A Call to Action on MLK Day

MLK Memorial PhotoThis past weekend, my two boys and I had the opportunity to visit the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  The visit was organized through our congregation, Temple Micah, as part of its celebration of Dr. King’s birthday.  Both the sermon, delivered by a guest speaker, Rabbi David Saperstein, and the visit to the stunning memorial site along the tidal basin, reinforced for me why I joined Washington Area Women’s Foundation and why the work of The Women’s Foundation and the non-profits we support is critical and relevant now more than ever.

Among the many quotes that flow through the memorial, one in particular stood out to me:  “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”  And yet, as Rabbi Saperstein pointed out so eloquently in his discourse, the world in which we live is far from what Dr. King wanted for us.  While Dr. King’s legacy is the civil rights movement as we know it, he was fundamentally about equality and economic justice for all and Rabbi Saperstein’s observations prompted me to think:  What would Dr. King say about the more than 200,000 women and girls in our region who live in poverty and an even greater number who struggle to find a way to have three meals a day?  What would he say about an education system that is failing so many children in our region and perpetuating the cycles of poverty that have existed for generations?  What would he say about the women and girls in our region and across the country who continue to face barriers to their economic success and well-being?

What he would probably say is that he is not satisfied, that we should not be satisfied with the status quo.  He would want us to act – to do whatever we can to address these inequalities.   For better or for worse, so many of Dr. King’s themes still resonate today.   We can’t let go of “the fierce urgency of now;”  we must continue to find ways to come together as a community, join forces, and help our neighbors in need, particularly as needs reach an all-time high and government support wanes and dwindles.

Each year, on Dr. King’s birthday, I recommit to the ideal of creating the “beloved community” that Dr. King aspired to.  I use the day as a way to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have to go.  And I find a way each year to mark the day by joining in the MLK Jr. National Day of Service.  This year, I will be serving with my family and and other Foundation staff and donors at A Wider Circle, one of Washington Area Women’s Foundation Grantee Partners.  I hope you will consider joining me.

Dr. King believed that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  That concept is at the heart of what Washington Area Women’s Foundation is all about.  The Washington region cannot flourish if the more than 200,000 women and girls in our region continue to live in poverty.   When women and girls do not have access to resources and the opportunity to improve their lives, it is an injustice that affects us all.  Now is the time to work together to ensure that all women and girls in our community have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

I hope that you will join me and my family on January 16th at A Wider Circle.  Volunteer activities will include:

  • helping families select donated furniture and home goods;
  • sorting donated items;
  • painting the warehouse;
  • helping pick up donated goods.

Volunteer shifts are from 10am – Noon and 1pm – 3pm on January 16th.  To sign up for a shift, please email lallen@wawf.org or call (202)347-7737 x211.  To ensure that all who want to volunteer are able to participate, please sign up only if you are sure that you will be able to join us on the 16th.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation

On the Menu: Eating Ethically

eatethicallyRestaurant Week has returned to DC and each time I brave a packed restaurant for a prix fixe meal, I have flashbacks to one of my first experiences in the restaurant industry.  Back before the Curse of the Bambino was broken, I worked in a popular restaurant that was about a block away from Fenway Park.  Always a busy place, we’d get particularly slammed on the opening day of the Red Sox’s season.  We’d open early in the morning and serve “breakfast pizza” and beer.  This was followed by lunch pizza and beer.  And then there’d be beer for dinner.  The secret to serving hundreds of hungry Red Sox fans seemed to be a good sense of humor, speed, and the ability to keep your butt away from grabby hands (or at least a manager who was understanding when beer ended up in the lap of someone with grabby hands).

When I was doing my job well, none of my customers knew how frazzled I was or how hard I was working – and that’s sort of the double-edged sword of making a job look easy.  Working in a restaurant is tough.  Everyone – from the hostess at the front of the house to the food preparers at the back of the house – is on their feet for hours at a time and is constantly moving.  There’s always something to carry and those who work in the kitchen are enduring extreme heat.

