Managed by The Women’s Foundation, the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative (ECEFC) is a collective of foundation and corporate investors dedicated to supporting systemic approaches that increase quality, capacity and access to early care and education in the Washington region. Learn more about the Collaborative.
Nationwide, women make on average only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. Women’s lower average earnings are not due to a higher probability of working part-time: only full-time year-round workers are included in these data. The Wage Project estimates that over the course of a lifetime women will earn about a million less as a result of the wage gap.
Some people attribute the differences in earnings to occupational segregation and the career choices women make; for example, putting family before work. However, several studies have been unable to explain the gap, even after controlling for key factors that affect earnings such as occupation, education, and work experience. The unexplained difference can be attributed to discrimination, perceptions about women’s capabilities and the value of women’s work.
Women’s career choices are not the only reason for the disparity in earnings. Women earn less than men in nearly all occupations, whether they work in occupations predominantly held by women – such as elementary and middle school teachers or secretaries and administrative assistants – or whether they work in occupations predominantly held by men such as electricians or general managers. What this means is that even in “women’s fields,” men are outearning women, and it is not the same the other way around.
The gap varies throughout women’s lives, being the largest during childrearing years, and by educational attainment. Women with professional degrees face larger pay gaps than women with lesser levels of education. The wide gap in earnings also becomes starker when race and ethnic background are taken into account, with women of color being the most affected.
The earnings gap in the Washington region is 15 percent, which is lower than the nation’s ratio (23 percent) primarily because of higher rates of educational attainment for both genders in the area. Although women in the Washington area earn on average more than women in the United States overall, pay inequities are persistent features of the regional labor market and vary substantially by geography, except in Prince George’s County where women’s earnings ($51,616) are slightly higher than men’s earnings ($50,568). Among the jurisdictions included in the Washington region, Fairfax County had the largest wage gap (26 percent), where women earned considerably less ($61,470) than men ($83,192). The second largest wage gap was for Arlington county (20 percent) followed by Montgomery County (18 percent). In addition to Prince George’s County, the city of Alexandria and the District of Columbia had the lowest disparity in earnings with a gap of eight and 10 percent, respectively.
Women’s earnings have become increasingly important for family incomes. Four in 10 American households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is the primary breadwinner for her family. Women’s lower earnings have important implications for all, including increased risk of economic insecurity and poverty for women and their families.
Some strategies to address the persistent disparity in earnings between men and women include expanding literacy education for women and girls to increase knowledge about the impact of career decisions on earnings and retirement security. It is also important to encourage women and girls –and men and boys, too- to openly discuss their earnings and develop skills in pay negotiation, and to actively seek skill-building experiences, training opportunities, feedback and promotions. Employers can also make sure they are giving women the same opportunity as men to advance up the ranks.
In December 2014, The Women’s Foundation announced new grant investments of $630,000 to 20 organizations across the region. In a series of blog posts, we’ve shared more about the strategies behind those investments, including community college innovations we are supporting and early childhood investments to improve quality and access for low-income families in the region. Today, we’ll discuss how we’re taking a two-generation approach to our work, and what that looks like for our Grantee Partners.
The Women’s Foundation’s grant investments are made through Stepping Stones, an initiative designed to increase the economic security of women and girls living under 200 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $39,580 for a family of three). We accomplish this goal by investing in three core issue areas that research has shown to have the greatest influence on the economic security of low-income women and their families: asset building, early care and education and workforce development.
Our most recent grants spread investments across the region—in Washington, DC; Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland; the city of Alexandria; and Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia. In total, these investments are projected to reach over 3,500 women and girls, potentially increasing their assets and incomes by $2.9 million over the next year.
Several of these investments take a two-generation approach to breaking the cycle of poverty.
