2021 USW Cares District 7 Jefferson Award Winner, Arvella Greenlaw

Arvella Greenlaw is a member of Local Union 6787 and a third generation Steelworker working at Cleveland-Cliff’s Burns Harbor steel mill. For her work organizing and leading multiple on-going community service projects and for her volunteer union work with Women of Steel, Rapid Response, Political, and Next Generation, she is the 2021 USW Cares District 7 Jefferson Award winner.

Greenlaw has been a USW member for ten years; not only that, but her husband, Dion, who nominated her for this award, has been a member at Burns Harbor for 16 years. Greenlaw says that she and Dion do everything together, they work together and do everything union together.

“Everything I do, he’s right there with me, especially union stuff. We’re always together. I coined us the dynamic activist duo,” says Greenlaw.

As soon as Greenlaw started working at the steel mill, she starting getting involved with everything the union had to offer, but especially safety training and the Women of Steel committee.

She was appointed by Local Union President Pete Trinidad to be a safety instructor at the Local’s Deer Field Training Center where she teaches first aid, CPR, AED usage, mobile equipment safety, fall protection, “lock out - tag out - try out” equipment safety, permit-required confined space training, and gas safety; she also conducts safety evaluations.

“It’s all about keeping everybody safe, that’s my theme,” said Greenlaw, and she doesn’t mean just job safety. She’s also very passionate helping women who aren’t safe in their homes. She collects funds in a bunch of creative ways for women and their children who are temporarily staying at The Rainbow Shelter for women of domestic violence, which has now merged with another shelter called The Ark Shelter.

When Greenlaw first started donating items to the Rainbow Shelter, she and Dion were using their own money to buy Christmas presents for the kids at the shelter. “These kids need to know that Santa remembers them even though they’re not home,” said Greenlaw.

But then Greenlaw decided to get her Women of Steel involved so they could help the mothers and women at the shelter too. She asked all of her Women of Steel to buy 12 extra of any household item they’d get at the general store (for the 12 units of the shelter) and filled laundry baskets with all of the collected items: pillow cases, socks, pots and pans, towels, hygiene products, eating utensils, and more. Greenlaw also uses any profits she makes from selling Mary Kay to buy for the shelter.

Greenlaw chairs multiple events for the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), organizing presentations about sexual and domestic abuse throughout Northwest Indiana, and when the Council heard about the basket program she started with her Women of Steel, they decided to make it an official program of the organization called “Sisters Supporting Sisters” that Greenlaw now chairs.  The Ark Shelter temporarily closed over the Pandemic, so she carried the program over to the Sojourner Truth House.

Greenlaw and her husband are currently collecting and buying donations for a drive NCNW is doing for veterans.

The “dynamic activist duo” also expanded a personal giving project they were doing with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Originally the Greenlaws would get one “Angel” from the Angel Tree for each of their grandchildren. “When I go buy for my grandbabies, I also buy for my Angel Tree,” said Greenlaw. But then she started asking family, friends, coworkers, union members, and people who weren’t even local to sponsor an "angel": the deal is that they pick an angel to sponsor and give Greenlaw the money, and she buys the items and drops them off. She started doing this in 2011, and the last few years she’s been able to get about 45 angels sponsored. “One year they didn’t have enough tags me! Now I go directly to the Salvation Army,” said Greenlaw.

For the last 15 years, Greenlaw has also been very involved with the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events and fundraisers. She makes a fundraising team with her Women of Steel and sets up a tent where she sells candles and collects donations. She also volunteers and fundraises for Laini Fluellen Charities, which raises awareness in young women for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), a type of breast cancer Black and Hispanic women have a higher risk of developing. That’s the organization Greenlaw has chosen to give her $500 award donation to.

Greenlaw is the District 7 Women of Steel Coordinator, and at the last District 7 Women of Steel Conference (which was her first District WOS Conference), she asked attendees to bring items to donate from a list of the Sojourner Truth House’s most-needed items. Some delegates brought a whole collection of donations from their entire local and a few locals sent checks. A representative of the Sojourner Truth House spoke at the conference about the organization.

Greenlaw also had the American Cancer Society and Lady Fluellin Charities do a “Know Your Limits” presentation about triple negative breast cancer for the Conference, organized a raffle of baskets donated by companies and individuals in which $1,200 of proceeds were split between Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Laini Fluellen Charity, and recruited conference attendees to take part in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk that was happening during the Conference.


Additionally, Greenlaw helps out with Edgewater Health, which offers mental health and recovery services for patients, and participates in their “Trunk or Treat” event.

Greenlaw is also active with USW Political doing lit-drops and phone banking for political drives, and she helps out other locals whenever she can, like when she contributed to her friend’s collection for striking miners.

“I have to do whatever I can with our union. We need to get together to support other locals on strike. We got a local in trouble? We do what we got to do,” said Greenlaw. “My union work and my charities are basically my life, my husband and I, our life.”

For all that she’s done to help her fellow union members, fellow women, their children, and anybody she possibly can, Arvella Greenlaw is District 7’s Jefferson Award winner this year.

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