If you’re having a great dining experience, you won’t know any of that.  You also won’t know if the cook is sick, if your server isn’t being fairly paid, or if your food runner can’t get a promotion because of gender or race discrimination.

Restaurant Opportunities Center-DC (ROC-DC), however, believes that you should educate yourself about where you eat.  A Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, ROC-DC is a membership-based worker center dedicated to winning improved conditions and raising industry standards for all D.C. restaurant workers.  They’ve also released a diners’ guide that makes it easy for customers to evaluate more than 150 restaurants nationwide.

“More than half of all restaurant workers earn incomes below the federal poverty line, and workers of color are concentrated in the industry’s lowest-wage positions,” according to Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. Women make up a slight majority of all restaurant employees.

Some restaurants don’t have paid sick days, which means that employees go to work even when they’re sick and there are signs of discrimination.

“Something that’s very chilling to us… [is that] in DC, there’s nearly a 50% wage differential between white women and women of color in the restaurant industry,” says Bonnie Kwon, a coordinator at ROC-DC.

Fortunately, there are plenty of restaurants that are committed to providing employees with fair compensation and a safe work environment.  The diners’ guide rates restaurants and lists those that pay fair wages and offer benefits like sick days.   In addition to using the diners’ guide, Bonnie suggests that you ask servers and managers what their policies are and how much staff is paid. “Be an aware, conscious consumer,” she adds.

If you’re headed out to enjoy a meal during restaurant week or at any other time, I suggest taking a quick look at the Diners’ Guide 2012, which is available for free online.  The more enjoyable your meal, the more likely it is that the restaurant staff is working extremely hard to make the experience a good one.  They, like all of us, deserve the respect and dignity of a fair work place.

One more thing – even though I made a joke about it earlier, putting your hands on a waitress or waiter is not funny; it’s sexual harassment, so be sure to tip and keep your hands off your server.

Washington Area Women's Foundation Weekly

Medical symbol [credit cogdogblog]We’re starting out the new year with some changes to the blog, including this weekly roundup of news and events affecting women and girls in the Washington metro region.  Let us know what you think in the comments!  In this week’s roundup: Free health screenings on MLK Day…. Proposed changes to how home care aides are paid…. Raising standards for Head Start…. Tips for teen job seekers…. And a review of a movie about one of the most powerful women of the last century.

United Way of the National Capital Area is holding two free health screenings on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Residents will also have the opportunity to consult with a physician at the screenings.  They’ll be held from 10am to 4pm in Annandale, VA and Colmar Manor, MD.  Please click here for more details.

The US Department of Labor is proposing changes to the regulations for in-home care providers.  The changes would extend the minimum wage and overtime coverage of companionship and live-in workers.  According to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis: “The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that home health care will be one of the fastest growing occupations of the 21st Century.  Comments to the proposed changes can be submitted by February 27th.  Click here for details.

IMPACT Silver Spring, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner, is accepting nominations for the 2012 Momentum Awards.  The awards “seek to recognize those individuals and organizations that are activating the power of our community’s diversity to build momentum toward positive social, economic and civic impact.  Please click here to find out how to begin the nomination process.

Raising standards for Head Start programs nationwide strengthens a program that is critically important to children and their parents, writes The New York Times editorial board. Even if the overall quality of the preschool program is improved, however, financing for it may be at risk when spending cuts kick in during the 2013 fiscal year.  “Preschool for disadvantaged children should not be another casualty of the budget wars.”

Goodwill, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner, has tips for first-time teenage job seekers. In addition to ideas for possible positions, advice includes getting your foot in the door and legal restrictions on teen employees.  The Employment Policies Institute reports that teen unemployment is three times the national rate.

“The Iron Lady,” the biopic about Margaret Thatcher, “one of the most powerful and consequential women of the 20th century,” is out and The New York Times’ review is lukewarm. A.O. Scott praises Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the former British prime minister, but says the film’s writer and director create confusion when they “celebrate their heroine as a feminist pioneer while showing her to be tragically unfulfilled according to traditional standards of feminine accomplishment.”  If you see “The Iron Lady” this weekend, let us know what you thought in the comments section below.