Two-generation strategies respond to the needs of children and their parents together, to influence short- and long-term economic security simultaneously. This strategy is a natural extension of Stepping Stones’ track record serving female-headed households, which has had tremendous results to date (increasing the income and assets of women and their families by more than $45 million since 2005). However, we know that in order to truly break the cycle of poverty in the Washington region, we must take a lifespan approach to our work. For us, this work began when we expanded our target population to all women under 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and continued last year with the launch of a specific strategy to invest in the long-term economic security of girls. We accomplish this by investing specifically in middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.
Last year, our inaugural investments were planning grants that allowed organizations the dedicated space, time and resources to explore two-generation strategies that could serve middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers. This year, we’re pleased to invest in a partnership between the YWCA of the National Capital Area and College Success Foundation – DC (CSF-DC). Following their planning grants, this year the YWCA and CSF-DC will engage families through a new partnership with Cesar Chavez Public Charter School’s Bruce Prep Campus in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of the District’s Ward 1. The YWCA is one of a few organizations experienced with serving both girls and women, and brings a gender lens to their work. Through this new partnership, the YWCA will primarily provide supports for the adult women in each family, while CSF-DC will draw upon their expertise serving youth beginning in middle school, as evidenced by their flagship Higher Education Readiness Opportunity (HERO) program. This partnership model builds upon each organization’s strengths, and allows each to more holistically serve families. The Women’s Foundation’s 2015 investment supports additional planning and the launch of the program pilot in summer 2015. With additional resources, these partners plan to bring the program to more women and girls in the 2015-2016 school year.
The Women’s Foundation believes there is great potential for the two-generation strategy across our work, beyond our investments in girls. (For example, the two-generation work we’re supporting at Northern Virginia Community College.) We were selected to be part of the Ascend Network at the Aspen Institute, a national network of leaders pioneering two-generation programs and policies. Through this collective work, we aim to build connections between national and local innovation, and spur additional two-generation work building the economic security of women and girls in our region.
It’s Super Bowl time, which for many means parties and crowding around the TV to watch two of the nation’s top football teams battle it out for the title of Super Bowl XLIX Champion. And at least for our President and CEO Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, it will mean cheering on her precious Patriots. We’ve got some big sports fans at The Women’s Foundation, and we also have many for whom the draw of the big game is the chance to watch the commercials. This year, each of those ad spots will cost companies roughly $4.5 million for 30 seconds of air time.
When I heard that number, my jaw dropped. The thought of that much money being spent in 30 seconds sort of makes my heart stop, and it got me thinking about the sheer amount of money that goes into, not just the Super Bowl, but men’s sports in general. For example, every member of the winning Super Bowl team this year will receive a cash bonus of $97,000. Even the members of the losing team receive an additional $49,000 just for playing in the game. That means that the winning team’s players alone get more than $5 million in bonuses.
Want to make that number feel very, very small? The winning team of the Men’s 2014 Soccer World Cup in Brazil walked away with more than $35 million in prize money. The total prize pool was a record $576 million. The World Cup is the largest sporting event in the world, so it is fitting that the prize pool would also be the largest. But what about the prize pool for the upcoming Women’s 2015 Soccer World Cup in Canada? After all, FIFA bills the Women’s World Cup as the largest female sporting event in the world. Answer? $15 million, all in. That’s not what the winning team gets; that is the number that is divided among all the prize-winning teams. On the positive side, that number represents a 50% increase in prize money from four years ago. The winning team walks away with $2 million this year, doubling from the winner’s prize of $1 million at the last Women’s World Cup.
While the prize money gap seems staggering, the more concerning issue with the Women’s World Cup, may be that these world class female athletes will be playing on sub-par surfaces. Even after many athletes filed a lawsuit against FIFA accusing the organizers of discrimination, saying that elite men’s teams would never be forced to play on an artificial surface instead of natural grass, FIFA refused to upgrade the playing surfaces on all but one field. And so, the players in this year’s Women’s World Cup will be playing on artificial turf, a surface that puts players at a higher risk for injury. In an interview with NPR, U.S. Women’s National Team player Heather O’Reilly, said the plan to use fake grass “is a blatant demonstration of FIFA not placing the women side by side with the men. Many men’s players refuse to play on artificial turf, actually, and the thought of it being played in the World Cup is almost laughable.”
