By Michelle Cellucci

I recently turned fifty.

I tell you this, not to brag or to set you up to accept my dazzling new found wisdom, but to provide some timeline context for my story.


When I was fourteen, my brilliant, beautiful seventeen-year-old cousin was the top student of her class in math. For this, her high school guidance counselor showered her in what I considered to be the appropriate amount of praise and then in the very next breath, he advised her that her best career option was to become a secretary. I was livid. This was the eighties after all. The women’s movement had changed everything, hadn’t it? Nothing against secretaries, but she was the top of her class and that was the BEST that he thought she could do?

I raged at the unfairness of it all, (yes, sadly, I was that kid) and then I abruptly became disquieted when I noted her reaction to his advice: resignation and a total lack of surprise. She was only three years older than me. Without change, this was what I could expect for my future. But how could I expect change if I personally did nothing to make that happen?


I would like to think that the ranting “not fair” kid matured into the socially minded advocate I’ve become. Reflecting back (a popular pastime for people who’ve aged), my convoluted path through life now seems purposefully designed to equip me with the tools, experiences and skills to make the necessary changes for opportunity both locally and abroad. Joining up with United Way shortly after moving to this region seemed a naturally good fit for making that happen. They have a long history of investing in high-impact programs to best address critical social issues. Our own regional United Way, United Way Simcoe Muskoka (or UWSM), has had 60 years of experience in understanding and addressing the core issues that affect our area. This includes recognizing specific local nuances that differentiates my area from our neighboring communities across and within the region.

The older I get, the more I’ve come to value my time and my investments, and the more I’ve come to believe that both have been well placed over the last 10+ years acting as a donor and volunteer with UWSM.


One of the cons of aging is that you can begin to believe that you have seen “it” (or some version of “it all”), and there seems to be little that can surprise you. Occasionally, you get knocked back into reality. Such an occasion occurred for me at the annual Women’s Leadership Council luncheon this year.

Expecting to hear about the human trafficking concerns throughout the states and perhaps within major Canadian cities, I was blown away by the news that trafficking runs rampant right up the 400 corridor and into the city of Barrie – and even on the beautiful docks of Muskoka. Here, in our region. Not only was I made aware that this emerging issue was distinctly relevant within our community, but I was also informed of the significant local scope of effort already mobilized to assist those trafficked, and the characteristics and circumstances that made one vulnerable. For many in the room this was a wake-up call.


I have been a member of the United Way Simcoe Muskoka Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) since its beginning in 2015. Donating through the council has given me both the experienced and informed capacity I have come to trust from UWSM, combined with the added opportunity for more direct input from me and my donation. Informed by the organization’s research and of their current community investments, we decide as a group where our collective donation would best serve. We are directly involved in the vetting of applications and the allocation process, and we receive the results of our investment in real time.

As a side benefit, I have greatly enjoyed meeting and interacting with like-minded, caring women of various ages and stages of life.

Previous years have resulted in WLC investments in youth mental health. I am excited to say that this year’s allocation will bring me full circle…  We will be supporting local projects that benefit girls and women combating educational and financial barriers to their overall health.

The 14-year-old girl residing within me can’t help but smile…


Local giving. Local results.


Michelle Cellucci | Midwife (retired)

Michelle Cellucci is an Oro-Medonte resident. She is a UWSM Board Director (and former Board Chair) and a founding member of the UWSM Women’s Leadership Council.

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