Photo credit: cogdogblog via Creative Commons

Voters Should Choose Candidates With Philanthropy in Their Souls

election 2012 buttonUsually I’m not one to get into politics too deeply, but when I heard last month on the radio that a presidential candidate said that “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it is illegal.”  The candidate went on to say that poor children should work as janitors in their schools to build confidence and pride within themselves and their schools.  I had to find out who was behind this thoughtless comment. So I commenced to Google this statement and a Mr. Newt Gingrich came up.

As I started to read and learn more about him, I became weary of his perception of those living in communities that are more economically vulnerable than others because if this is how one addresses an issue in public, I’m scared to hear what he really thinks about these communities in private.  I will agree that this is a real life issue that needs to be mended but I truly don’t believe it should be done in the manner Mr. Gingrich is suggesting.  I don’t think his other plan of making an Apprentice reality show with Donald Trump using “very poor children” from in the New York City Public School system will make the issue any better either.

I’m glad to hear that Mr. Gingrich has noticed that there is a quality-of-life problem in those communities, but to address it in such a manner is (in my eyes) unacceptable.  Children should not be put to work before their time.  They need to be learning skills that will help them become honest, caring citizens that help contribute to the community. This can be done by having at least one person that cares in their lives; it might be a parent or someone that volunteers in a program that these impressionable children attend after school or on the weekend.  I’ve learned that if you plant a seed within a child it will indeed grow, it just depends on the person planting the seeds to harvest later in life. A child left to their own devices will learn by example and yes, unfortunately, in most economically vulnerable communities the bad apples are the role models that are easiest to access because they are always right outside the front door and the good apples take themselves out of that community and most often never return.

The election season officially kicks off in Iowa tonight and I hope that all voters – no matter what party they support – go to the caucuses and polls wanting the same thing: positive change and unity within all communities, whether they’re rich or poor.  And I hope that voters choose a candidate with a little philanthropy in his or her soul, not one who is looking just for fame and poll numbers.

Sequoia Williams is the office assistant at The Women’s Foundation.

Careers for Women: A Key to Economic Recovery

IMG_0096Last month, The Women’s Foundation was among a group of organizations and individuals invited to an important discussion about women and the economy held by the White House Council on Women and Girls.  Created by President Obama in 2009, the Council works to ensure that federal agencies are taking the needs of women and girls into account as they draft policies and create programs.

At the briefing on women and the economy, we got a sobering look at how women have been impacted by the recession and recovery.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that administration officials say jobs will be the key to all of us – women and men – recovering successfully.

Dr. Judith Hellerstein of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers explained that working women have been concentrated in industries that fared better at the beginning of the recession.  Since the recovery began, however, industries where women are concentrated (e.g., the public sector) have not fared as well.  Dr. Hellerstein added that African American women and Latinas have faced the highest increase in unemployment rates and African American women continue to lose jobs drastically.

So what are the jobs that will help women get onto successful career pathways now and into the future?

“Women have to think green,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.  “Green is going to be the future.”

Secretary Solis said that 2.7 million jobs have already been created in the green sector.  She also said that more women need to be exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Dr. Rebecca Blank from the U.S. Department of Congress told us that STEM jobs are growing faster than other sectors and pay 26% more; however women and people of color are enormously underrepresented in the field:

  • 24% of STEM workers are women;
  • 6% of STEM workers are black;
  • 6% of STEM workers are Hispanic.

So why do fewer women enter a growing field that pays well?  Dr. Blank said that while women are more likely than men to go to college, they are much less likely to enter college prepared for STEM studies.  She suggested that positive attention focused on science and math for girls beginning at an early age would benefit them from elementary school into their careers.

“Girls can do science and math, have great fun doing it and contribute to the world!” Dr. Blank said.