It would take about $3 million to upgrade the turf to sod. That is no small number, but when we look at the money being thrown at men’s sports, it really does start to feel very minuscule.
The common refrain is that women’s professional sporting events just don’t bring in the cash the same way that men’s do. And that is true. It is a vicious cycle. The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that in 2009 network affiliates dedicated only 1.6% of airtime to women’s sports, down from 6.3% in 2004. This male-dominated media coverage perpetuates smaller audiences for women’s sports. It takes money to break this vicious cycle and kick-start a virtuous one. If women’s teams had more money to invest in their talent, equipment, facilities and marketing efforts, could we see an increase in the cash earned by these teams?
I think the answer is yes. Men’s Major League Soccer (MLS) actually provides a good example. MLS reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years. But then, Adidas injected $150 million into MLS over 10 years. The league started building soccer-specific stadiums and investing in their talent and equipment. They signed a television deal. The average franchise is now worth $103 million, up more than 175% over the last five years, and the league keeps growing. Compare this to the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), which folded in 2003 after only three years despite a world champion national team and national excitement from the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Their losses were only about $100 million, not even close to the $250 million MLS weathered. Could similar confidence in women’s soccer and subsequent financial investments have saved WUSA like it did for the now profitable MLS? We’ll never know.
However, if we look to tennis, we have a great example of what could be possible if female and male athletes were treated more equitably. In 2007, Wimbledon announced for the first time, it would provide equal prize purses to male and female athletes. All four Grand Slam events now offer equal prize money to the champions. In 2013, the US Open women’s final scored higher TV ratings than the men’s final.
So while we all gather around to watch millions of dollars flood the airwaves and University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday, let’s think about how we can channel just a fraction of that into leveling the playing field for female athletes in the future.
I’m with you! What can I do?
Great question! The Women’s Sports Foundation has some good ways we can all help increase gender equality in sports:
- Attend women’s sporting events
- Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
- Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
- Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level
- Encourage young women to participate in sports
- Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against – advocate for her rights.
The Foundation’s Grantee Partner Year Up supports young women, ages 18-24, with education and workforce development training, including up to 18 college credits, job skills development and a six-month internship. On January 29, 2015 Year Up will hold its 17th Annual Graduation. Hardworking students who have completed a year of rigorous coursework and internships will celebrate a joyous year of growth and achievement. Marie Sene will be there, not only walking across the stage in triumph, but to deliver the inspiring speech below. Please read Marie’s own words about what the Year Up program, and support from donors like you, has meant in her life:
I am honored to speak on this wonderful occasion surrounded by so much talent and success. I congratulate each of you for the dedication you have shown this year. Our hard work, our grit, our achievements and the sacrifices we have made are being honored here tonight.
We all have our own unique stories and motivations as to what brought us here to Year Up. Some of you may not know, but prior to Year Up (YU) I was undocumented. It was heart breaking for me not to be able to attend college after graduating from high school in 2007. All of my colleagues were finishing college; however, I could not even afford to take a class due to my immigration status. Once the Dream Act was passed in 2013, I was able to work, but still could not afford college and could not qualify for financial aid. Year Up was that light at the end of a dark tunnel. The program offered me college credits and a stipend while learning a skill that has created a wealth of opportunities for me.
Without a doubt, Year Up has opened many doors for us. They’ve shown me that in life, you have to know what you want and never be afraid to ask for it. Six months ago we were asked to complete a survey to let the internship team know where we wanted to intern. I took a chance and told them that my dream was to work at Google. The Year Up in this region did not have a partnership with Google, but went far and beyond to get that internship. I will forever be grateful to Year Up for what they have done for me. I was the first program student in this region to intern at Google. The pressure was heavy especially from Ty on Year Up’s internship team, who is like “the YU father.” His only four words to me on our way back from our meet and greet from Google were, “Don’t mess it up.”
