Former model and actress Kathy Ireland will be the main speaker at next week's Heart of Florida United Way luncheon.

ORLANDO – As part its ongoing and central mission, Heart of Florida United Way works to assist people who, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times and desperately need a helping hand.
That includes women and children struggling to cope in a rocky economic environment, said Helen Donegan.
“About five years ago, we learned that statistics show that women and children account for two thirds of the clients served by the United Way partner agencies,” said Donegan. “We decided at that time that we would form a woman’s council to service women in need. It started off as an awareness campaign, and it has now evolved into a pretty structured thing, and it’s wonderful.”
Just how much that council has grown over the years will be fully display next week, when the Heart of Florida United Way Women’s Leadership Council hosts the 5th Annual United Way Women’s Leadership Luncheon on Wednesday, March 14 at the Hilton Orlando, 6001 Destination Parkway. Registration is from 11:30 a.m. to noon, and then the luncheon runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. More than 800 local business women and community leaders, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, will be attending.
Headlining this year’s luncheon will be Kathy Ireland, CEO of Kathy Ireland Worldwide, a $1.9 billion brand and design empire. Ireland has been honored for her philanthropic efforts to improve education, reduce poverty and help families prosper.
Donegan, the vice president of community relations for the University of Central Florida, and
Karen Dee, regional president in Florida of Fifth Third Bank, are the co-chairs of this luncheon event, which highlights the way in which the council has expanded and continues to attract new members.
The United Way Women’s Leadership Council works to raise awareness and funding to help programs that assist women in area’s like domestic violence, poverty, and access to health care and child care. They also coordinate volunteer support for these and other programs.
The council is guided by more than 26 prominent local women business and civic leaders, and today, nearly two-thirds of the clients served by United Way partner agencies are women, many of them the single heads of households.
And it started with a mission to recruit the help and support of successful women in Central Florida who wanted to assist others who were less fortunate.
“We had 40 prominent business and civic leaders, females, on the council,” Donegan said. “We gave them information and statistics and asked them to spread this information into the areas of influence so we could get the word out to help women in our community. As we went on for the first couple of years, more and more women came to us and we decided we needed to make this a more structured program.”
In their first year, the council also hosted a luncheon – which attracted more than 300 people.
“Originally the council began in 2006,” Dee said. “Last year had 800 people at our luncheon, and we expect to do that again this year with the attraction of Kathy Ireland. We’re really excited about having her help us from an awareness standpoint.”
Ireland, the former model and actress, was eager to assist the council, noted Michele Plant, director of marketing and communications for Heart of Florida United Way.
“Kathy wanted to do this event for us, because she knows and understands the importance of women helping woman, and she has a whole philanthropic side to her,” Plant said. “A lot of her work is around women and education, which is what United Way’s focus is as well, which is really fabulous.”
The luncheon can serve dual purposes, Dee said: to put a focus on how successful so many women have become in their respective fields, who also putting a spotlight on those who still need a lift up.
“When you think about it, through this economic recession, more and more people have been impacted by it, and two thirds of the women in this partnership are women,” she said.
“We have over 800 women at the leadership level, and that’s women giving of themselves to help others,” Donegan said. “We’re kind of blessed this year, in that we are going to have bothof our mayors who will be at the luncheon and will have a part to play. They will say a few words about how important it is to help with those needs. Those stories are always moving. When we first started the council, I was told, ‘Helen, the need is there.’ There are people who have these very specific needs, and a lot of times women don’t talk about them. If we can offer them information on how to get help, and agencies that can come to their assistance, that’s what I think is really vital — that acknowledgement of how to get help if you really need it.”
Donegan also hopes Ireland serves as an inspiration to other women.
“I’m interested in finding out what drove her to become an entrepreneur,” she said. “How do you change your life if you want to? Sometimes people just can’t see that silver lining or the sun behind the clouds. If you can hear about someone else’s experience, it gives you the courage to keep going.”
“We do think this luncheon is going to be a great inspiration to all of us,” Dee added. “Our mission is around not only raising funds and awareness, but also volunteer support. We cover Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, and we want to get more and more women in the community helping us move our position forward.”
Tickets for the luncheon are $75 for individual seats and $800 for a reserved corporate table of 10 seats, and can be purchased at, by calling 407-429-2111 or by emailing

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