There are many fantastic organizations right here in our community that are working to prepare girls and women for these types of careers.  The Campagna Center, for example, used a grant from Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Rainmakers Giving Circle to start a program that encourages students at T.C. Williams High School to explore STEM careers.  The Latinas Empowered to Achieve their Potential (LEAP) program helps students improve their leadership skills, learn more about topics like physics, and conduct their own experiments.

Goodwill of Greater Washington – another Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner – holds green construction classes for adults through the Green Pathway DC program.  The 10-week pre-apprenticeship program includes four weeks of green construction training and three weeks of weatherization, green advantage or smart meter installation.

“We’ve seen an increase in women coming through the program.  There was a time when there weren’t any women and now we’re seeing three or four,” Latoria Strickland told me last year.  Latoria is a senior career trainer with Green Pathway DC.

Our Grantee Partner Year Up also takes a hands-on approach, training young people for internships and jobs in Information/Technology.  In addition to practical lessons in IT, Year Up helps young people think about career pathways.girl at computer

“My internship phase allowed me to meet with the head of my company and collaborate with them,” said Kimberly Holloway, a recent graduate who now works for a cyber intelligence company.  “It really opened up a lot of opportunities for me financial-wise and professionally.”

Programs like these are setting up women and their families to have brighter futures.  By providing women and girls with the resources that will enable them to enter career pathways with stability, benefits and family-sustaining pay, we’re making investments in the economic well-being of our entire community.

Dr. Adriana Kugler, chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor summed it up best: “By helping women, we’re helping the entire country.”

The Best Gift My Grandmother Gave Me

nonnaHow do you show others that you love or care about them?  Some people say it with kind words, thoughtful gifts or generous donations.  My grandmother, Esther, has always expressed it through actions.  Now going on 96-years-old, in good health, and having outlived both of my parents and most of her siblings and friends, my grandmother has always expressed her love by having a full pantry and room at the table for anyone who needed a meal.  And that wasn’t always easy.  My grandmother emigrated to the US in the 1950s with two teenage daughters and raised them essentially on her own.

I remember her in her prime as always juggling multiple jobs.  For years she was the jewelry buyer for the UNICEF gift store in Los Angeles.  But she was also, at the same time, a travel agent, a French teacher (her pupils included Leonard Nimoy!), and the uber-volunteer.  She won multiple “Volunteer of the Year” awards from the Israel Cancer Research Fund, where she began volunteering after my mother died from cancer in the early 1980s.  But above and beyond nanathat, she always had a home-cooked meal and an invitation to her table for neighbors, friends or the visitor who had nowhere else to go.  Her friends knew that they could call on her day or night and that she would be there to support them, drive them where they needed to go, make them a meal, or provide whatever else they needed.  Nothing was too much to ask of her and she never — never — expected anything in return.  I did not realize then that she was my introduction to philanthropy.

This Hanukkah, as I prepare a meal for my family and our neighbors I am thinking about my family — especially my grandmother — and the lessons they’ve taught me.  She is proof of what we all know: women are resilient; women will do anything in their power to provide for their families and hold them together.  And for me personally, she was one of my most significant role models who showed me through her actions that supporting those in need, giving back and caring for others is the way to live.  It’s an example that I try to follow everyday through my work, my giving and my actions.

Nicky Goren is the president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation Awards $240,000 in Grants to Local Nonprofits

Earlier today, the Associated Press reported that a record number of Americans have fallen into poverty or are barely scraping by.  1 in 2 people are poor or low-income, the AP found, and safety net programs have kept poverty from rising even higher.  It is facts like these that prompted Washington Area Women’s Foundation to focus its work on economic security for women and girls and to make strategic investments in programs that have an impact.

At its quarterly meeting this week Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s board of directors approved $240,000 in grants to eight area nonprofits whose work is transforming the lives of women and girls.

“Our grants to these outstanding organizations represent an investment in the potential of every woman and girl in our community,” said Nicky Goren, president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation. “When women and girls prosper, our entire region benefits.”