The whole Google internship was life changing. I must thank my manager Alex; I must say he is the reason I have saved a bit of money. Because of him and the skills I have learned from Google, I can now fix most technical issues. The Marie before Google would tell you: trash it, there is no saving this device—or as he would say, “You can’t win them all.”
Google has given me the best gift in life and that is the gift of education. They have offered to pay for my associate’s degree and offered me a well-paid summer internship until I earn it. Also, I am thankful for the great people I have met through this journey. How many people can say they have met the “father of the Internet”, Vint Cerf? Not too many. His advice for us is not only to use IPv6 (the latest Internet Protocol version), but these words of wisdom: “You cannot plan your life.” He told me, “Never be afraid to take risks, because sometimes we cannot recognize a good opportunity when it presents itself.”
Our year may be up, but our journey is only beginning. Be proud of yourselves because this is only the beginning of your journey. Be proud of yourselves for setting goals and following through; through the tears, through the long nights of staying up to turn homework in and on time. We made it!
Yes, my friends may have all graduated and it may have taken me eight years to get here, but everything has its own time and every dog has his day.
I believe that what should make you the most proud tonight is not the actual honor itself, but what you had to do to get it. As the great poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.” Any recognition is just the icing on the cake, not to be expected, but definitely to be enjoyed.
Finally, I challenge you not to rest on your achievements, but to continue to strive towards even higher goals.
Let’s continue to uplift and empower each other for infinity!
Note: minor editorial changes were made to the content to present the speech in this format.
The Women’s Foundation’s recently announced investments of $630,000 in economic security efforts across the region included seven grants (totaling $325,000) for organizations working to increase the quality and capacity of, and access to, early care and education. These grants are made through the Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative, a collective funding effort led by The Women’s Foundation that brings corporate funders and foundations together to invest in systems-level change in the region’s early care and education. You can learn more about the Collaborative and its partners here.
These investments seek to:
- Improve the quality of early care and education for low-income children ages zero to five;
- Expand access to affordable early care and education options;
- Support professional development for early care and education professionals;
- Encourage and strengthen partnerships among stakeholders that support positive changes in the early care and education system.
This year, our early care and education grants continue to support increased advocacy work, an effort that began last year. These investments include Voices for Virginia’s Children, working across Northern Virginia; Prince George’s Child Resource Center, mobilizing in Prince George’s County, Maryland; AppleTree Institute, and a partnership of DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, focused on the District of Columbia.
The partnership between DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute is particularly exciting. Together, they are responding to an identified need within DC’s early childhood community: lack of consistent and complete data that captures the cost of quality programs. They will also examine the impending costs facing providers as they adapt to a changing Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), proposed changes in licensing and regulations, the costs of professional development and increased compensation for teachers and the costs of serving children with developmental delays and/or special health care needs. The findings of the study will form the platform for an advocacy agenda, steeped in research data to help advocates rally around a common agenda.
The Women’s Foundation is proud to be one of many investing in early care and education (with more investors recently, as evidence by the White House Summit on Early Learning). Research shows that young children (ages 0 to 5) need a strong social, emotional and intellectual foundation to succeed in school. Children who enter kindergarten without this foundation for learning are more likely to face significant academic challenges than peers who come prepared. Quality early care and education can successfully close this “preparation gap,” while facilitating the economic security and long-term financial success of low-income families; supporting parents in the workforce; and preparing future workers to meet the needs of the regional business community and become active, contributing members of society.
We look forward to supporting our Grantee Partners as we push these goals forward in our region!
Here’s a full list of this year’s early care and education grants.
2015 Grant Investments in Early Care and Education
- AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation
To support AppleTree Institute’s increased communications and advocacy efforts in Washington, DC, aimed at defining quality early education in terms of child outcomes that result in school readiness.
To support the CentroNía Institute in piloting and testing the Unpacking CLASS Tool Kit, an instructional guide that helps early childhood teachers and center directors improve teacher-child quality interaction in the classroom.
- DC Appleseed
To partner with the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to design and produce a study of the District’s child care costs.
