Melissa Bernstein, Co-founder of Melissa & Doug, Keynotes 13th Annual Greenwich United Way Sole Sisters Luncheon

Mother of six and Co-founder of $400 million-dollar educational toy company talks about failure and leading the #TakeBackChildhood movement. 

The 13th Annual Greenwich United Way Sole Sisters Luncheon was held on Tuesday, April 24, at the Greenwich Country Club. The fundraiser brought approximately 350 attendees together in support of Greenwich United Way’s community solutions in the areas of education, self-sufficiency, and health. This year’s inspirational keynote speaker was Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of Melissa & Doug, a toy brand that grew from a fuzzy farm puzzle to a $400+ million-dollar company. Bernstein is a mother of six and dreams of a day when kids are free from over scheduling, undue pressure, and digital distractions so they may develop into free thinkers and realize their full potential.

From classic wooden toys to crafts, pretend play, and games, Melissa & Doug products provide a launch pad to ignite imagination and a sense of wonder in all children to help them discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose. Since the company’s founding more than 25 years ago, Melissa & Doug has consistently delivered innovative products that inspire open-ended thinking, encourage kids to see new possibilities, and offer Countless Ways to Play. “It’s part of a bigger vision to Take Back Childhood,” said Bernstein. She continued, “Because by giving children a true childhood with space and freedom to explore their world, we give them a path to realizing their full potential”.

During her motivational and informative keynote, Bernstein talked about her many failures and how failure is “life’s greatest teacher” and is the “key to success”. Bernstein took attendees through a psychological explanation of fear, failure and proved through defining success that failure is part of the discovery process and essential for personal growth. She cited Rachel Simmons, Author of Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives, and presented the impacts of fear and failure on women and society. “We need to be given permission to fail,” Bernstein said. “If we can truly embrace failure as the profound gift it is we would proactively take risks, knowing failing is just a necessary part of the journey to help us become who we were truly meant to be. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 as confidence cannot ever be learned without failure so if we fail more we develop the confidence to not be paralyzed by our fear. I implore you to get out of your heads, where fear, doubt, insecurity and worry lie, and move into your hearts, where it is all about experiencing each moment, taking risks and living life to the fullest even if you fall flat on your face,” Bernstein said.

During Co-chair remarks, Sole Sisters Chair, Jaime Eisenberg, announced a Sole Sisters partnership with Melissa & Doug. Eisenberg explained that a donation of educational toys was made to the Early Childhood Achievement Gap Solutions program which falls under the Greenwich United Way’s new Direct Impact donor option. “This two-pronged program will target local at-risk children ages birth to three years old with the in-home Parents as Teacher program. It will also target children ages 3 to 5 by placing a preschool instructional coach in 13 at-risk preschool classrooms. As part of Melissa & Doug’s Countless Ways to Play, toys will be given to parents in the new Parents as Teacher program and toy bundles will be distributed to the 13 YMCA and Family Centers preschools. These toys will be an invaluable resource for all of the participants in these new programs. Thank you to everyone here for helping to make this donation possible.”

The Greenwich United Way women’s initiative, Sole Sisters, began more than 13 years ago with the motto, Women Stepping Up to Help Others Step Forward. To date, the Sole Sisters have raised more than two million dollars for the Greenwich United Way Annual Campaign. Grants made possible by these fundraising efforts support programs that provide critical services to the most vulnerable in the Greenwich community. Services like transportation for elderly or disabled residents, behavioral health services, counseling for domestic abuse victims, meals for the hungry, aid for adults battling addiction and preschool scholarships.

During the event, a new Greenwich United Way promo created by Starr Films debuted that depicted the true diversity in Greenwich. This video was followed by the organization’s CEO, David Rabin, asking attendees for leadership in providing a safety net for the Greenwich community. “As you see in this video our diversity includes 5% of our population below the federal poverty line, approximately 3,000 people, or about half the population of Old Greenwich. Our diversity includes 15% of our town as what we call A.L.I.C.E (Asset Limited Income Constrained and Employed), a population of about 9,000 residents that are one missed paycheck away from financial catastrophe or about the population of Riverside. Our diversity also includes 15% of the students in Greenwich Public Schools on free or reduced-priced lunch, approximately 1,350 students, about half the population of Glenville,” said Rabin. The video was a tribute to all donors and volunteers that give their time, talent and treasure to the organization which provides for local insights and lasting results.