Five of the nonprofits received funding from the Foundation’s Early Care and Education Funders Collaborative (ECEFC), a partnership between national and local private foundations, corporate funders and family foundations to increase access to quality early care and education in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

“It is especially important for young children from low- and moderate-income families to have the social, emotional and intellectual foundation they need to be successful in school and beyond,” said Stacey Collins, manager of Client & Community Relations at The PNC Financial Services Group and member of the ECEFC steering committee. “These five grant recipients are doing innovative and effective work that is transforming the lives of children and their families.”

The ECEFC Grantee Partners are:

  • CentroNía ($50,000)
  • Empower DC ($50,000)
  • Fairfax Futures ($50,000)
  • Hopkins House ($25,000)
  • Voices for Virginia’s Children ($50,000)

Three nonprofits received funding from the African American Women’s Giving Circle.  The giving circle supports African American women-led organizations that improve the lives of African American women and girls in the Washington region.

The African American Women’s Giving Circle Grantee Partners are:

  • New Community for Children ($6,070)
  • Our Place DC ($6,070)
  • Petals of Primrose ($2,000)

A poverty fact sheet released earlier this year by The Women’s Foundation and The Urban Institute showed that the number of women and girls living in poverty in the region rose to more than 200,000.  For more trends and statistics on the rising local poverty rate, please click here.

And for more information on Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the ECEFC, the African American Women’s Giving Circle or the nonprofits receiving grants, please go to www.TheWomensFoundation.org or contact Mariah Craven at mcraven@wawf.org or (202)347-7737 x207.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

eatethicallyIn today’s rundown: how to ensure that the employees at your favorite restaurants are being treated fairly.  Plus, a new study shows that women drive most charitable giving.

— Eating ethically is on the menu, thanks to Restaurant Opportunities Center United and its 2012 Diners’ Guide, which includes information on wages, benefits and promotion practices of some of the most popular restaurants in America. The Diners’ Guide was created because so many restaurant employees — especially women, immigrants and people of color — do not earn living wages, benefits and opportunities to move into better positions.  Restaurant Opportunities Center DC is a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.

— Women are either the sole decision maker or equal partners in making decisions about charitable giving in 90 percent of high networth households, according to a new study released by Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy and Bank of America.  The Nonprofit Quarterly breaks down the highlights of the study and explores how this will impact how charities approach donors.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

In today’s rundown: A special after school guest for the students at Horton’s Kids.  A look at why unemployment is so high in some parts of DC even though there are many jobs available.  Plus, analysis of the latest unemployment numbers and what they mean for women.

— Tomorrow afternoon the students at Horton’s Kids will have some special help with their homework — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will be visiting the nonprofit during its weekly tutoring session.  The visit is part of the 2011 Combined Federal Campaign.  Horton’s Kids is a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.

— Washington, DC has plenty of jobs and, in some wards, plenty of unemployment. The disconnect, reports DCentric, is that many residents are lacking the skills and credentials they need to get jobs.  DCentric is looking into what can be done to help unskilled residents find jobs.

— More than 300,000 women dropped out of the labor force last month, according to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. IWPR — a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner — also found that women who maintain families without a spouse have much higher unemployment rates than other groups.

The Daily Rundown — The Latest News Affecting Women & Girls in Our Region

In today’s rundown: The number of young parents who need housing in DC is on the rise.  Plus, Gloria Steinem talks about the women’s movement and what she learned after turning 60.

— An increasing number of parents under the age of 24 in DC are in need of housing, reports The Washington Post. The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates released a study today that surveyed about 500 people between the ages of 12 and 24 who did not have stable housing arrangements.  About half of those surveyed had children.  According to the executive director of Covenant House, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner, most of the study participants had to leave more stable homes for economic reasons.

— As part of the TEDxWomen’s conference last week, Gloria Steinem sat down to talk about women’s progress and aging well.  You can watch her short interview by clicking here.