- The Literacy Lab
To support the Metro DC Reading Corps Pre-K Program, which embeds literacy tutors in DC and Alexandria’s highest-need early childhood classrooms to provide children with daily literacy interventions that prepare them for kindergarten and future educational success.
- National Black Child Development Institute
To support the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood DC program, which will invest in the professional development and improved quality of teachers serving children from birth through age five in the District of Columbia.
- Prince George’s Child Resource Center
To support Joining Voices, an advocacy project in Prince George’s County that empowers parents and child care providers to articulate the importance of quality child care for family stability, school readiness and economic growth.
- Voices for Virginia’s Children
To promote public policies and investments that ensure all children in Northern Virginia, particularly those who are disadvantaged, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.
The Women’s Foundation’s most recent grantmaking round included many investments targeting education and training to help women access good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and offer benefits. For several years now, these investments have included a focus on community colleges. Research shows that a post-secondary education can have a tremendous impact on earning potential. Community colleges are accessible to first-time or nontraditional students (like working moms)—with local campuses and classes that can accommodate a work or family schedule—and offer the opportunity to partner with employers to meet local workforce needs. For these and other reasons, community colleges offer a pathway out of poverty for women and girls.
This year we renewed our investment in Northern Virginia Community College, where they are taking a two-generation approach to education. Locally and nationally, Northern Virginia Community College is a leader in fostering relationships with community-based partners to better connect with and support the educational attainment of underserved students. Their two-generation work is a relatively new effort to establish partnerships with local child care centers and home-based child care providers to support the post-secondary educational attainment of both lower-income staff and the parents of children in care. The relationship also establishes very early post-secondary exposure for young children (through things like campus field trips) and starts an early conversation with parents about planning for college.
The College’s model offers seamless transitions for students, and provides case management and “intrusive advising”—a proactive approach to connect with students, check in, offer resources and help with career planning—all designed to help address barriers to college success. Women work to achieve post-secondary credentials while simultaneously engaging in college readiness interventions for and with their children. In year two of this new effort, the College plans to enhance its work by expanding the range of college readiness services, and provide asset building and wrap around services to boost post-secondary success, including new screening for public benefits, financial literacy resources and an emergency fund to assist with immediate financial needs. The College is building a model two-generation approach that incorporates many of the strategies that The Women’s Foundation has seen as core to building economic security.
The Foundation is also continuing its investment in Montgomery College. In past years, our Stepping Stones investments have supported direct training and credential attainment for women. This year, our support is aimed at the development and implementation of a new “Student Career Preparation Workshop.” The workshop series will be designed to precede student entry into career training programs, helping women better explore career options and plan for the training they’ll need to reach their goals. That could mean lining up scholarships, or figuring out a plan for child care during school and once they’re working. Exploring career options will also help them better understand what a particular job entails, the career pathways to succeed in the profession and learn about local in-demand fields they might not have considered. By designing a workshop to precede student entry into career training programs—whether open enrollment courses or grant-funded workforce development initiatives, like those Stepping Stones has supported in the past—Montgomery College hopes to help women better-match with training programs, and better support the students who need it most. Once designed and tested, the model has the potential to improve education and employment outcomes for women, and can be replicated or scaled.
Finally, with the Foundation’s support, Prince George’s Community College is providing coaching and supportive services to women at the College pursuing a degree or occupational credential. You can learn more about this life-changing work directly from Sharon, one of their graduates:
Interest in community college programs as a workforce development strategy have grown in recent years, and President Obama’s recent proposal to provide Americans with two free years of community college will certainly bring additional attention. Through innovation, community colleges can better serve women, and therefore help whole families and communities thrive.
We can’t believe we’re finding ourselves at the end of yet another awesome year. While 2014 has flown by, there’s still time to slow down a bit and reflect on all that 2014 held for us as a foundation, a region and a nation.
