Olympic Inspiration: Women I’ll Be Watching at Sochi

JLS brother and dad in snowTo say I’m a huge sports fan is a serious understatement. For as long as I can remember sports have been a big part of my life. My dad put me on skis right before my first birthday. I competed in gymnastics for 10 years; took up ballet (pointe no less) in high school just for fun when the physical toll of gymnastics caught up with me; played volleyball; raced in both downhill and cross country skiing; and competed in the hurdles and triple jump for high school track. If truth be told though, I really wanted to play soccer, hockey, or football. I played on my younger brother’s soccer team until I aged out and co-ed teams were no longer allowed. My brief bout with football ended after I broke my finger intercepting the ball from one of the boys on the playground in 6th grade. I believe my mom said that was enough of that. And despite my dad coaching hockey, somehow I never did make it out onto the ice….

But my real dream? My real dream was to be an Olympic athlete! Yes, I know the Buzzfeed quiz said that I am best suited to have a career as a humanitarian, and I suppose at the age of 41 it’s a little late to take up the Olympic challenge now, but to be an Olympic athlete would be the ultimate.

JLS long jumpSo it is with great anticipation that I eagerly await the Opening Ceremonies of the XXII Olympic Winter Games tonight in Sochi, Russia. For the next two weeks, I will revert to the sleep deprived days associated only with having a newborn. I will be glued to the television (and on occasion my computer screen) watching women and men defy all odds in pursuit of their Olympic dream.

While I love the competition – watching the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as the old ABC Sports promo stated – what I love most is hearing the stories of the athletes. The level of commitment and dedication, the willingness to sacrifice everything for this one moment is unlike anything most of us will ever aspire to or experience in our lifetimes.

There are so many stories of heartbreak and triumph amongst the 230 U.S. athletes who will compete over the next two weeks. Nearly half of the athletes are women. Of course, there are those athletes who are well-known, have significant endorsements, and huge name recognition – Lindsey Vonn, even though she is not competing, and Lolo Jones come to mind – and then there are the lesser known athletes; those who may grab the spotlight for five minutes as they put everything on the line, whether they are medal contenders or not. Some will say it’s just enough to make the team and compete. Others will be devastated when they miss the podium by just .03 seconds. And others will stand on the podium and watch tearfully as the American flag is raised and the Star Spangled Banner is played.

There are too many stories to share on this blog, but the stories of two women in particular really resonated with me personally:

Noelle Pikus-Pace is a 31-year-old mother of two who had retired from skeleton racing in 2010. Just two years later she decided that “she had a little bit more to give,” and announced her intention to come out of retirement to qualify for the 2014 Olympics. Rather than fully sacrificing time with her family, she raised the $70,000 necessary for her husband and two children to travel with her on the World Cup circuit. As a working mom, I can only imagine the juggling act that Noelle, her husband, and their two kids have managed in dogged pursuit of her dream. It is a testament to love, support, and sheer determination.

In 2009, Lindsey Van became the first world champion in women’s ski jumping. Until the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, she held the hill record for the longest jump by a man or women at the Vancouver venue, and for 10 years Lindsey fought to JLS and brother ski jumpget women’s ski jumping recognized by the International Olympic Committee. This year, women will compete in ski jumping for the first time in the history of the Winter Games. As a little girl, I remember attending a ski jump championship at Gunstock Mountain Resort, the New Hampshire mountain that I learned to ski on. I remember the ski jump being enormous and super scary, especially after hiking up the hill to the top, but I also remember being intrigued by what it would be like to fly.

Each of these women may have taken a different path to get to the Olympics, but each of them started out as a little girl with a dream, and when the Olympics open today I’m hoping that they both soar to new heights.

You can follow the stories of these women and many more on either the NBC Olympics or Team USA sites. And while these Olympic Games are not without controversy – the discriminating anti-gay laws, the unprecedented cost, the hotel rooms not finished, the corruption – I will be watching, and I will be cheering. I will be inspired. Who will you be watching in the days to come?

Photo 1: The author (center), her brother and their father. Photo 2: The author competes in the long jump. Photo 3: The author and her brother in New Hampshire.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

INFOGRAPHIC: The Wage Gap and Nontraditional Jobs for Women

The Shriver Report, released earlier this year, has helped draw national attention to the conversation around #WhatWomenNeed. The report has focused particularly on the gender wage gap and the significant economic burden that women bear.  It found that closing the gender wage gap would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families, and that if women received pay equal to that of their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income. These are huge benefits, not just for women, but for all Americans – and they start with closing the gender wage gap.

