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0907 PD: You can’t say they’re behind the scenes

Brandon Covey Published on 31 August 2007

In June 2005, a group of eight women were sitting around a kitchen table planning a fashion show. One woman mentioned a local children’s home where the kids needed undergarments. The woman also found out that the children could only get one glass of milk each day – if they asked for it and if there was enough money in the budget that week.

Perhaps it was because it was dairy month, but more likely because these women were involved in the dairy industry, they decided to do something about it. Like that, the United Dairy Women organization was formed. Today, the children at that same home are receiving their three dairy servings daily, along with other food and essential items. In addition, UDW has been able to help several other similar homes and charities in eastern New Mexico.

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In the fall of 2006, the group became a non-profit organization, but only after losing one of their founding members, Debbie Idsinga, in a car accident last August. “Due to an overwhelming response in memorial funds sent in, we were led to seek the non-profit status to help us better utilize that money,” says President Margaret Cody. Fortunately, the group’s treasurer, Megan Palla, is a CPA and was able to help them through this challenging transition. Furthermore, the accounting firm she works for donated all of Palla’s time.

To date, United Dairy Women have been able to give over $156,000 back to their communities through fund-raising and generous tax-deductible donations and gifts. They host an annual Milk Lover’s Ball the Saturday after Valentine’s Day, which is a semi-formal charity ball. This is where they raise most of the money for the children’s homes. In fact, many of the kids attend the ball and help out by dressing in cow costumes and handing out stickers. “A lot of people assume that these faith-based organizations will be taken care of, but that’s not always true. That’s where we try to help,” says Michelle Heavyside, a UDW founder and former president.

Each year, they also host DairyFest on the last Saturday in June. This is a popular educational celebration. “DairyFest is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the community. It is our way of bringing the dairy to them,” says Cody.

DairyFest covers everything from seed and feed to recycling and making milk. They can learn through producers, animal and human nutritionists and games. This year, they had over 250 volunteers for the event. “Today most people are three generations from the farm,” says Heavyside. “DairyFest is our attempt to educate the public. Our goals are always to feed, entertain and educate.”

United Dairy Women also helped put on the Doug and Debbie Idsinga Memorial Golf Tournament earlier this year. Proceeds will go to renovate the show barns at the Roosevelt County (New Mexico) Fairgrounds. “Once those goals are accomplished, we’ll move into some scholarships,” says Heavyside.

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This fall, they are offering a $2,500 scholarship to eligible Texas, New Mexico or Arizona applicants seeking an ag-related degree with a 3.0 or higher GPA. Application and an essay from each applicant will be due December 1st, and the winner (chosen by an outside committee) will be announced by December 31st.

Possibly one of the greatest benefits of UDW is fellowship with other women – women who are family-oriented and share common values. “Some of the women had never had an opportunity to do something for their community,” says Heavyside. “But there are opportunities if you look for them. We offer women a chance to give something back.”

Cody adds, “We also inspire each other and reaffirm what we can accomplish together.”

Secretary Fathom McKeown says, “The reason why I joined was because I was incredibly moved by the accomplishment of Milk Lover’s Ball, providing all the milk for the children’s homes, and then secondly, I wanted to be a part of making the dairy industry’s image a positive one.” Heavyside adds, “A lot of times, women in our industry are behind the scenes. We’re up front, putting it out there, leading the way and paving the way for women to be able to speak up for this industry and do good things.”

Heavyside says, “It takes a lot of people to make this industry; it’s not just the dairyman.” She said she was amused when another woman commented to her: “I’ve never met a dairy woman before.” That got her to thinking: What is one supposed to look like? Would you know one if you saw one? Should I be wearing my overalls? “For us to get out and put a face with our image, that’s been great,” she says.

United Dairy Women has helped break stereotypes and has provided a place for women to take action and take on leadership roles. “We have a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and eight board members (one does double-duty),” says Heavyside, who is also a current board member. Cody adds, “We have quarterly membership meetings at each other’s homes or over dinner, and we hold committee meetings as needed.”

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In addition, their monthly newsletter helps get the word out about which homes need which items. The women work closely with local shelters and food banks. They say their plans are to continue serving children’s homes and expand to help more homes when they can. In just two short years, UDW’s membership has grown from eight to more than 70 women. These members currently live in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. However, membership is open to everyone – dairy producers and industry-related professionals. Heavyside says, “We never thought we’d be this big. If we have to, we may form chapters, but we’ll never turn anyone down for membership.” Cody adds, “We are all volunteers; your payment is in heaven.” PD

For more information on United Dairy Women, upcoming events, the organization’s scholarship or how to become a member, visit www.uniteddairywomen.com.

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