This past year The Women’s Foundation grants of over $1 million touched the lives of 6,000 women and girls in our region, and the African American Women’s Giving Circle and Rainmakers Giving Circle invested an additional $80,000 in women and girls. We witnessed the launch of national initiatives like The Shriver Report, blew past our annual Leadership Luncheon fundraising goal (again!) and continued lifting the voices of women and girls in our community. We captured these and other events in our top blog posts from 2014, below.
1, 2, and 3. Grantmaking: In the blog posts 2014 Grants Will Help 6,000 Women & Girls, Rainmakers Giving Circle – Five Grants Awarded, and African American Women’s Giving Circle Celebrates Ten Years we highlight an amazing year of grantmaking at the Foundation and the profound impacts that these investments can have. These blogs remind us of the power of collective giving and how transformative change comes from standing together.
4. #WhatWomenNeed – A Call to Action: The Shriver Report catapulted the conversation about women and poverty to a national level dialogue when it was released in January. In this blog post, we explore the report’s actionable items and how women’s funds are uniquely positioned to make a difference.
5. Adult Education and Family Literacy in Our Region: This year The Women’s Foundation happily welcomed Claudia Williams to our staff as our Research and Evaluation Program Officer. Claudia has been busy analyzing data and turning it into digestible, yet data packed blog posts, like this one for Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.
6. High School Credential Opening Doors of Opportunity: During Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, our Grantee Partner, Academy of Hope, inspired us with their guest blog post about one of their learners, Beverly, and the doors that have opened to her since earning her high school credential.
7. Black History Month: Four Ways the Work of the Civil Rights Movement Continues in 2014: In this blog piece, we explore four ways that the Civil Rights Movement continues to affect us all today, and the critical role that organizations like The Women’s Foundation can play in ensuring that all women have a seat at the table and a forum for their voices.
8. In Her Words: Transportation Barriers: In this powerful blog piece, we were able to offer a platform to the voice of Katrice Brooks, a student at our Grantee Partner So Other’s Might Eat (SOME) Center for Employment Training (CET). Katrice explained the obstacles that she faces with transportation and how these hinder her efforts to take advantage of opportunities to provide a better life for herself and her daughter.
9 and 10. Gender Pay Gap: This year we celebrated the 51st anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and saw President Obama sign legislation aimed at narrowing the pay gap for women who work for federal contractors. However, we still live with the reality that women make less than their male counterparts. In the blog piece Closing the Gender Wage Gap: Why We Can’t Afford to Wait, Foundation President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat explains why the time is now to close the gender pay gap. In The Gender Wage Gap, Unveiled, Research and Evaluation Program Officer Claudia Williams provides data on the gender pay gap in our region and reminds us that, with four in ten American households with children now relying on a mother as the primary breadwinner for her family, closing the pay gap has never been more critical.
Throughout my semester as a fellow, The Women’s Foundation introduced me to the world of foundations and philanthropy (a professional goal of the Fellows Program as well as an academic goal as I pursue my masters). It has been incredible to see how as a grantmaker, they really impact so many groups and people. However, most importantly to me, was the personal education I have received from the team as individuals, as a staff and as a foundation—each changemakers in their own way. I learned so much about the issues and challenges facing this local community. Just a few days before my last day at the Foundation, this hit me in the most unexpected way when I was leaving the office and picked up the latest Street Sense newspaper.
You see, I had been helping staff research evictions and homelessness in the region, so it was very much on my mind when I left the office. It’s an issue that’s tugged at me in a lot of ways, and being in a bigger city like Washington, DC brings it up close and personal every day. I’ve been picking up Street Sense the last few weeks, especially given my route through Metro Center.
I flipped to the back page to find a profile on Veda Simpson, the Street Sense vendor who sings “O When the Saints Go Marching In” at the Metro Center corner. It was a really beautiful profile, and I was smiling reading about her life—and then I saw the end note that “Veda Simpson passed away on Monday November 24.” I had a lump in my throat immediately. I hadn’t interacted with her more than a hello now and then and buying the paper, but reading about her death hit me really hard, as she was the reason I smiled every day getting off the metro. There was more about her on the center fold, her accomplishments, her kindness and her struggles to get there.
