Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s 2015 Leadership Luncheon Remarks

On October 15, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2015 Leadership Luncheon.

Good afternoon. Wow – what an amazing crowd! I’m Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to today’s luncheon.

At each of your plates sits a small blue or orange envelope marked Wait to Open. The suspense has been tough, I know! But inside that envelope sits your fate for the next few minutes: either that of a woman thriving, or that of a woman struggling.

So now I’d like you to open your envelopes.

If you have a blue envelope, you are living the life of a woman who is thriving. You likely graduated from high school, college and maybe even grad school. You are employed and earn a comfortable salary. You can afford high-quality child care, a home of your own, and you set aside money each month for savings. If you opened your envelope to learn that you are thriving, I’d like you to stay seated.

If you have an orange envelope, then you are living the life of a woman struggling to get by. It’s likely that you graduated from high school, but college wasn’t an option. You are employed at a local chain restaurant, making $21,000 per year – minimum wage – barely enough to cover your bills, let alone child care for your toddler. Each week, you cobble together coverage through friends, family, and neighbors, wondering if your daughter is learning what she needs to be prepared for kindergarten. Each month, you make tough choices about which bills you will pay – whether it’s your daughter’s asthma medication or the heating bill – because you can’t cover both of them in full.

Thriving Struggling Cards

If you’ve found yourself with an orange envelope, please stand.

Take note. Look around. 1 of every 4 individuals in this room is now standing.

1 in 4.

These are people you know. They are your neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

The women and men standing are representative of the 476,000 women and girls in this region who are struggling to get by.

But why? It doesn’t have to be this way.

●    What if – right now – we doubled down on our investments to build economic security in this region?

●    What if for every door that felt closed off to a woman, we helped open 2 more doors of opportunity?

●    What if, instead of making assumptions, we took the time to listen – really listen – to what women need,
so we can tailor solutions that will truly help them get ahead?

If we were to do this, then you could all take a seat. And as you take your seat at the table, know that, in doing so, you’re creating new seats at the table. This is what a model community looks like—a place where we all have comfortable seats at the table, and ample opportunities to thrive.

It’s not so far out of reach.

Last year, I stood on this stage and shared my own personal journey. Having come from a place of struggle, I am now thriving. And so this work is very personal for me. My mom and daughters are here with me again today, and although I argued a little bit with my oldest daughter Katia about whether she should really miss a day of school, she said to me, “Mom, I want to see what you do. It’s really important to me.” And there you have it. That’s the difference. Because my trajectory changed, her trajectory has changed, and she sees other possibilities.

JFAM large

But that’s not the case for far too many women and girls in our community. When mired in the challenges of poverty, especially when it’s the only life you’ve ever know, it’s hard to lift your head up and see a brighter future for yourself and your family.

When we talk about female poverty in our region, 1 in 4, we must explicitly talk about the disproportionate impact this has on women and girls of color.

16 percent of Black women and 14 percent of Latinas live in poverty compared with 6 percent of white women.

And when we look at families led by single women, the disparities for women of color are truly staggering.

What’s happening with women and girls of color in our community is so deeply connected and intertwined with what is happening to men and boys of color. My Brother’s Keeper has ignited an unprecedented investment in boys and young men of color, an investment and conversation that is long overdue. I applaud our trifecta of leadership—the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Chancellor—for these efforts.

I think we can all agree that this isn’t about one gender or another. This isn’t about pitting girls against boys. This is about investing in the future of our community, investing in our children.

What we need now, more than ever is bold action.

So today, I am challenging our community to join The Women’s Foundation and boldly invest a collective $100 million over the next five years in our region’s women and families, many of whom are women of color.

Join The Women’s Foundation in committing to moving the 476,000 women and girls currently facing economic hardship to a place of consistent economic stability. Our region’s families deserve nothing less.

To aid in these efforts, in the coming months we will be unveiling a donor advised fund model that will transform how we collectively invest in this work. Because we can achieve this, and when we do, we will transform our community. We will transform lives.

To better appreciate the life-altering nature of our work, I want you to consider the story of Okema.

Three years ago, Okema stood on this stage and shared her personal journey. In her mid-20s she found herself unemployed, trying to raise her daughter single-handedly. She enrolled SOME’s Center for Employment Training where she graduated and ultimately earned a job working for SOME. Today, 8 years later, Okema is now the Lead Employment Retention Specialist at SOME. That means she is the person responsible for ensuring that recent graduates have the support they need to stay in their jobs for the long-term. And she has the real life experience to share. I recently ran into Okema, and she shared with me that she now wants to become a life coach. Imagine that – talk about paying it forward?