At The Women’s Foundation, we’ve noted that occupational segregation and the wage gap remain persistently connected, with women often relegated to “female occupations” that typically pay less and offer fewer benefits than male-dominated occupations. As you can see in the infographic below, there is a significant wage disparity in the types of jobs that are most frequently occupied by women and the jobs with the least female representation:

Nontraditional jobs5

A recent case study on nontraditional jobs released by The Women’s Foundation found that women face a number of barriers to these occupations, and also offers solutions for overcoming those barriers. For more details on how support services, partnerships with community colleges, and a focus on basic skills can help break down those barriers, please check out the report here.

5 Ways to Make 2014 Less Tax-ing

tax formIn the deep freeze of winter, it’s hard to think of a coming spring, but April will be here soon with bright sunshine, blooming flowers and… Tax Day! But don’t panic. Filing taxes can be fun — especially if you can get a nice refund from it. Here are five tips to keep in mind for this upcoming tax season.

1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute: To take advantage of key tax credits and receive a refund, you must file a tax return. By filing early, you can avoid those last minute problems that cause you to be late or make mistakes. An accurate and timely tax return is not only essential for claiming a refund, but it is also critical for avoiding penalties and benefiting from financial opportunities, such as qualifying for financial aid, a mortgage, or a small business loan.

2. Be careful when selecting your filing status: Your filing status determines the types of tax deductions and credits you receive as well as whether you are on the hook for tax debt triggered by a spouse. If you are unmarried, legally separated, or lived apart from your spouse the last 6 months of the year and have children, you may be eligible to file as “head of household,” which reduces your taxable income. If you are married, “married filing jointly” may be the best choice to minimize your tax and maximize your refund. (If your spouse owes for back taxes, child support or student loans and your refund is intercepted, you may receive your share of the refund back by requesting “Injured Spouse Relief.”) However, injured spouse relief is not available on all state returns. If your spouse’s tax situation is more complex, consider “married filing separate” to preserve your refund and protect yourself from joint liability arising from a future audit of your return.

3. Determine your eligibility for tax credits based on your income, children, dependent relatives and expenses: You may be eligible for tax credits based on basic factors like how much you got paid and how many children or relatives depend on you. For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit provides money to people who worked but did not make a lot of money; the Child and Dependent Care Credit helps to cover child care expenses; and Education Credits helps to cover education expenses. Bring your tax preparer the names and social security numbers of your spouse, children and dependent relatives, income documents (W2, 1099, etc.), documentation of child care, and education expenses for these credits.

4. Pay yourself: By contributing to an IRA or to your retirement plan at work, you may be eligible for a Saver’s Tax Credit. That’s right, saving may give you a tax break. And there is still time. Contributions made to an IRA designated for 2013 by April 15th qualify. (Most people can contribute up to $5,500.) To find out more, click here.

5. Purchase health insurance to avoid future penalties: If you are currently uninsured, you can avoid a penalty on your 2014 tax return by obtaining insurance before March 31, 2014. You may be surprised to find out that you qualify for Medicaid or a Premium Tax Credit, which helps make purchasing health insurance more affordable by offsetting the cost of paying an insurance premium. To find out more, please click here.

Following these tips can give your finances a boost. If your income is under $58,000, you can file for free at www.myfreetaxes.com/dceitc. Need help? If you are single with income less than $35,000, or have a family and income under $52,000, you may be able to get free help with your tax return through Community Tax Aid and the DC EITC Campaign. Here’s to a less tax-ing 2014!

This post was written by Teresa Hinze, Maria Dooner and Pamela Chan of Community Tax Aid, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.

Giving Back: Why I Volunteer

Lauren-HowardMartin Luther King’s birthday reminds me how grateful I am for the fullness of my life – wonderful family and friends, good health, and a rewarding professional career.  The holiday also reminds me that others, whether by birth or circumstance, have not been so fortunate and that I have both the time and resources to, in some small way, do something helpful for them.

