Erin Gruwell, an educator who inspired at-risk students through writing and storytelling and whose story was made into a Hollywood movie, “The Freedom Writers,” will be the featured guest speaker at the annual Power of the Purse fundraiser for United Way.
The event is set for Tuesday, June 14, at Rochester International Event Center. The silent purse auction will take place at 10:30 a.m., followed by a VIP reception with Gruwell. The lunch and keynote speech are scheduled for noon.
The purse, now in its 11th year, is the biggest fundraiser for United Way of Olmsted County, focused on improving the lives of the area’s youth and preparing children and at-risk students for school.
In the past, that money has primarily supported the Imagination Library, a nonprofit that mails age-appropriate books to children’s homes on a regular basis. But in the last year or so, the scope of support has expanded to include programs such as Running Start, an initiative to provide school supplies to needy children, and mentorship programs, officials say.
Past speakers have highlighted the critical link between success in school and success in life, but Gruwell’s story is a particularly apt example of that connection.
In 1994, Gruwell was a first-year teacher in Long Beach, Calif., assigned to teach low-performing youth. Using storytelling, journal-writing and a gift for teaching, Gruwell was able to awaken a motivation and commitment to school among her students. All 150 Freedom Writers graduated from high school, and many went on to college.
The story of the Freedom Writers would be the focus of stories on “PrimeTime Live,” “The View” and “Good Morning America.”
Four years later, Gruwell left teaching and founded the Freedom Writers Foundation to spread the method across the country.
“Erin is the prefect person to share her story and for her to learn about our story,” says Keri Norman, chairwoman of this year’s Power of the Purse and development officer at Mayo Clinic. “It’s a perfect connection to the reasons why we do the event.”
The need is underscored by the area’s graduation rate. In Olmsted County, 82 percent of all students graduate on time, but the rate drops to 65 percent for students on free or reduced lunch programs.
Norman says more than 200 purses, many of them high-end accessories, were put up for auction last year. And many brand-name purses will be up for auction this year as well.
About $60,000 was raised at last year’s Power of the Purse, which admits about 700 people and has been a sellout the last couple of years.
“It’s really about preparing young kids for school and making sure that our youth are really achieving those important milestones,” says Norman.
If you go
What: 11th Annual Power of the Purse
When: Tuesday, June 14. 10:30 a.m., silent purse auction; 11 a.m., VIP reception with Erin Gruwell; noon, lunch and keynote speaker
Where: Rochester International Event Center, 7333 Airport View Drive SW, Rochester
Tickets: $50 luncheon, $15 speaker reception