It’s success stories like Okema’s that make this work both critical and rewarding. We can’t be intimidated or daunted by the staggering statistics. We have to focus on what’s possible and the positive signs of progress that we are seeing every day.

Last year, our grantmaking reached nearly 7,000 women, and as a result:

●    Women collectively saved close to a quarter of a million dollars.

●    More than 400 women increased their collective incomes by $1.5 million through new jobs or advancing to higher paying jobs.

These are impressive results, but we know much more needs to be done. Over the next five years, we are committed to increasing our investments in this community from $1 million to $5 million.

But those investments can only be successful if the women they support aren’t hindered by other barriers—like access to child care or transportation.

DC is poised to become one of the most generous places in the country for low-income workers seeking paid family and medical leave. Regardless of where you stand on how we pay for this benefit, there is no ignoring that the time has come to have this important conversation.

This is just one of the many reasons why The Women’s Foundation is also committing to coordinating our work with those community partners and policymakers who are positioned to remove barriers and enact tangible policies that improve the lives of women and girls.

You are each here today because you know one very simple truth: when women are strong, our community is strong. And yet, just a stone’s throw away—whether it’s Langley Park, Bailey’s Crossroads, or Anacostia—there are roughly 30,000 single moms who are struggling to make ends meet, and their children know nothing else but what it feels like to scrape by.

So yes, bold visions are needed, but bold actions are overdue. Today, I’ve laid out for you our commitments, but I want to know what will each of you do to change the uncomfortable reality for so many women and girls?

You are The Women’s Foundation. We are The Women’s Foundation. Together we will invest in our greatest innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, and changemakers.

Together, we can change the FUTURE.

We don’t need to look any further – WE have the power to make this happen.

And NOW is the time.

Thank you.

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Northern Virginia Family Service’s Training Futures

At Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we invest in pathways out of poverty for women and girls, including job training and post-secondary education opportunities that provide access to careers that offer benefits and pay family-sustaining wages. The Foundation first started supporting Northern Virginia Family Service’s Training Futures program through Stepping Stones in 2005. Training Futures provides the training and skills that help under-employed and unemployed women in Northern Virginia secure a rewarding career with the potential for professional advancement, family sustaining wages and permanent employment.

When it comes to helping women build their economic security and earnings potential, Training Futures is one of the nation’s most effective workforce development programs. More than 90 percent of all participants who enroll in the program graduate, and 80 percent of all Training Futures graduates find administrative jobs with benefits paying an average of $12.50 per hour within a year after completing the program.

Training Futures’ six-month intensive curriculum is taught in a simulated office setting and arms trainees with those critical skills that can be applied across industries, including: customer service, public speaking, office administration, computer skills, and records management. During the program, participants complete an internship and are co-enrolled in Northern Virginia Community College. Trainees can receive up to 21 college credits for their Training Futures courses – providing a bridge and pathway to additional education. After graduation, trainees continue to benefit from wrap-around services, including one-on-one counseling, interview coaching, resume preparation and job search assistance.

Lidia VenturaLidia, a single mother and graduate of Training Futures, found the program while pursuing her GED. Prior to enrolling, Lidia said she was constantly thinking, “I’ll get my GED, but then what?” Training Futures helped her answer that question by showing her that it was possible to go from working two jobs on nights and weekends to securing a full-time position with benefits and regular business hours.

In 2014, after completing a three-week internship with the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, Lidia was offered a full-time position as an executive assistant. Since then, she’s impressed her employers, received a raise, and is now able to spend more time at home raising her 9-year-old son. Lidia says the quality time has not only been critical for their relationship, but she’s also seen an improvement in her son’s academic performance. He has been motivated by her experiences and now dreams of receiving his master’s degree one day. Thanks to the credits she earned at Northern Virginia Community College during the Training Futures program, Lidia is also working toward achieving her longtime dream: getting her Associates degree in accounting. She acknowledges that without the support of Training Futures and Washington Area Women’s Foundation she would never have been able to imagine achieving all of these things.

But the most rewarding experience Lidia says thus far has been the opportunity to help change other people’s lives by introducing them to Training Futures. She says, “I couldn’t be more blessed. I don’t even have the words to describe Training Future’s impact on my life. Where I work, I have the ability to speak to a lot of people who could benefit from the program and I tell everyone I can about it.”

Year Up Graduation Speech: The Reward of a Thing Well Done

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!

Marie Sene
2015 Graduate

Note: minor editorial changes were made to the content to present the speech in this format.

Foundation Investments Push Early Learning in the Washington Region Forward

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:

  1. Improve the quality of early care and education for low-income children ages zero to five;
  2. Expand access to affordable early care and education options;
  3. Support professional development for early care and education professionals;
  4. 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.
  •  CentroNia
    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.

