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VOL. 122 | NO. 27 | Wednesday, February 14, 2007

National News Correspondent Lends Celebrity to YWCA Fund-Raiser

By Rosalind Guy

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Taina Hernandez

The YWCA of Greater Memphis bills itself as one of the greatest advocates for women and girls in the Memphis and Mid-South. And YWCA officials say they hope getting a little celebrity support will help shed the light on all the organization does.

The YWCA, which has been operating locally for almost 90 years, serves more than 12,000 women, girls and children per year and has an annual operating budget of $2.2 million, according to agency officials.

On March 7, the YWCA will host its 10th anniversary benefit luncheon at noon at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis on Central Avenue. The keynote speaker will be ABC News correspondent Taina Hernandez, who provided extensive coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She also covered the criminal court case of Scott Peterson in Redwood, Calif. Peterson was convicted of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner.

As the trial was nearing its end in 2005, Hernandez offered firsthand accounts of everything taking place in the courtroom.

A word on advocacy

Most people have heard of the YWCA and know of its involvement with girls and women. But not many people get a behind-the-scenes look at just how much the organization does.

Through community education classes, workshops on how to recognize the signs of an abuser and other training and employment services, the organization continues to serve as a resource by giving clients the tools they need to deal with an array of situations.

YWCA officials expect about 500 people to attend the fund-raiser luncheon.

"Usually, our attendance falls within the 400 to 500 range," said Shirley Burford, YWCA board president. "Our goal is always 500, but I would love to have the problem of trying to fit everybody in. And I'd like for this to be the year we have the problem."

Tickets are $100.

"With this being the 10th year for the luncheon, we're just doing all we can to bring attention to the needs of women and girls and our mission of empowering women and girls to be self-sufficient and to give them the tools that they need to be their own advocate," Burford said.

Headline news

And this year, officials say they hope one of the big draws to the luncheon will be Hernandez, co-anchor of "World News Now" and "America This Morning," ABC's early morning news programs.

Fayette County Criminal Justice Complex
Construction Started: March 2006
Expected Opening: Early 2008
Project Cost: About $15 million
Construction: Ray Bell Construction Co. Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.
Architects: Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon Inc. in Memphis

Facility Snapshot:
- About 69,000 square feet
- Jail with 170 beds and infirmary
- Two courtrooms
- Sheriff's department
- 911 office
- Offices for district attorney, public defender and circuit court clerk

Hernandez joined ABC News in December 2001 as a correspondent for NewsOne, the affiliate news service of ABC News. As a Los Angeles-based correspondent, she has reported on everything from the California wildfires to the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat. Davis was re-elected in 2002, but in October 2003 was removed from office with a recall election because voters were dissatisfied with the state's budget deficit, unemployment rate and other issues. Davis was succeeded by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In addition to the Peterson trial, Hernandez also covered the Michael Jackson child molestation trial in 2005 and the Robert Blake murder trial. Blake was tried and acquitted two years ago for the murder of his wife of six months, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was shot and killed behind a Los Angeles restaurant.

"We are quite honored to have the opportunity for Ms. Hernandez to serve as a keynote speaker for this special anniversary," Burford said. "We appreciate her taking the time to come to Memphis on behalf of the YWCA."

Another big draw is what YWCA executive director Mary Cole Nichols calls the local celebrity of Regina Walker. Walker, who is the senior vice president of community impact for the United Way of the Mid-South, will receive a special honor during the luncheon.

"She's a single mother of two girls," Burford said. "And she's very sensitive to the needs of women and girls in our community."

Burford said Walker, through volunteer activities and her role with the United Way, provides great leadership to women and girls in the community.

"She's a strong supporter of women and she understands the issues faced," Burford added. "And there are a lot of professional women out there who are doing a lot of great things in the way of leadership for women and girls. ... I just thought it would be great to honor her this year."

Walker also recently was named to the 2007 MPACT Memphis advisory board.

Something for everyone

Nichols said this is the first time the YWCA has brought in a nationally renowned speaker for its annual luncheon. Past speakers have included Kathy Buckman Gibson, vice chair of Buckman Laboratories International Inc., and last year's speaker, Victoria Chicon from Peru, also a small-business owner in Atlanta.

Though the organization's focus is on empowering women and girls, officials certainly don't want men to feel left out.

"The event attracts men as well as women," Burford said. "Of course, the women are usually in the majority, but we do have strong male support.

"And we have a lot of our local leaders that attend this luncheon and they recognize the work that we do and have been very supportive, and so we expect to have the same kind of attention on us this year."

Also, people who plan to attend the luncheon may pay tribute to a special woman in their lives by placing something on a wall of honor there. The tribute or memorial may include a picture, a statement about the person or quotations, said Nichols.

That information would have to be handed in beforehand. And Nichols said YWCA officials will accept tribute information up to a week before the luncheon.

For more information, call 323-2211.

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