opener,” she said.

“Seeing how many volunteer opportunities there are is an eye-opener to what matters in your life.”

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