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The women-led United Way of the Coastal Bend helps give residents a hand up

The United Way of the Coastal Bend has been around for more than 80 years and serves 60-plus non-profit organizations in the 10-county area.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — All month long, we’ve been celebrating impactful women, and we very well can’t talk about groups that have an impact without the United Way of the Coastal Bend.

The group's leadership team is mostly comprised of women: Only its chief financial officer is a man. And of the 19 staff members listed on the organization's website, only two are men.

"I think this month may draw attention to people who wouldn't necessarily ask for attention, or expect attention, or think that they’re extraordinary, and I think everybody has extraordinary in them," said the United Way of the Coastal Bend’s Vice-President of Resource Development and Communications Stephanie Jordan.

The United Way of the Coastal Bend has been around for more than 80 years and serves 60-plus non-profit organizations in the 10-county area.

That’s a lot of numbers, but the ways in which their generosity moves is truly limitless.

Every day, these women come to work ready to help put communities in motion.

"We just really try to give people a bit of a hand up, as opposed to a hand out," said Libby Averyt, President and CEO of the United Way of the Coastal Bend.

"We hear first-hand stories from people in the community who were helped by some service or another particularly those stories of families, who perhaps are having a difficult time making ends meet and because of the extra support they were able to receive from one of the many agencies we work with, they’re able to stabilize their families' lives."

And while they serve people of all ages and walks of life across the Coastal Bend, at least two of their programs are geared toward women – Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby! and Women United, which empowers and unites women in the community to work on various projects.

Walking the walk

For Averyt, every day in this building -- walking up these stairs -- is a gift.

"You always hear stories of something where somebody was helped and that certainly keeps me coming back,” she said.

Averyt’s path to the non-profit world wasn’t a direct one, though.

A former journalist, she worked her way up the ranks at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times as a reporter and editor. She later moved into the advertising side of the business, which prepared her to take the helm as its president and publisher in 2014.

But it was during her tenure at the newspaper that her respect for the United Way of the Coastal Bend grew, spearheading employee fundraising efforts in a different kind of public service.    

That money would help 180,000 people across 10 counties every year.

"There are other folks, through no fault of their own, (who) may find themselves in a very challenging situation and we want to make sure there’s some help there when they need it," she said.

Averyt has been with the United Way of the Coastal Bend for six years, four as president and CEO. 

In her office, you'll find an array of colorful and unique plaques, awards and recognitions of thanks and service from several of the agencies and non-profits she's been able to help through her work. 

Among the awards and plaques, you'll also find several photos of her family and loved ones. She said while the awards are beautiful and welcomed reminders of proud achievements, finding one's true purpose and drive is the most important. 

"If you don’t figure out whatever is your core, what drives you, what gives you fulfillment and peace in your life - if you don’t figure out what that is for yourself - then you can chase all the accolades and all the achievements all day long, and it’s still not going to fill you up," Averyt said. 

"Be as self-reflective as possible, and by that I mean, we all have personal challenges or some traits about ourselves that we may want to change, improve upon or tweak, and I think it’s important that we all know ourselves and take responsibility for our own actions and ourselves for our happiness."

Advocating for themselves and others

Operating the United Way of the Coastal Bend is no small feat, which is why she leans on leadership team members such as Stephanie Jordan, who celebrated her sixth year on the team on Wednesday.

 "Anybody can help anybody else. I don't ever want someone to ever walk away feeling like because they can only do a little bit they’re not doing their part," Jordan said. “I think a little bit counts every bit as much as the great, grand gestures."

Despite facing her own personal battle late last summer – a Stage 3 uterine cancer diagnosis – Jordan still manages to give her all to others.

"The reason why I share it is because I’ve had a lot of women, who've taken me aside and say, 'how do you know?' 'How did you- what did you do?'" Jordan said. "I think I have a lot of smart, well-educated friends, and until you go through something you don't realize how to advocate for yourself and how to take care of yourself, and that's why I've chosen to share my situation with people."

There’s empowerment in asking those questions, Jordan said.

“I would encourage people to be their own advocate, do a reasonable amount of research,” she said. "Advocate for themselves, not to take the answer as an acceptable answer, keep seeking answers."

The powerhouse women are shining examples of the work done day in and out at the United Way of the Coastal Bend, not just in how they carry out the group's mission, but also in the strength of their character.

For Averyt, Women’s History Month gives her an opportunity to remind others that their best is enough, and she had poignant words for those who might occasionally forget.

"Every day -- every 24 hours -- we have an opportunity to just be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, and not be too hard on ourselves when perhaps we don't do that perfectly."

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