Community Colleges: Innovations to Improve the Lives of Women

Community CollegeThe 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.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat’s Luncheon Remarks

On October 23, The Women’s Foundation President and CEO, Jennifer Lockwood- Shabat, gave the following remarks at the 2014 Leadership Luncheon. Please click here to see a video of her delivering the speech in its entirety.

Here. Now. For Her. – is this year’s luncheon theme.  I hope as you thought about coming today, you also took a moment to reflect on what this means to you.

Why are you here, now—in this moment?  Who is the “her” in your life who has touched you profoundly, or whose life you have touched? 

For me, this theme is deeply personal. You see, in many ways, I am HER.  And I am here today because of my mother, Dianna Lockwood.

My mom grew up poor in a small town in NH, on a working farm, the youngest of three sisters. She never had the opportunity to go to college.  She met my dad while working as a medical transcriptionist at a VA hospital in Vermont.  He was a physician’s assistant.  They created a wonderful life—two kids and a house they built on 10 acres of land.


And then the summer I was 10, it all changed. I remember the day well – my mom and dad came home in the middle of the day looking very sad and confused.  It was the early 80s, and many of you will remember, a recession was hitting the country.  The small private doctor’s office in our hometown was struggling financially, so they made a business decision – lay off the person who made the most (my dad) and the person who made the least (my mom). That decision changed our lives forever.

Up until that point, my dad was a high-functioning alcoholic. But being laid off crushed him, and he turned to alcohol frequently and worked only sporadically. We repaired our relationship later in my life, and he was an amazing grandfather to my girls before he passed away 5 years ago. But for the rest of my childhood, it was my mom who got up every day and put one foot in front of the other, consistently working two and three jobs to make ends meet.

I knew that my mom was making great sacrifices so that my brother and I would have the opportunities that she did not.  I could see how tired and stressed she was, and I’m certain there were many days when she’d simply had enough. I learned early on that if I wanted something, I needed to work hard to earn it.  I got my first job at 15.  That summer, and every summer for the rest of high school, I too worked two jobs, selling tickets at the local race track by day and waitressing at the local Pizza Hut by night.

I worked not because I wanted extra spending money, but to pay for basic necessities and do what I could to save for college. My mom always regretted not having that opportunity, but was determined that her children would.  It wasn’t easy financially, and I worked full-time pretty much the entire way, but I am proud to say that I am the first person on my mom’s side of the family to not only get a 4-year degree, but also a master’s degree.

Today is a big deal for my mom.  She’s here, with my husband, my daughters, and my brother.  She’s watching her little girl on stage, running a nonprofit in the nation’s capital, remembering some very dark days, and I know she’s thinking, “Damn, it was all worth it.”

Women's Foundation Luncheon 2014

So, I do what I do because of her. I’ve devoted my career to working on behalf of low-income women and their families because I want her to know that the investment she made in me, all of her sacrifices, were not in vain.  And now that I’m a mother, I have a new, more profound understanding of what she did, and I know that as I strive to make a better life for my own daughters, I am paying forward what my mother has given me.

But, my story is just one story.  There are many, many others.  Thousands of women who do all they can to ensure their children and families can step beyond their own experiences and limitations to live their dreams and achieve their potential.  But sometimes having a dream and working hard is not enough. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you.

There are more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty across the Washington metropolitan region. Sadly, that statistic hasn’t changed significantly in recent years, particularly in light of the recession and what has now become a slow and prolonged recovery for those most in need. That stat also doesn’t capture the additional 250,000 women and girls who are living just above the poverty line, but certainly aren’t earning enough to make ends meet.

As frustrating as these numbers are, and as impatient as we all are for change, we have to remember that most women in our community didn’t suddenly fall into poverty.  It’s multigenerational.  And just as it didn’t happen overnight, it won’t be resolved overnight.

What does it take to move women and girls from a place of economic vulnerability to security?

The answers to that question and the issues our region faces are complex, but now is the time to stand firm in our commitment, craft a bold vision, and re-double our efforts so that future generations of girls can achieve their dreams. That’s why we launched an innovative two-generation initiative to work with middle school aged girls and their female caregivers—whether that’s a mother, grandmother, or another women responsible for guiding and shaping that girl.

You all remember what it was like to be in middle school. It’s a difficult transition under the best of circumstances. As girls develop into young women, there are clear and critical markers that can support or challenge their future economic security.

Our goals for investing in girls are to support high school completion, develop self-esteem, encourage positive choices, and empower them as social change agents.

Our goals for investing in women are to obtain jobs with family sustaining wages and benefits, support increased financial capability, and provide the foundational skills that allow them to break the cycle of poverty for their children.

