Every year for the past three decades, members of RBC Wealth Management's Women's Association of Financial Advisors (WAFA) have come together for a few days in the fall to connect, learn and lift one another up. It's a conference like no other, they say, with some members describing the event as a key component to their ongoing growth and success as financial advisors.
While the inspiration itself is important, many attendees say the opportunity to extend that impact to women and the broader community is equally as meaningful. That's why each year, WAFA leaders pick a local organization in the city where the conference is held to support either financially or with donated items. Socks were donated to veteran organization Haven for Heroes and clothing was collected for a San Diego school that supports students experiencing homelessness.
Attendees of the 2017 WAFA conference packed backpacks with snacks and activities for children undergoing cancer treatment at the Children's Minnesota hospital.
The charitable piece of the WAFA conference started decades ago. The cash and goods (socks, shoes, clothing, etc.) that members donate individually are not tracked by the company, but since 2015, RBC Wealth Management has given an additional $15,000 on behalf of WAFA. Although the conference was held virtually in 2020 and again in 2021, organizers say attendees were still so moved by the chosen charity that they still gave.
"We're in the business of helping people and giving back goes right along with it," says Carrie Rosen, director of RBC Wealth Management's Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. branch, who co-chaired a past conference and chose the organization Monarch School in San Diego. The school helps students experiencing homelessness by providing the education they need to break out of poverty. The women organized a donation drive where they donated both cash and clothing.
"I love to do it and I think everybody does," Rosen says. "We really like to have the opportunity to help others in their communities and to learn about different organizations that are out there."
Helping single mothers
For the 2021 conference, WAFA chose Emerge Mother's Academy, based in Minneapolis, Minn., which works to help single mothers thrive as they endure the struggles that come with parenting on their own. The organization offers resources including social services, mental health support and financial literacy. The RBC Foundation, on behalf of WAFA, donated $2,500 to Emerge Mother's Academy during the Nov. conference.
"With the pandemic and everybody working from home for a while, there were a lot of mothers multitasking. Not only were they working their day jobs, but they were also serving as at-home teachers and chefs, and all of these things they normally wouldn't do because they're at work," says Jackie Larson, director of RBC Wealth Management's Minnetonka, Minn. branch and co-chair of the 2021 conference.
Those factors were the driving force behind the selection of Emerge Mother's Academy as a WAFA conference charitable recipient.
"During the pandemic, so much of the extra caregiving and childcare responsibilities have fallen on women," says Shareen Luze, co-executive sponsor of WAFA and head of Culture and Field Experience at RBC Wealth Management. "Although they recognize circumstances and support levels vary in different families, many WAFA members who are mothers were forced into challenging situations when the pandemic hit. As a result, they know how difficult it can be to carry the load while trying to work and support their families."
In past years, conference attendees have suggested organizations they've personally supported before or those with missions that align with WAFA's values of supporting women. Since the conference typically falls around Veterans Day, WAFA has also donated to organizations that support veterans. They've also helped charities that support job-seeking women by donating business-appropriate clothes. Children's hospitals and cancer research have also received help.
"It's kind of neat to let all of us discover other worthwhile organizations that we wouldn't have otherwise known about," Rosen says. “Most people do have their regular recipients, but if once or twice a year we can give to something else why wouldn't we?"
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