Main Event: United Way finds $76K in ‘Purse’

July 19, 2017 GMT

So many to choose from — 212 in all — in a variety of fun categories. “Mad About Miche.” “Wicked Weaves.” “A Night on the Town.” “Nine to Five.”

These were the names of handmade purses, up for bids in a silent auction, at the 12th annual Power of the Purse luncheon. More than 700 people attend the event, which raised about $76,000 for early childhood literacy programs.

This year’s keynote speaker was child safety activist Elizabeth Smart, who shared her story about being abducted from her childhood bedroom in Utah 15 years ago, and the prevention education work she does today through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Smart said she was honored to be invited to speak at Power of the Purse.

“I feel strongly about the power of the individual to make a difference,” she said.

Power of the Purse is presented each year by the United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council. The chairwoman of this year’s event was Gail Sauter. Sauter said proceeds from the event fund a variety of early childhood literacy programs, such as Imagination Library, the Success by Six Initiative, Running Start for School, and youth mentoring opportunities.


“This is an important event for the young people of Olmsted County,” said Jerome Ferson, president of the United Way. “Broad community support helps kids get ready to learn and succeed in school.”

“I love to support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library,” said attendee Sharon Peterson. “Literacy for children is so important. To get books into the home and parents reading to them at a young age. This is the key to their education.”

Lori Carreell brought her friend and colleague Erin Spencer to Power of the Purse.

“I really respect the cause,” Carrell said. “And we have a great speaker today. There’s a theme of empowerment here at this event.”

Suzanne Dinusson, who attended with Lynne Majka and six more friends, said Power of the Purse is one of her favorite events.

“I feel so strongly about reading for children,” she said. “It’s such a wonderful event to encourage reading and learning.”

Majka said she came to hear Smart speak about her experience.

“I lived in Utah for 16 years,” she said. “I was there when this happened. I understand the Mormon culture.”

Attendee Kelly Domaille came to hear Smart speak, and also to network with other women.

“This is a fun opportunity to network with other business women,” she said. “Anytime we can help lift each other up, that’s what we need to be doing.”

Julie Jimenez Coles attended with her mom, Jo Jimenez, and a group of friends.

“This is my first time here,” Jimenez Coles said. “Mom suggested coming to this six months ago. She said she wanted us to hear the speaker.”


“These are people who supported me when my husband passed away,” Jimenez said. “So they are my guests. It’s a thank you for all they have done. I followed Smart’s story when it first happened. When she spoke about the incident, she talked about all the support she received from family and friends. That’s what all this is about.”

Amber Hamernik, who attends the event each year, brought Amanda Hedlund, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Winona and Fillmore counties, for her first time at Power of the Purse.

“I love events where women are together,” Hedlund said. “There’s a strong engine of philanthropy in social change. I love to be a part of that. This event is an empowering experience.”