Posted on April 14, 2022 by Zoe Johnson After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Women Mean Business Luncheon came back with a splash on April 8th, 2022! Over 200 business and community leaders gathered at the Plaza Hotel alongside First Step graduates, staff, and supporters for our 26th luncheon event. The inspiring celebration raised more than $400,000 for the Coalition’s First Step Job Training Program for homeless and low-income women. The Women Mean Business Luncheon program in The Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom. Guests mingle at the luncheon, for the first time in two years. Emmy Award-winning CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter Cindy Hsu hosted the event, bringing her wit and passion for sharing stories to help us celebrate the amazing women of First Step. Emcee Cindy Hsu, CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter. Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen then took the stage to reflect on the history of First Step and the theme of hope, which is so integral to the First Step program and to everything the Coalition does. Since its inception in 1991, First Step has inspired hope in and empowered nearly 2,000 women. Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen. We were extremely honored to have the amazing Adenah Bayoh join us this year as our inspiring keynote speaker. Adenah’s story embodies resilience and the American Dream. After escaping civil war in her native country of Liberia, she immigrated to the United States and has become one of the most successful and widely praised entrepreneurs in her home state of New Jersey, where she owns seven restaurants and numerous real estate developments. Adenah spoke about her struggles and triumph to become the youngest IHOP franchisee in the country, and the importance of asking for help when you need it: Keynote speaker Adenah Bayoh, Restaurateur and Real Estate Developer. We then heard the heart-wrenching and hopeful stories of two First Step graduates. This year’s video featured Monica, whose resilience shines through everything she does. First Step helped Monica find a full-time job, safe housing, and a community of women who showed her how to tap into her own intrinsic strengths and become the person she always knew she could be. After a lunch break, our incredible graduate speaker, Paulette, joined us live via Zoom. Paulette shared her story of the emotional devastation of going in and out of shelters with her husband and her three daughters, and the tragedies she endured. She found First Step through her housing counselor and she was hesitant at first, but wanted to show her daughters that no matter what happened in their lives, they could always turn things around: Graduate speaker Paulette joins via Zoom. “To say First Step gave me my first start is an understatement. First Step gave me opportunities, a new look on life, and a strength that no one will be able to break. It gave me hope and understanding that rainy days come, but never last.”Paulette, First Step Graduate, Class 161 Paulette then presented the 2022 Corporate Partnership Award to Upfluence. Paul Kahn, Senior Vice President of Sales at Upfluence, accepts the 2022 Corporate Partnership Award. For four years, Upfluence has been providing internships and jobs to so many First Step graduates like Paulette. They provide training opportunities, a sense of community, and a chance to work with people across the world. We cannot thank them enough for their partnership. We were also honored to (finally!) present the 2020 Corporate Partnership Award to Universal Standard two years late, after we had to cancel the 2020 luncheon at the last minute when the pandemic hit. One of the key components of First Step is our wonderful Boutique, where students can choose from an array of business attire – all for free. But we always had trouble stocking the boutique in all the different shapes and sizes of the women who come through our doors – until Universal Standard arrived. They have donated tens of thousands of items of clothing to date, and so the Boutique is now better than it has ever been. Thank you! Alexandra Waldman, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Universal Standard, accepts the (belated) 2020 Corporate Partnership Award. We would like to thank the attendees, sponsors, the Coalition’s board of directors, and the First Step Advisory Board for making this year’s Women Mean Business Luncheon so powerful. Monica and Paulette’s stories are just two examples of the lifelong support that the amazing staff of First Step provide to homeless and low-income women. This program’s unique combination of skills training, workshops, internships, job-readiness training, and social services support has allowed thousands of women to tap into their own intrinsic strengths and create a way out of homelessness and poverty for themselves and their families. It’s your support that has made First Step the successful program that it is today – thank you. First Step staff Catharine Sciolla (left) and Kelly Sheffield (right) with First Step’s founder, Betsy Wald (center). Keynote speaker Adenah Bayoh, Coalition Executive Director Dave Giffen, and emcee Cindy Hsu. Not able to attend the luncheon this year? Please consider making a gift in support of First Step.