The day of service sponsored by The Women’s Foundation gave me a chance to do just that.  That the Foundation chose A Wider Circle for this “giving back” opportunity reflects its expertise at selecting organizations that make a substantial contribution to the lives of vulnerable women and girls in our community.

Among so many worthy organizations, A Wider Circle was a great choice.  It provides furniture – free of charge – to families who frequently sleep on the floor because they don’t have beds, pick out their clothes from plastic garbage bags because they don’t have dressers, and sometimes eat in the bathroom because the toilet provides the only seating in their home.  Last year, A Wider Circle furnished more than 4,000 apartments to grateful families in our region.

A Wider Circle also provides professional clothing to adults needing this service – again, free of charge.  Coats, suits, dresses, pants, and shirts are arranged by size and category on circular racks.  Only clothing in excellent condition makes it on to those racks, and A Wider Circle even steams those items needing a light pressing before they’re made available to its clients.

The room that houses the “store” is bright and clean and looks very much like an upscale retail showroom.  That’s because A Wider Circle’s founder and executive director, Dr. Mark Bergel, insists that each of the more 100,000 adults and children who have come to his facility be treated with dignity.  His goal, as A Wider Circle’s website states, was to create an organization that “would develop programs to address the ‘whole person’ – programs that would not only tend to people’s tangible needs (e.g., furniture and home goods), but also to their ‘inner needs’ (e.g., stress management, financial planning, and healthy self-esteem).”

And that’s why I chose A Wider Circle for my own special day of service.  I knew the organization because I recently led a winter coat drive at Temple Sinai, which contributed more than 100 articles of warm clothing to the Circle.  On the MLK holiday, I spent my hours at A Wider Circle examining clothing to make sure it wasn’t stained or torn and placing them on the appropriate racks.  I enjoyed both the camaraderie with other Women’s Foundation volunteers and the knowledge that I was helping families in need in our community.  It was a truly rewarding experience.  Many thanks for the opportunity, WAWF!

Lauren Howard is a Women’s Foundation donor and a co-chair of the Rainmakers Giving Circle.

Forget the Commercials: Why Activists Are Using the Super Bowl to Get Your Attention

Anti-human-trafficking-super-bowlThis Sunday, more than 100 million pairs of eyes will be on New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, where the Broncos and Seahawks will meet for Super Bowl XLVIII. Just outside the stadium – but a world away from the lights and cameras – some of this country’s most vulnerable women and girls will be forced to work as part of the modern day slave trade. Worldwide, sporting events attract a flood of human traffickers and here in the US, the Super Bowl has been called “the single largest human trafficking incident” in the country.

With so much attention focused on one place, we have a rare opportunity to advocate for and support the women and girls whose circumstances are too often ignored or unrecognized. Traffickers force or coerce victims into labor, services, or commercial sex acts, and they target vulnerable populations, like women who live in poverty, runaway and homeless youth, and undocumented immigrants.

While trafficking can happen to anyone, women and children are far more likely to be the victims of trafficking: a report from Polaris Project, an organization that fights modern day slavery, found that 85% of sex trafficking cases and 60% of labor cases referenced women as the victims. The University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center states simply that, “at its core, trafficking is a result of women’s unequal economic status.”

In New Jersey, advocates are conducting trainings for transportation and hospitality workers and using street outreach efforts to help people recognize the signs of trafficking and help those who may be victims. Law enforcement officials have stepped up their efforts as well, and this week the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on preventing trafficking at major sporting events.

One of the women who testified at the hearing was Holly Smith, a survivor of child sex trafficking. It was 1992 and Holly was 14 when a man she met at a mall convinced her to run away from home, promising her the life she dreamed of. “Within hours of running away,” she testified, “I was forced into prostitution on the streets and in the casino hotels and motels of Atlantic City, New Jersey.”

Within a couple of days, she was arrested and “treated like a criminal.” For years after that, she said she didn’t realize that other women and girls around the world shared her experience until she watched a documentary about it. Now, she wonders if campaigns, media attention and public concern around the 1992 Super Bowl may have heightened awareness and prevented her situation.

Whether you are headed to New Jersey for the big game this weekend or not, there are potential indicators of human trafficking that can help you recognize warning signs wherever you are. According to Polaris Project, potential victims may:

– Be fearful, anxious, tense, nervous or paranoid

– Exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement

– Show signs of physical abuse, restraint, confinement or torture

– Not be in control of her/his own money and/or identification

– Not be allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating).

