2021 Virtual Girl Within Event

This afternoon was filled with hope and inspiration.

Paula Gilberto, 2021 Woman of the Year, inspired us with her leadership, support and her commitment to helping girls and young women.

Text GW21 to 76278 to give now!

Liza inspired us with her resilience.

Davine inspired us with her perseverance.

2021 Woman of the Year

Paula Gilberto Headshot_2016_USE THIS ONE

Paula S. Gilberto

United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut

Paula S. Gilberto, President and CEO of United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, joined the organization in 1998 as Vice President, Community Services and subsequently Senior Vice President. Her focus has been on developing public/private partnerships to advance grade-level reading, student achievement, financial security, and workforce development. 

Paula is a founding member of United Way’s Women United, which raises resources for comprehensive financial capability services for women and families. She chairs Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford; serves on the boards of Capital Workforce Partners and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions; is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Community Development Council and CHEFA’s Community Development Corporation Advisory Council; a corporator for Hartford Hospital and Hospital of Central Connecticut, and a volunteer for the National Conference for Community and Justice. She also serves on United Way Worldwide’s Membership Accountability Committee and various teams developing organizational resources for the network.

Paula holds a Master of Science in Organizational Behavior, University of Hartford; a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Psychology, University of Bridgeport; and is Family Strengthening for Success Fellow, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 

2021 Young Woman of the Year

Saher Ashraf

Real Talk and Vernon ROCKS Coalition

Since 2019, Saher has been a dedicated member of Real Talk, the youth group of the Vernon ROCKS Coalition. Through her work she has supported the coalition’s mission to prevent youth substance use and advocated for her peers, amplifying the work of The Village’s substance use prevention program and partner agencies across Vernon and Manchester. 
Through Real Talk, Saher has been instrumental in helping fellow teens build resilience and understanding around substance use by offering tools, resources and guidance to her peers and their families. Recognizing academic stressors as a risk factor connected with substance use, Saher developed resources to support her peers as they navigated the switch to virtual learning during COVID-19.
She also engages school and town administrators to promote the importance of positive mental health across her community and leads an array of community-building activities with the same focus. As a leader with Real Talk, Saher has also aided in multimedia substance use awareness campaigns ranging from social media to billboards to help her community take strides in its prevention efforts.

Presenting Sponsor

Gold Sponsor


Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors



Eastern Connecticut State University

Jean & Ed Cowles

Future Benefits

Gowrie Group

Hartford Hospital at Hartford HealthCare

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation


Liberty BankC



Smith Brothers Insurance

Webster Bank

Patron Sponsor

Connecticut Health Foundation

The Toczydlowski Family

Get the latest news and updates about the Girl Within Event:

A History of Serving Young Women & Girls

Founded in 1809, The Village has a long history of helping young women and girls who need guidance and support to become resilient, confident and independent, and those who have experienced abuse and neglect to heal. Proceeds from the event support early intervention, educational and empowerment programs for young women, girls and their families, as well as therapeutic, residential and educational support in safe, caring environments. The mission of The Village is to build a community of strong, healthy families who protect and nurture children. We are now pleased to extend our exceptional care to adults by offering mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment.

Woman of the Year

Each year, a woman is honored at the event for her extraordinary service to girls and young women. The Woman of the Year is a volunteer who advocates for at-risk girls and young women, motivates and inspires young women to realize their potential, creates meaningful opportunities for the community to support programs that serve young women and has had a transformative effect on a young woman’s life.

Girl Within Committee

Chair: Jeanmarie Cooper

Members: Carlene Bush, Carrie Casciani, Jean Cowles, Judy Coughlin, Cathy Iacovazzi, Diane Lipes, Patricia Marealle, Dr. Elsa Núñez, Bonnie Parry, Damaris Rivera and Laura Stevens

Past Women of the Year


Racquel Santana



Dr. Estela López



Carrie Firestone



Francine Christiansen



Alison Coolbrith



Carle Mowell



JoAnn Price



Linda Carlson



Sallie Norris



Janet Bailey


2020 Girl Within Virtual Event

The 2020 Girl Within Virtual Event was filled with hope and inspiration at The Girl Within Virtual Event! Racquel Santana, 2020 Woman of the Year, inspired us to turn empathy into action by supporting girls and young women at every stage of their lives. Clients Leah, Pauline and Alyissa and Village staff member Tiffany inspired us with their stories of hope and selflessness.

Girl Within Event Selected Photos

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