IMPACT
06/15/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

16th Annual Women Mean Business Luncheon Celebrates Record Attendance, Raises Money & Awareness For Coalition For The Homeless's First Step Program (PHOTOS)

On Thursday April 8th, scores of impressive women and men gathered at The Pierre Hotel in New York City for the 16th Annual Women Mean Business luncheon to benefit the First Step Job Training Program and Coalition For The Homeless. The luncheon boasted the highest attendance in its history, with over 400 supporters and raising over $165,000 for First Step. Credit Suisse was honored for their support of the program.

The keynote speaker was this site's founder, Arianna Huffington, who told the audience "This is an extraordinary moment, when the crisis our country's going through - and let's not fool ourselves, whatever's going on in Wall Street, Main Street is still in trouble - but that crisis can be used as an opportunity to for us to step up to the plate, make our lives about something more than our own private concerns, successes, and preoccupations, and create a critical mass for us to give back, that will transform not only the lives of people in trouble, not only the lives of homeless men, homeless women, and homeless children, but our own lives, and the life of our country."

Scroll down for more luncheon details.

Photos by Patrick McMullan.

From the press release:

The event included leaders in the art, music, fashion and media industries including Kim McCarty, Vogue's Valerie Boster and Genevieve Bahrenburg, Peter Davis, Lauren Remington Platt, Mickey Boardman, Elle's Caitlin Weiskopf, Mary Barone, Art Production Fund's Casey Fremont, Nina Freudenberger, Shelly Fremont, Lesley Blume, Vanity Fair's Cator Sparks, Liesl Schillinger, W's Elissa Lumley, Kayce Freed Jennings, Bettina Prentice, Sarita Varma, Gossip Girl's Zuzanna Szadkowski, William Heath, Cynthia Basinet, Jane Lauder and Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Mary Brosnahan. Keynote speaker Arianna Huffington presented a moving call to action to feed and support the world's hungry and homeless population while also relating anecdotes from her illustrious career. She related to the crowd that she has raised her own children to embrace volunteerism, considering good works to be necessary for the development of the soul. She encouraged guests to read the Huffington Post's new IMPACT section, entirely devoted to charity and volunterism. She also touched on national politics and quipped to the crowd: "Remember when I was a Republican?"

Actress Caroline Rhea emceed the luncheon and received rave reviews from party-goers who appreciated her comedic timing as well as empathetic reaction to speakers like Paula McDowell and Michelle Matthews. Several times Ms. Rhea was moved to tears while hearing about the struggles that many of the women present had endured. Perhaps most touching was the testimony by First Step's newly appointed program Director Diana Olaizola. A graduate of the First Step program in 1998, Ms. Olaizola lived on the street in a cardboard box before finally overcoming a long struggle with substance abuse and enrolling in the First Step program. Struggling to hold back tears, Ms. Olaizola thanked Coalition for the Homeless for not giving up on her during her struggles and then asked her own daughter, Sheena Buitrego, to stand so she could acknowledge her for being the inspiration to turn her life around.

First Step is an innovative 14 week job training program that provides homeless and low income women with the skills that they need to become self sufficient and rejoin the work force. The curriculum includes 75 hours of computer training, literacy workshops, communications and interpersonal skills development, mentorships and job placement. The program acknowledges that the overwhelming majority of homeless families living in New York's shelter system consist of single mothers struggling to provide their children with safe and stable homes. First Step gives these women the tools and support that they need to provide for their families financially and end the cycle of hopelessness. Each year First Step helps hundreds of homeless women achieve a newfound sense of self-esteem and direction. The program has an extremely high success rate with over 75% of graduates securing full time employment.

The Coalition for the Homeless is the nation's oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women, and children. The Coalition is dedicated to the principle that affordable housing, sufficient food, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. Since their inception in 1981, Coalition for the Homeless has fought successfully for lasting solutions to homelessness through their renowned advocacy.