Polaris Project has a more comprehensive list here. If you see any of these red flags, you are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888 or send a text to BeFree (233733).

So while you excitedly cheer on your favorite teams this weekend, be mindful that human trafficking thrives on the chaos and celebration of the Super Bowl and similar events. By being educated and vigilant, we can be advocates for women and girls, and work together to make sure that no children have to go through what Holly Smith experienced.

#WhatWomenNeed – A Call to Action

Shriver-reportThe release of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink on January 15—just one week after we marked the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty—accomplished what so many of us have been working toward: it elevated the conversation about women and poverty to a national level dialogue. #WhatWomenNeed was trending on social media and people were talking. In the room at the national release event, there was a palpable excitement in the air—excitement filled with the promise of opportunity. And just last night, the President of the United States put women front and center in his State of the Union address, calling for action on pay equity, minimum wage, and pregnancy discrimination. Now, it’s what we do with this opportunity that matters.

The Shriver Report provides a list of 10 Things You Can Do To Power A Woman’s Nation:

  1. Get The Shriver Report.
  2. Get smart. Build a stable foundation for your future by putting college before kids.
  3. Invest in yourself.
  4. Use your economic power.
  5. Engage men as allies.
  6. Vote.
  7. Be a 21st century boss.
  8. Finance women’s work.
  9. Mentor and motivate girls.
  10. Be an architect of change.

Be an architect of change – we love this one, and it’s exactly what Washington Area Women’s Foundation is working to achieve. Just a week after the release of The Shriver Report, we met with three of our sister women’s funds—California, Chicago, and Memphis—to better understand the opportunities for women’s funds to engage in moving a national women’s economic security agenda. We spent a day learning about the policy initiatives underway from select national experts on a range of topics—paid sick days, paid family leave, minimum wage, pay equity, job training, higher education, child care, and pregnancy discrimination—the very same topics that are discussed in the Shriver Report. In fact, the report includes polling on these issues. Does it surprise you to know that the majority of the American public (73 percent in fact) strongly favors equal pay for equal work? And there is universal support for this issue among Democrats and Republicans. One of the loudest and longest rounds of applause during the State of Union was in response to the President saying:

“Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street – to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”

We are living in a unique time, and there’s a window of opportunity – never before has the level of conversation and support for women’s economic security been elevated in the way that we’ve seen just over the last month. Politicians, advocates, think tanks, researchers, and the American public are coalescing around a set of issues and policies that can truly make a difference in the lives of so many women in our region. Most recently, we saw the District of Columbia and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland increase the minimum wage – a good first step, but more needs to be done.

Women’s funds are uniquely positioned to make a difference.  First, we are grantmakers supporting both programs and policy initiatives that are making real change for women and girls in our communities, and that inform our policy positions.  And, through our deep understanding of our local contexts and relationships with people and organizations on the ground, we have the power to convene, to amplify their voices, and to mobilize our local stakeholders.  And finally, we have the ability to do this state by state, community by community, in partnership with the 100 plus other women’s funds across the country and other local and national partners. In the coming months, we’ll be researching and assessing the role of Washington Area Women’s Foundation in connecting to local and national policy and communications campaigns that can make a difference in putting more women and girls on a path to prosperity.

The Shriver Report defines women on the brink as women who are living “on the economic line separating the middle class from the working poor and those people living in absolute poverty.” It is the place where one in three Americans lives paycheck to paycheck and just one incident away from financial crisis. It is the place where The Women’s Foundation has squarely focused its work for the last 15 years, and it is the place where we strive to have the most impact in the years ahead. The opportunity is now, but we want to hear from you – tell us what you think women need in order to be economically successful! Join the conversation by leaving a comment below or joining us on Facebook or Twitter.

#WhatWomenNeed should be more than a trending hashtag.  Or perhaps we need a different hashtag – #WhenWomenSucceedAmericaSucceeds. What do you think?

Nicky Goren and Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat are the president and vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

What Advice Would You Give to Your 13-Year-Old Self?

Last month, Washington Area Women’s Foundation announced that we’ve made new grants to three organizations that are developing two-generation strategies that will serve middle school girls and their mothers.

