Women Mean Business Luncheon Raises $600,000 for First Step

On Friday, April 28th nearly 250 business and community leaders joined First Step graduates, Coalition for the Homeless staff, and program supporters at the Plaza Hotel for the 2023 Women Mean Business Luncheon. This year’s celebration was a tremendous success, raising over $600,000 for the Coalition’s First Step Job Training Program, ensuring we are able to provide the courageous women we serve with the training and support they need to begin successful careers and transform their lives.

The Women Mean Business Luncheon program in The Plaza Hotel Grand Ballroom.

This year we welcomed back Emmy Award-winning CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter Cindy Hsu as our emcee. Cindy brought her high level of energy and wit to celebrate the amazing women of First Step. 

Emcee Cindy Hsu, CBS2 News Anchor and Reporter.

In his opening remarks, Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen reflected on the devastating growth of homelessness in New York City and how the First Step Job Training Program continues to give homeless and low-income women a way to leave homelessness and poverty behind forever. 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.

Alicia Graf Mack, Dean and Director of Julliard Dance, gave an unforgettable keynote address that drew parallels between the first position in ballet (which she demonstrated on stage) and taking one’s “first step” toward a new life. Alicia relayed how she sees and experiences the world through movement, and spoke of the incredibly inspiring women of First Step and how they “embody the very qualities of the most accomplished ballerinas: grace and grit.” 

Without a doubt, the highlights of the luncheon were the moving and triumphant personal accounts of First Step graduates Melissalee and Belinda.  

This year’s First Step video featured Melissalee’s journey through the shelter system and the struggles she faced before finding First Step. First Step became a turning point in Melissalee’s story, restoring her hope and giving her the tools she needs to thrive professionally. The skills and confidence Melissalee gained through the program lend themselves well to her current work with the Coalition’s Advocacy Department.  

Our graduate speaker, Belinda, moved the room to laughter, tears, and a standing ovation after bravely delivering a moving speech on the many twists and turns of her life before finding First Step. Throughout the course of her life, Belinda held a wide variety of low-wage jobs to support herself and her family, until finally finding First Step when she “walked into the wrong room at the right time.” Through First Step, she was able to not only secure a long-term, living wage job, but also move up in her company into a management position and find ways to give back to the program that helped her so much.

The Coalition was delighted to honor Ruth Pryor for her steadfast compassion, commitment, and generosity towards the First Step Program. Long-time First Step Advisory Board member Barbara Kolsun introduced Ruth as the event’s Philanthropic Honoree. Since joining the First Step Advisory Board in 2018, Ruth has been a fierce and loyal ally of the program’s holistic approach to job training and to date has donated over $1,000,000 to ensure the program’s continued success.

We would like to thank the attendees, sponsors, the Coalition’s Board of Directors, and the First Step Advisory Board for making this event so memorable. Melissalee’s and Belinda’s stories are just two examples of the life-long support provided to homeless and low-income women by the amazing staff of the First Step Job Training Program. This program’s unique combination of hard-skills training, job-readiness training, workshops, internships, and social services support has allowed hundreds of women from over 175 classes (and counting) to thrive and find a way out of homelessness and poverty for themselves and their families. It is your support that has helped make First Step the successful program that it is today. 

Not able to attend the luncheon this year? Please consider making a gift in support of First Step.