So why am I walking you through my evening reading about Veda? Because while Veda was a strength and a character and a bright spot in DC in her own right, welcoming the busy commuters with a positive greeting every morning, it’s because of The Women’s Foundation that I now feel a stronger awareness, as well as a more meaningful connection to Veda and women like her. Women like all of us who work through a myriad of challenges, some more visible or more severe than others. The Foundation’s work and commitment demonstrates and validates the potential for societies to be more supportive and empowering for women and girls…to help them THRIVE. (That is the word in the mission that caught my attention the most during my initial research and application for the position).
I wasn’t sure when or how I would begin to feel connected to this area after I moved here last fall—and frankly, it is easy to stay in a grad school bubble. But this fellowship offered a unique and meaningful experience that has helped me grow academically, professionally and personally. I’m only sorry I couldn’t put in more time here with them, as they undertake a heavy lift to move the needle. But my goodness, if any team can do it, it’s: Jennifer, Nicole, Virginie, Jessica, Crystal, Lauren, Claudia, Donna, Sylvia—THANK YOU.
I’ve learned so much—not only the struggles, but what is being done to make a difference.
The Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland at College Park
Editor’s note: Below is a guest blog post from Grantee Partner Doorways for Women and Families.
When Susan left her abusive husband and entered our Safehouse, she had had no control over her finances for years. Her immediate safety had always been her main concern, so her financial circumstances were a lower priority. But we knew that for Susan to successfully leave this relationship, we had to make her financial security a priority as well.
At Doorways for Women and Families, we know that financial stability is critical to the long-term safety and independence of survivors of domestic violence. Having an independent income, an understanding of debt and savings and knowledge of money management can make the difference between a survivor maintaining his/her safety or returning to their abuser. That is why in 2005, we created our Financial Independence Track (FIT), a program that helps clients develop financial literacy and skills.
After suffering years of abuse and control, many of our clients are unfamiliar with how to manage their finances. Financial abuse can also leave our clients with major debts from $2,000-$60,000, while their incomes often only range from $6,000-$24,000. These issues are compounded by feelings of low self-esteem, depression and fear leading to severe deficits in their sense of empowerment over their finances.
When Susan met her financial counselor, she pulled her credit report and discovered that her husband had run up her credit card with $6,000 in student loan debt. Susan’s only source of income was her Social Security Disability Insurance, but her FIT counselor shared that she might be eligible for debt forgiveness through the U.S. Department of Education’s Total Permanent Disability Discharge Program. Within four weeks of submitting the application, Susan’s case was sent to their office for review and her debt relieved. As Susan began to see some light at the end of the tunnel, she continued to work with our FIT program and saved $2,257 to help her secure her own apartment.
Our FIT program takes a multifaceted approach to address the financial challenges of Doorways’ clients, ensure we fully understand a client’s personal financial situation and find the best resources and solutions available. Through regular one-on-one sessions, FIT counselors help by:
- Meeting clients were they are financially to build tailored financial plans;
- Improving clients’ understanding of basic money management through creation of a monthly budget and education on the importance of credit reports/scores;
- Helping clients understand strategies to reduce debt;
- Aiding clients in understanding their rights, how to communicate with collectors and address debt which may inhibit them from living independently;
- Creating separate bank accounts for our clients, ending their association with their abuser’s finances; and
- Helping clients to live self-sufficiently and independently.
Unfortunately, Susan’s story is not unique. Far too many women are on the verge of returning to abusive situations because they lack the financial stability on their own, but support from organizations like Washington Area Women’s Foundation ensures these stories end with a brighter future. Over the years, we have seen tremendous success from our FIT model, and we continue to grow our program by partnering with area businesses, community groups and individual community members to help create pathways to employment and financial success and security for our clients.
To learn more about FIT, and how you can help reach more survivors of domestic violence and families experiencing homelessness, visit: www.doorwaysva.org.
Doorways has been a Washington Area Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner since 2007.