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Chris Linnares, Published October 09 2013

Women's Wisdom: United Way campaigns help create connections

Apply for 35 Under 35

What: United Way’s 35 Under 35, a six-month women’s leadership program designed for area women 35 and younger.

When: Application deadline for the 2014 program is Oct. 18

Info: Selected participants must commit to $500 in program tuition. Some employers sponsor their employees as a professional development opportunity. A limited number of scholarships provided by the collaborating women’s organizations are available upon request.

Apply: Visit www.formstack.com/forms/unitedwayofcassclay-35under35application2014. Contact Tiffany McShane at tmcshane@unitedwaycassclay.org with any questions.

I know the power of connection because I know how powerless it feels to be disconnected. I still remember the feeling of walking by myself around downtown Fargo after I moved here from Brazil and didn’t have anyone to call to go for coffee besides my husband (who doesn’t drink coffee).

After going through my pity-party phase during which I spent hours on the phone with my Brazilian friends sharing how difficult it was to make connections in a place where it felt like we needed to hibernate half the year, something happened that inspired me to change my situation.

It was another lonely Friday afternoon, and I was looking through my email full of Brazilian messages and suddenly saw a message in English saying, “How are you today, Chris?” I was so excited that someone in this country had found me and wanted to connect, but my brief happiness went away when I realized that the “sweet email” I received was actually a Viagra advertisement.

In that moment I told myself, “You have two options: stop complaining and do something about it or continue to let your inbox fill with Viagra commercials.”

That’s when I made the decision to start my “Make-Connections-Beyond-Viagra Project.” The first step I took was to volunteer at local organizations. I also began inviting someone – anyone – for coffee once a week. Sometimes it was an interesting person I chatted with at an event. Other times I asked that friendly sales woman who had just sold me a cute red sweater. Babb’s Coffee House on Main Avenue in Fargo, with its quaint décor and amazing coffee, quickly became my personal office.

That was eight years ago, and when I look back, I feel so grateful for the connections I made in this community. If it weren’t for each person who took the time to talk to me and listen to my story, dreams and passions, I wouldn’t be here today.

Connections can empower our life and help us impact the world. Today, one of my biggest passions is to be a catalyst of meaningful connections. That’s why I am so inspired by the mission of United Way, an organization committed in bringing people together to improve lives. It is through those connections that the United Way has been supporting communities for more than 125 years.

I can’t talk about United Way without mentioning one of the driving forces behind it: Kristi Huber.

Huber is the resource development director for United Way of Cass-Clay, and she is responsible for the programming and execution of the 35 Under 35 Women’s Leadership Program, the Women’s Leadership Council and the Annual Campaign.

Huber, who carries kindness in her eyes and deep compassion in her heart, defines her personal mission and the United Way’s mission in few words: “We are a big connector.”

I hope this inspiring woman continues her powerful mission to improve people’s lives in our community, so our inboxes can be filled with life-giving connections that can provoke more empowerment and the feeling that we are united.

Q In the story of your life, what was the most challenging moment you needed to overcome?

A Prior to moving back to this community in 2002, I had moved four times in four and a half years with what I thought was my “dream job,” and I had lost my sense of self.

Although I was on the fast track and soon up for another promotion, I had lost my sense of purpose and I had lost myself. I was miserable and lonely, but I wasn’t willing to give up what I had perceived as the level of success that I had worked so hard to earn.

I realized in order to survive, I had to make the very difficult decision to leave the company and potential career to move back to the Fargo-Moorhead area and create a fresh start.

Q What empowered you to overcome those challenging moments?

A Fortunately, my family was extremely supportive in the decision to relocate to the Fargo-Moorhead area, and that gave me the confidence to move to a city where I didn’t have many contacts or even a job.

My faith empowered me to overcome the insecurities and doubt that were the giant obstacles in my life.

QIf you gave the book of your life to your teenage self, what lessons do you wish she’d learn then that you know now?

A I think that for so many of our young teenage women, the earlier that they can each recognize something that they have a natural talent or ability for and to confidently and whole-heartedly believe that talent can be used to collaborate with other young women’s talents, will provide an unprecedented opportunity to create measurable change in the communities we live in.

QWhat advice can you give to empower a woman’s life story?

A Be authentic. During challenging times people will turn to leaders that are real. Know your strengths and your weaknesses, and be authentic and humble to both.

If you haven’t taken the time to understand your strengths, check out the book “Strengths Finder 2.0” and take the assessment. Once you understand your strengths, spend more time investing in them than your weaknesses.

Q How can women best impact the world today?

A I believe that mentorship is one of the most powerful resources that women and men can invest in today and change the future of our community tomorrow. Children are one-third of our population and 100 percent of our future.

The Big Brother Big Sister program reinforces the fact that what really matters to the children in the program is not the activities that you do together, but it’s the fact that they have a caring adult in their lives. United Way of Cass-Clay is proud to partner with the Big Brother Big Sister program.

Chris Linnares is international author, psychotherapist and founder of Women’s Impact, formerly Diva Connection Foundation. Originally from Brazil, she lives in Fargo with her daughter and husband Bill Marcil Jr., publisher of the Forum. To suggest a woman for this column, email chris@womensimpact.org. For more information on Linnares’ work visit www.chrislinnares.com.