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November 14, 2016 (Ann Arbor, Mich.) – University of Michigan Vice President for Government Relations, Cynthia Wilbanks, has been selected by Women United (formerly the Women’s Leadership Initiative) of the United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC) as the 2017 Woman of the Year.  Ms. Wilbanks will be honored at the UWWC’s “Power of the Purse” event on March 15, 2017, at the UM North Campus Research Complex.

“Cynthia is a quiet hero in our community, working tirelessly for nonprofits and she exemplifies what the Power of the Purse initiative is about: women taking action to address community issues,” said Pam Smith, President of the United Way of Washtenaw County, and member of the Power of the Purse planning committee.  “It is exciting to recognize a volunteer whose work has touched so many lives.”

Ms. Wilbanks was chosen by the Power of the Purse planning committee for her exemplary leadership role in the community and her continued dedication to strengthening Washtenaw County. Her long time commitment to United Way has positioned the University of Michigan as the Leader and the Best among top colleges’ support of their local United Ways initiatives, raising $1.4 million last year.

“I am overwhelmed by this honor and recognition. There is nothing more satisfying than giving back,” Wilbanks said, “and it is particularly rewarding to work alongside so many dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to create, support and strengthen the fabric and vitality of our community.”

As Vice President for Government Relations, Cynthia directs the University of Michigan’s Government Relations programs at the local, state and federal levels.  Her responsibilities include planning and developing the institution’s response to proposed legislation; developing and maintaining effective relationships with governmental agencies and officials; and analyzing and assessing legislative, administrative and regulatory activities as they pertain to University programs, activities and operations. Her work also includes initiatives that support the University’s economic development initiatives. She was president of Michigan’s Children, a statewide child advocacy organization in 1993-95, prior to joining the U-M in 1995.

She is a member of a number of community and civic organizations, including serving on the boards of directors of the Bank of Ann Arbor, Center for Michigan, Ann Arbor SPARK where she is currently serving as Chair, and Riverside Arts Center Foundation.  She has previously served in leadership roles of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum Board of Directors and Glacier Hills Retirement Center Board. Past board service also includes NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) and the Junior League Community Advisory Committee.

She also served on the Michigan Higher Education Assistance Authority.  Her efforts on behalf of United Way include serving four consecutive years as the University of Michigan United Way Campaign Chair and currently serving as the Co-Chair for the UM’s Fall 2016 Campaign. Wilbanks was named one of the 100 most influential women in Metro Detroit by Crain’s Detroit Business in 2002.

Women United is a national network of 70,000 members in 163 U.S. communities, and the most successful philanthropic effort of its kind. Locally the UWWC Women’s Leadership Initiative has granted over $250,000 through the Power of the Purse event to agencies that promote women’s success and self-sufficiency.

The UWWC established the Woman of the Year honor in 2009.  Previous recipients include Verna McDaniel, Beth Fitzsimmons, Mary Sue Coleman, Martha Darling, Pat Warner, Denise Rabidoux and Lucy Ann Lance.  The 2017 Event Chair is Kim Liberati.


About United Way of Washtenaw County

As part of our 95 year history, the United Way of Washtenaw County brings people, agencies and resources together to create a thriving community for everyone. Our focus areas of Health, Education and Financial Stability provide the building blocks to strengthen the community and create opportunities for individuals and families. The Volunteer Center creates an easy online way for people to connect with nonprofits in the community and the 211 helpline serves more than 8,000 people annually to connect them to critically needed services. To learn more, donate, or volunteer, visit