Rabin continued, “John Quincy Adams said, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, then you are a leader’. Because of your support and for all you do for our community, you are all leaders! Leaders in ensuring Greenwich remains the premier place to live, work, play and raise a family.” Rabin then referenced Helen Wilshire Walsh who was featured in the video with a quote, “We have not only raised a fund, but I think we have created a spirit which Greenwich has never had before.” Walsh launched the Greenwich Community Chest and Council 85 years ago which raised $192 thousand dollars in its first year during the Great Depression. The Greenwich Community Chest later became the Greenwich United Way.

The luncheon also featured a vendor boutique from 9:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. which featured Catherine Beth Jewelry, Diptyque Paris, Eleanor Stone NYC/Laurie Berg Designs, Everything Rosey, Fahey Fine Jewelry, Fair Harbor, Good Threads, Groove, Havapassion, Ilyse’s Pieces, Lera Jewels, Oliphant, Paper Alley, Red Fox Gallery, Soxfords, Tambra Sea and Botanicals, The Chintz Giraffe and Tibi. Each vendor donated 20% from sales during the event to the Greenwich United Way.

This year’s Luncheon Chair is Jaime Eisenberg and Co-chair, Grace Lockhart Djuranovic. The Luncheon Committee Leaders are Sara Allard, Brooke Bohnsack, Hagar Chemali, Rebecca Cooper, Kristen Forlini, Erin Glasebrook, Megan Harvey, Karen Keegan, Nicole Kwasniewski, Olivia Langston, Caity Lischick, Layla Lisiewski, Cricket Lockhart, Virginia Lockhart, Jan Marchand, Clarena McBeth, Betsy McIntyre, Karin McShane, Sarah Muir, Maria Murphy, Kirsten Riemer, Hillary Rosenthal, Liz Van Hell, Diane Viton, Charlotte Kaiser Weinberg, Jill Weiner, Amanda Wilson

Sponsors include Acxiom Corporation, Deutsch Family Wines – Fleurs de Prairie, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England & Westchester Properties, Rosenthal Memorial Chapel, Saks Fifth Avenue, green of greenwich, Shreve, Crump & Low, Hobbs London, Moffly Media, Case Study Brands.

Visit Greenwich United Way online for more information or to make a donation ( Visit Greenwich United Way on Facebook (, Twitter ( or Instagram ( to learn more about the organization and people it serves in real time. #WeAreGreenwich

# # #

About Greenwich United Way Sole Sisters

The Sole Sisters are a dynamic and committed group of prominent women and philanthropists, who do more than raise funds in support of the Greenwich United Way’s efforts. They take the time to learn about the needs in their community and how those needs are addressed by local agencies partnering with the Greenwich United Way. While the group is serious about making a difference in the community they all share, they also believe it is important to have fun in the process. That’s why their logo is a shoe! And their motto is “Women Stepping Up to Help Others Step Forward.” The Luncheon is the Sole Sisters’ primary annual fundraiser, and since its inception over 10 years ago, the event has raised over $2 million in support of the Greenwich United Way’s efforts.

While the Luncheon features a fashion and home accessories boutique, most importantly, there is always a notable guest speaker that inspires the sold-out crowd. Each year, the Sole Sisters keynote speaker inspires this very influential, philanthropic group. From Greenwich or any one of our neighboring towns in New York, they come to be inspired by someone they admire, someone who has gone above and beyond professionally, personally, and for the benefit of others and someone who shares their commitment to service and the community. Past speakers have included: Gretchen Carlson, Arianna Huffington, Susan Fales-Hill, Kayce Jennings, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jeannette Walls, Linda Fairstein, Sara Moulton, Lynn Sherr, and Lisa Birnbach.

“The Greenwich United Way Sole Sisters are a dynamic group of women with the shared goal of raising funds to address the priority areas of mental health, self-sufficiency and early childhood education in their community. It was an honor to keynote their 2016 Luncheon, where I was able to learn what motivates women in Greenwich to ‘step up to help others step forward’. I’m inspired by the efforts of women like this, and seeing what they’ve been able to do by empowering each other to help make their world a better place.” – Arianna Huffington

About Greenwich United Way

The Greenwich United Way (GUW) shares a name with approximately 1,200 other similar organizations across the nation, although the Greenwich, Connecticut division is a privately incorporated, locally governed, nonprofit agency. As a volunteer-driven organization, the Greenwich United Way exists to help identify and address the health, educational and self-sufficiency needs specific to its local community and to create and affect meaningful, lasting solutions. Through various fundraising efforts and on-going research, the organization is able to directly grant the funds necessary to accomplish this goal. The Greenwich United Way also invests in and conducts collaborative efforts to address broad-based community needs with partnering nonprofit agencies. Visit Greenwich United Way online to learn more ( Instagram @GreenwichUnitedWay Twitter @GreenwichUW #WeAreGreenwich

Posted Under: News