We’ve been talking and thinking a lot about middle school recently, and that got us reminiscing about those exuberant and confusing years between elementary school and high school. We asked the Foundation board, staff, donors, Grantee Partners and friends to think back to middle school and share the advice they’d give their 13-year-old selves. We may not have the ability to send anyone back in time, but maybe our lessons learned can help others – in middle school and beyond.

Many of you shared your advice on Facebook, Twitter and on one of the glass walls in our office. Here are some of our favorite words of wisdom:

13 yo advice

Thank you to all who shared your memories and thoughts! Got something to add? Leave a message in the comments below!

2014 Grants Will Help 6,000 Women & Girls

4-sq-GPFor me – as for many others – January is my “clean slate.”  No, it’s not about New Year’s resolutions.  For Washington Area Women’s Foundation, it’s a chance to celebrate the over $1 million in grants our board approved in December, and to exhale and plan for the work all of these Grantee Partners will be leading in our community this year.

This year’s Grantee Partners are employing a variety of strategies to help increase the economic security of women and girls in the Washington region.

  • Our workforce development Grantee Partners are providing a range of services along a continuum: adult basic education, post-secondary education and training, occupational credentials, job training programs, job placement, retention and advancement strategies. Grantee Partners are also continuing to provide intensive case management and supportive services that are critical to the success of low-income women.  And they’re targeting jobs that are high-demand and high-wage, with opportunities for advancement.
  • Our asset building Grantee Partners are working to help women build their collective income and assets.  They’re helping women access the Earned Income Tax Credit, learn the basics of credit, savings, and how to budget, and build assets through homeownership and matched savings accounts.
  • Our early care and education Grantee Partners are increasing the quality and capacity of, and access to, early care and education in the Washington region.  Grantee Partners are providing professional development, training and coaching for early care and education professionals (family child care providers, child care center staff, and pre-k teachers), to improve the quality of care available for low-income children ages 0 to 5.  They’re also mobilizing important advocacy efforts, to preserve and grow investments in early care and education – so that low-income children will be prepared for kindergarten, and parents can access this important work support.

Last – but not least!! – we’re very excited to have three new Grantee Partners, working to develop two-generation strategies that will serve middle school girls and their mothers.  You can brush up on our issue brief here for more on the thinking behind this work.  We’ll keep you updated as this new work in our community unfolds.  Until then, check out all the great work we’re supporting in 2014:

Academy of Hope
To support low-income women in Washington, DC with adult basic education, as well as connections and preparation for post-secondary education or advanced career/vocational training.  Funding will also support the launch of Academy of Hope Public Charter School as a resource for adult learners in the District.

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.

Capital Area Asset Builders
To support financial education and coaching for low-income women referred through partner nonprofit programs.  A cohort of these women will also have access to Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), to provide matched savings opportunities.

CASA de Maryland
To support the Women’s Workforce Initiative, which increases economic outcomes among low-income, immigrant women through industry-recognized vocational training, work readiness supports, job placement assistance, and other support services.

To support the CentroNía Institute’s work linking bilingual coaches with Early Head Start/Head Start teachers, center-based teachers, and parents to develop and implement evidence-based strategies for child development, language development, and second language acquisition at home and in the early childhood classroom.

College Success Foundation – District of Columbia*
To support planning for two-generation work that serves middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.

Community Tax Aid
To help low-income women increase assets by reducing tax liabilities and receiving tax credits for which they qualify, and by avoiding tax penalties, high fee preparation services and predatory products.

DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative*
To support planning for two-generation work that serves middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.

Doorways for Women and Families
To support the intensive Financial Independence Track (FIT) for women experiencing homelessness and/or domestic violence who live in shelters or transition-in-place housing programs. The program includes one-on-one financial education and employment counseling.

Fairfax Futures
To support the Neighborhood School Readiness Project, a community model that links early care and education stakeholders to elementary school administrators and teachers. The project includes outreach to families to increase awareness and activities that support school readiness and one-to-one mentoring for family child care providers implementing curriculum.

Goodwill of Greater Washington
To support job training and placement services for low-income women in the region, with a focus on hospitality and security/protective services.

Latino Economic Development Center
To support the financial capability initiative, which will provide coaching and financial tools to low-income women.

Mission: Readiness
To support a “grasstops” media, public, and policymaker education campaign to expand early learning opportunities for children in the Washington region, with particular emphasis on Northern Virginia.

