Standing tall with the sunflowers

Women United Luncheon attendees learned life lesson on the farm

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

Surrounded by bright yellow sunflowers and the faint sound of buzzing bees, attendees at the 7th Annual Women United Luncheon received a life lesson from Eva Worden, keynote speaker and owner of Worden Farms. Our family has been cherishing vegetables from there for 15 years. A favorite photo of mine is of my daughter at the age of two, dressed in blue, running in front of a field of sunflowers, holding a fistful of colorful balloons.

One can’t help but breathe deeper, feel lighter and stand taller while out at the farm. Our luncheon guests can agree to this sentiment, especially after hearing Worden’s description of heliotropism and the rhythm of said sunflowers. (Look it up, you’ll be taken in by it, too!) Since the lunch, I have pondered this mystery. It surely speaks to the life we all aspire to.

The young blooms begin at dawn facing east and the sun. Over the course of the day, the flower follows the sun as it sets in the west. The stem on the east side elongates and then the stem on the west does the same to ensure access to the sun as it makes its way to sunset. Once it is dark, the flower makes it movement back to the east. Scientists discovered the sunflower reaches a point at which its stem stiffens in strength, facing the east where the bees are most attracted to the abundance of pollen – the sunflower is now ready to nourish to its fullest.

Kids Thrive Leader Mom, Samantha Lytle, was presented with the 2023 Woman of Courage award at the luncheon. She is a true sunflower, standing tall after overcoming adversity.

With the help of previous award winners Elizabeth Sides and Jessica Hinckley, Samantha shared her story of courage and triumph in the face of addiction. Having risen above her situation, she is now a Leader Mom with the Circle of Parents, supporting and guiding other women with her experience as a testimony.

“I’m very excited and hopeful for the future,” she said. “My future looks very bright.”  

As a community of Women United, together we have witnessed over the last five years the Circle of Parents grow in their love of community. Instead of isolation and mistrust, healthy eating, goal setting, self-care and service to others have become the target. You can see them, much like the sunflower, standing tall and looking to the east, having been nourished by community, now to ready to feed others.

The 2023 Women of Distinction, Christy Smith, has been like the sun for countless students through the Kiwanis Shoes for Kids program. The “shoe lady” dreamed of shoes on the feet of children. She responded to her hunger for a nourished generation, and now shares awe-inspiring stories of the children she has served. Our community is grateful.

Lastly, the showstopper of the event was Chef Erik from Deck’s Plate, who provided lunch attendees with an array of fresh vegetables straight from the ground and fed by the sun. His choked-up gratitude for all he has learned from Eva Worden and his community who have fed him, and his opportunities for a new life moved all of us.

It is through a community approach that we will lead the charge and inspire the change for a community of sunflowers standing tall. In my commentary at the end of the lunch, I posed the question to attendees, “What does – not on my watch – mean to you? How can you take what inspired and nourished you today to help another?” There are too many in our community who need us. Will you join us? If you want to be part of the movement to empower mothers to raise healthy children, visit to learn more and to join Women United. Other opportunities to support and nourish our community are also available at   

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at