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Women United Road Trip: California Edition

Follow along with Kassaundra Escalera, Director of Women's Engagement, as she takes a road trip through California to advocate for financial stability with Women United.

May 13th

7:00 AM—I wake up early this Sunday morning to get ready and head out for my Women United Road Trip: Cali Edition. After double checking that I have enough business lady suits and all my Women United swag, I call my Lyft to Dulles International Airport.

7:30 AM—Dulles is a bit of a hike from where I live in DC, but it did allow for me to have a lovely conversation with my Lyft driver, David. He lived out west when he was in the Navy (nearly a decade ago), so we connect on the pros/cons of east coast vs. west coast livin'. 

8:15 AM—I arrive at Dulles, fly through security (I recently invested in Global Entry—and it’s a game-changer) and head to my gate.

9:50 AM—TAKE OFF…and nap time. I don’t often sleep well before big trips, but I can sleep like a baby on airplanes. When I wake up—I get some stellar mountain views and put on ‘Coco,’ which is a great flick if you haven’t had the chance to see it yet (it’s on Netflix now…)

2:30 PM—I arrive at my Airbnb in the Castro and meet my host Leonard (and Leo the Parrot). I always enjoy staying in the Castro—there are lots of great foodie spots, outdoorsy options nearby and tons of rainbows everywhere.

3:00 PM—I spend the afternoon preparing for the upcoming week’s meetings in San Francisco and Sacramento.

7:00 PM—I have dinner at Starbelly, since it’s close and recommended by our Women United Global Leadership Council Vice-chair, Michelle Branch

9:00PM—After dinner, I call it an early night—it’s midnight in DC after all and I’m 30 y’all!!

May 14th

8:00 AM—My Airbnb host, Leonard, has made some French press coffee for us to share. We discuss the current state of philanthropy in the Bay Area/Silicone Valley. I share with him my work at United Way and the challenges we are tackling in communities across the world. He’s surprised to hear that we work outside the United States—we are present in 40 countries and territories!

9:00 AM—I head downtown to United Way Bay Area’s (UWBA) office to meet with my amazing colleagues. We spend some time discussing the skyrocketing cost of living in the Bay Area. Despite the continued rise in the cost of living, salaries for the region’s lowest paid workers have stalled. United Way Bay Area women leaders have been leading the charge in public policy by advocating for affordable housing, California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and raising the minimum wage.

12:00 PM—We have lunch at a nearby tapas restaurant and discuss the plan for our travels up to Sacramento.

2:00 PM—I spend the rest of the day meeting other folks at United Way Bay Area, working remotely and planning for my upcoming trips to Denver and Wisconsin.

10:00 PM—Early bedtime again. I’m meeting our Women United Global Leadership Council Chair bright and early for our roadtrip to Sacramento!

May 15th

7:00 AM—I wake up and pack-up my bag for my one night’s stay in Sacramento. In my five years with United Way Worldwide, I haven’t had the chance to attend a state-wide Capital Day. Needless to say, I’m excited for the opportunity to join over 100 United Way leaders from 30+ United Ways to represent the interests of Californian children and families in the areas of income, education and health. 

8:00 AM—Michelle picks me up from my Airbnb. We make a short pit-stop at Ritual Coffee for a little caffeine (and perhaps a carb or two) to fuel our journey.

10:30 AM—While at the Capital, we are briefed on the pertinent issues facing Californians and the policies United Way is supporting at the state-level.

1:00 PM—I tag along with United Way Bay Area for their legislative meetings, during which we focus on Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and affordable housing.

2:00 PM—The work United Way is doing around VITA and EITC is particularly striking to me—did you know EITC is the most effective anti-poverty strategy?! The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) are refundable credits that allow working families to keep more of what they earn to pay for necessities like reliable transportation, child care, and groceries. Together the EITC and CTC lifted 9.8 million people out of poverty in 2015. And most of this money is reinvested back into in the local community!

Having both utilized Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site tax-preparing services and volunteered as a VITA tax preparer in San Antonio, TX, I know the critical role this program plays in helping families keep more of what they earn at tax time.

6:00 PM—After returning from our full day of meetings, we head to the reception to honor key legislators and to present the inaugural Carol Jackson Leader in Advocacy Award. The award was created to honor Carol Jackson’s achievements within United Way’s advocacy, Women United –  and in the world.

The inaugural award was presented to our very own Women United Global Leadership Council Vice-Chair, Michelle Branch, who has been a champion for mobilizing and elevating women in advocacy throughout the United Way network.

10:00 PM—I return to my Airbnb and phew—it was packed day. These Women United road trips are generally jam-packed. It’s a good thing I’m an ambivert.

May 16th

9:00 AM—We reconvene with our Women United leaders from across California to discuss our global Women United strategy. We spend much of our time connecting on best practices in women’s leadership/philanthropy.

The power and synergy when you bring together this dynamic group of women leaders is always energizing!

10:30 AM—Karen Calderon, recipient of United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ The Carol Jackson Award for Excellence in Advocacy, delivers an incredibly impactful keynote as she shares her journey to becoming Los Angeles Unified School District’s first-ever student board member. Karen's passion for civic engagement and her tireless work to ensure that LA’s students had a voice at the table was both heartening and inspiring. I was excited to hear her say “…because of United Way’s Young Civic Leaders Program, I know I don’t have to wait until I’m 30 to run for office!” She 100% has my vote! 

3:00PM—Got in one quick hike with Michelle Branch at Marin Headlands an hour before my flight. And so that ends my California Women United Road trip…until next time!

Kassaundra Escalera currently serves as Director of Women's Engagement at United Way Worldwide. In this role, she oversees Women United, a unique community of women leaders fighting for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.