Montgomery College Foundation
To support training, coaching and job opportunities within the Apartment Industry and commercial driving industries for low-income Montgomery County women.

National Black Child Development Institute
To support T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood DC, a nationally-recognized, research-based program that improves the quality of teachers serving children birth through age five, while also supporting systemic change in the early care and education system.

Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington
To support the Capital Area Foreclosure Network, a joint initiative with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, that supports housing counseling agencies in the region.

Northern Virginia Community College Educational Foundation*
To support the educational attainment of low-income women in Northern Virginia, including both early care providers and mothers of young children, through the Early Childhood Education Initiative.

 Northern Virginia Family Service
To support the Training Futures program, which will help low-income women complete education and training, and secure entry-level office or health care jobs.

Prince George’s Child Resource Center
To support Joining Voices, an advocacy project for 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.

Prince George’s Community College Foundation
To support the Women of Wisdom program, which will provide coaching and supportive services to low-income women at the college pursuing a degree or occupational credential.

So Others Might Eat (SOME)
To support the Center for Employment Training, which will prepare low-income women for careers in the health care and building maintenance industries by providing job training, basic education, career development assistance and supportive services.

The Training Source
To support Hospitality Express 4 Success, a partnership of The Training Source, Prince George’s Community College, and the Community Services Agency of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, to offer training, education, job placement and retention services focused on the hospitality sector for a cohort of low-income 18-26 year old women in Prince George’s County.

Voices for Virginia’s Children
To support efforts to promote public policies and investments that ensure all children in Northern Virginia, particularly those who are disadvantaged, enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

YWCA of the National Capital Area
To support planning for two-generation work that serves middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers.

Year Up National Capital Region
To support 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.

Urban Alliance Foundation
To support young women in the High School Internship Program, which provides work experience, mentoring and life skills training, and is the only year-long employment program for high school seniors in Washington, DC.

* First-time Grantee Partner

Lauren is a program officer at The Women’s Foundation.

Did Anyone Even Know That a War Was Being Waged?

LBJ-war-on-povertyAs I listened to NPR’s piece this morning on the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, I was struck by the fact that very little has changed. I decided to read President Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous address to Congress. That internet search led me to the March 1964 Special Message to Congress that accompanied President Johnson’s proposed Economic Opportunity Act of 1964—I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t read it, to take a moment and do so. The message lays out the fundamentals for the creation of what are now today’s safety net programs, programs that are slowly being dismantled.

In the Special Message to Congress, President Johnson said, “There are millions of Americans—one fifth of our people—who have not shared in the abundance which has been granted to most of us, and on whom the gates of opportunity have been closed. What does this poverty mean to those who endure it? It means a daily struggle to secure the necessities for even a meager existence. It means that the abundance, the comforts, the opportunities they see all around them are beyond their grasp.”

Fifty years later and there are still millions of people across the country struggling to make ends meet. In the Washington metropolitan region alone, more than 200,000 women and girls are living in poverty. Just last month, the Washington Post profiled the day-to-day struggle of a woman and her family living in DC, a painstaking reminder that the war has not been won. Did anyone even know that a war was being waged?

President Johnson continued, “The war on poverty is not a struggle simply to support people, to make them dependent on the generosity of others. It is a struggle to give people a chance. It is an effort to allow them to develop and use their capacities, as we have been allowed to develop and use ours, so that they can share, as others share in the promise of this nation. We do this, first of all, because it is right that we should.”

Truer words have never been spoken. I was reminded of this last fall when Sharon Williams so poignantly addressed the audience at our annual Leadership Luncheon. She talked about life happening to her and the despair she felt until she found an opportunity: “I began to believe within myself that if given the opportunity—people living in less than ideal conditions and having less than ideal situations could and would do great things.”

All Sharon needed was an opportunity. As we embark upon a new year, let’s not waste the opportunities before us. Let’s not have this same conversation 50 years from now.

As President Johnson said, “Today… we have the power to strike away the barriers to full participation in our society. Having the power, we have the duty. The Congress is charged by the Constitution to ‘provide…for the general welfare of the United States….’ Now Congress is being asked to extend that welfare to all our people.”

Fifty years later, the message is the same: the time to act is now. Ending poverty could become a reality, but it will take all of us working together. May this be our nation’s New Year’s resolution for 2014.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.