Giving City

In this first of a new series of dsm stories, we look at a group that has made a difference in young lives. All stories in this series will explore aspects of Des Moines as a generous “giving city.”
Natali Justiniano Pahl (left) and Debbie Hubbell.

Focused On Education

Writer: Sophia S. Ahmad
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Debbie Hubbell still remembers one of the earliest meetings of United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection (WLC).

“Organizers put a whiteboard up, and we just started identifying issues that were important to us,” she recalls.

One issue that resonated among the group was childhood education. It soon became the focus of the local WLC, which celebrates 16 years this summer. Currently undergoing a rebranding effort, the organization will celebrate its relaunch at a special event on Aug. 30 (see details on page 208). The goal is to align the WLC—whose new name will be announced at the event—with  United Way’s national and international women’s programming.

Central Iowa’s WLC began with 46 founding members and has expanded to include more than 650 Greater Des Moines donors. Membership levels include $1,000 a year for the “Leadership Circle,” $2,500 a year to be a “Lead Woman,” and $10,000 a year for the “Women of Tocqueville.”

The group’s focus is to advocate, fundraise and volunteer for high-quality early literacy programs. To date, more than $21 million has been raised, an investment channeled into 17 child care centers and 200 in-home providers, affecting 2,600 children in Polk, Warren and Dallas counties.

One of the hallmarks of WLC is the Book Buddies program, in which volunteers read one-on-one with 4-year-old children to help prep them

for kindergarten. The kids take home the books they are given each week, thereby building their own at-home libraries. In 2016-2017, 74 percent of Book Buddy program participants showed growth on literacy screening during the school year, according to United Way.

“The volunteers build a special bond with those little ones,” says Elisabeth Buck, United Way of Central Iowa’s president.

The WLC work ties into United Way of Central Iowa’s education goal of increasing the percentage of Central Iowa students who graduate from high school.

“If you think about these children we’ve been working with for 16 years, some are now out of high school, and we’re now seeing a 10 percent gain in [graduation] rates over a decade,” Buck says. “We are now at a 93.6 percent graduation rate.”

WLC has contributed to this success. “If the students are kindergarten-ready, they start off on a strong foot. This WLC work is part of that education pipeline,” Buck says.

The strength of WLC programming and the increase in membership is an outgrowth of a comprehensive strategy established by its leaders, says Natali Justiniano Pahl, assistant vice president of human resources at Principal Financial Group. She currently chairs WLC in Central Iowa and has led the local rebranding efforts.

“We measure everything,” she says. “We have specific initiatives, we have a comprehensive strategy and approach, and people really look to us.”

The “we” she’s referring to includes her colleagues on the Women United Global Leadership Council, which is made up of women from various larger metro areas, including Miami, New York and Los Angeles, that provides strategic direction for Women United. Pahl sits on the council, representing Des Moines.

With the forthcoming new name, the Central Iowa group will be branded with the global network of more than 70,000 female leaders in six countries that has raised around $1.5 billion since 2002. Pahl believes that now is the right time for WLC in Des Moines—in its “sweet 16” year—to position itself with the national women’s network.

“The new brand is powerful because it unites several women’s groups under one umbrella,” she says. “It allows us to be a part of something bigger and have the same impact on the local level.”

The rebrand gives a new look to the feeling that WLC of Central Iowa members experience through their involvement. “It’s given me way more than I’ve given it,” Hubbell says of the organization. “It’s made me feel connected, like I can make a difference. It’s made me care even more about our community. It’s been like my job and one I cannot imagine loving more.”

WLC Rebranding Event

Current and prospective WLC members are invited to attend the event.

When: Aug. 30 (The time hadn’t been determined by press time.)

Where: Principal Atrium, 711 High St., Des Moines



Young Women’s Resource Center
Women & Art Exhibit 

When: July 6, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Young Women’s Resource Center

Details: Opening reception for an exhibit of visual and written works created
by local women. Free admission;

Easter Seals of Iowa
Admiral’s White Party

When: July 12, 6 p.m.

Where: State Historical Museum

Details: Cocktail-style dining and live and silent auctions. Guests are encouraged to wear white. $150; The organization’s Sunnyside Regatta follows on July 19 at 2 p.m., when community leaders race paddleboats at Easter Seals’ Camp Sunnyside.

Children and Families of Iowa
Ladies Invitational Golf Tournament

When: July 13, 8 a.m.

Where: Copper Creek Golf Club, Pleasant Hill

Details: A four-person scramble event; also includes a raffle and silent auction. $75;

Orchard Place
Moonlight Classic Bike Ride

When: July 14, 9:30 p.m.

Where: Starts at the Iowa Taproom

Details: Nighttime bike ride through downtown and nearby trails; also live music and refreshments. $40;

Variety—The Children’s Charity
Polo on the Green

When: July 14, 5 p.m.

Where: Powder River Ranch, Cumming

Details: A live championship polo match, plus dinner, auction, music and a hat contest. $375, or $187.50 for those age 35 and younger;

Animal Rescue League of Iowa
Putts for Paws

When: July 19, 11:30 a.m.

Where: Tournament Club of Iowa, Polk City

Details: Golf tournament benefiting homeless animals. $150;

Hope Ministries
An Evening for Hope

When: July 19, 6 p.m.

Where: Embassy Suites Des Moines Downtown

Details: Dinner featuring inspirational speaker and violin virtuoso Roddy Chong. $100;

Robert D. and Billie Ray Center
Iowa Character Awards

When: July 20, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Meadows, Altoona

Details: Honors recipients of the 2018 Iowa Character Awards. $15;

ALS Association, Iowa Chapter
The Legacy Social: Mulligan Mixer

When: July 26, 5 p.m.

Where: Temple for Performing Arts

Details: Inspired by the 1920s golf era, with live music, live and silent auctions, and a keynote speech by Nancy Frates. $75; Event will be followed on July 27 by the Michael R. Myers Memorial Classic at Willow Creek Golf Club in West Des Moines. $500 for a foursome.

Children and Families of Iowa
Tango Gala

When: July 27, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Sheraton Hotel, West Des Moines

Details: Hors d’oeuvres, live music, silent and live auctions. $125, or $105 for those under age 40;

Food Bank of Iowa
Smoke Out Hunger

When: July 29, noon

Where: Brenton Skating Plaza

Details: Featuring barbecue from local restaurants and pitmasters, craft beers, live music, lawn games. $40 adults, $10 children ages 6-12, free for age 5 and under;

Science Center of Iowa
Annual Fundraising Event and Auction

When: Aug. 24

Where: Science Center of Iowa, 6:30 p.m.

Details: With food, drinks, music, dancing, and live and silent auctions. $125, or $75 for those age 35 and under;

The Move Project
The Water Ride

When: Aug. 25, noon

Where: Confluence Brewing Company

Details: Bike ride that raises funds
and awareness of the Move Project’s water and education projects in Ghana. $25;

Catholic Charities
Bishop’s Golf Classic

When: Aug. 27, 11 a.m.

Where: Echo Valley Country Club, Norwalk

Details: Includes lunch, golf tournament, awards reception. $150;

dsm invites nonprofit organizations to submit events for possible inclusion in this calendar. Please include the following information: name and a brief description of the event, date, time, location, ticket price, and a link to additional details. Send to The deadline for the November/December issue is Aug. 15.

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