In the past year, we’ve been proud to partner with College Success Foundation, DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative and YWCA National Capital Area to help forge collaborations and creative thinking on ways to serve both middle school aged girls and their female caregivers with programming that meets their individual needs, while also bringing them together so that they can support one another on this journey. This work will first launch in Ward 7, but our goal is expand our two-generation work across the region, so that the 53,000 girls currently living in poverty can have a brighter future.

The two-generation strategy actually builds and expands upon a decade of investments in our community that have focused on low-income women and women-headed families specifically. Through our grantmaking program, Stepping Stones, we have invested more than $7 million. And that investment has helped over 10,000 women increase their incomes and assets by $45 million through higher wages, decreased debt, and increased savings.


Yes, these are impactful outcomes, but I believe we need to think bigger.  We are capable of doing more.  How do we move from 10,000 women to 100,000 or 200,000?  My goal is to, one day, stand before you and say we’ve accomplished this.  And I believe we can do it.

The Women’s Foundation has a powerful voice, and we have a responsibility to use that voice and our power as a convener to affect greater change. Yes, our investments in the community are critically important, but so too is our voice and our deep expertise and knowledge.  These are tools we can leverage, and it’s the combination of our investments and our influence that will ultimately have the greatest impact.

But it’s not just about us.  I know that no one organization can single-handedly end poverty.  This will require unprecedented collaboration and partnership among philanthropy, business, government, nonprofits, and individuals. And we need all of you, here in this room, to help spark a movement. We are poised and ready to lead that movement, and I want each of you to join me. Let’s harness our collective strength to, in turn, strengthen others.

This is the time—NOW.

Because what we do in this moment will shape the future of our communities. There are thousands of women and girls who need us now, more than ever.  Each one of them has hopes and dreams, and they deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Stand with us. 


Thank you.


A Look at the 2013 Poverty Data For Our Region

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data that gives us a snapshot of what poverty was like in 2013 in the Washington region. The data shows that poverty rates have slightly increased from 2012 and that women continue to be more likely than men to experience economic insecurity. This means they can barely afford paying their basic necessities such as food, housing, health insurance, and transportation. Roughly 10 percent, or almost 210,000 women and girls, in our region lived in poverty, compared with 159,700 men and boys, or 8 percent. Things were worst for families headed by single mothers—almost a quarter were poor— and for women of color—about 14 percent of Latinas and 16 of percent of African-American women struggled with poverty compared with only 6 percent of White women.

Poverty Data chart

There are many reasons why families fall below the poverty threshold, including unemployment, the persistent gender wage gap, barriers to accessing education and discrimination. But one of the key factors is low-quality and low-income jobs. Many women in our region are working more than full-time at poverty-level wages with little to no benefits. That means, for example, supporting a family of four with less than $24,000  last year.  In a region like ours, where costs of housing, food and transportation are among the highest in the nation, $24,000 is not nearly enough to make a living. According to the Economic Security Index calculated by Wider Opportunities for Women, a family of four composed of two workers, an infant and a school child need an approximate annual income of $117,880 in the District of Columbia and $103,960 in Prince George’s County, for example, to meet their basic needs without receiving any public or private assistance.

The newly released data highlights the urgency of the work we are doing at The Women’s Foundation. In collaboration with our Grantee Partners we are helping women access basic education, enroll in workforce development programs, access financial education programs and find high-quality and affordable early care and education for their children. Such efforts help build their economic security and give them the opportunity to achieve their goals. Securing stable employment with living wages can alleviate the burden of living pay-check to pay-check and the constant worrying about how to make ends meet and care for their families, while allowing them to save and plan for a bright future.

Based on the stories we hear from our Grantee Partners and learn from our evaluation efforts we know we are impacting women’s lives. Maya was enrolled in one of YearUp’s workforce development programs. The odds were against her. She was living in a low-cost housing complex for mothers with many rules that made her participation in the program more challenging. She had to miss several days to take care of her sick child and money was always a concern for her, but she pushed through these obstacles and exceled at her classes and job internship. Upon graduation from the program she secured a full-time job with benefits and a salary that lifted her and her son out of poverty and changed the trajectory of their lives.

As we continue supporting the work of our Grantee Partners many more lives and families like Maya’s will be impacted. In the meantime, the updated poverty numbers are an important reminder that the work we do together is crucial to our community. We still have a long way to go before we realize a future where all women are economically secure.


High School Credential Opening Doors of Opportunity

The Adult and Family Literacy Month blog post below is written by  Lecester Johnson, Executive Director of The Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner, Academy of Hope.

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Beverly S., a recent graduate of Academy of Hope, exclaimed, “Getting my high school diploma is the best!” She adds, “It’s so good to take on a challenge and complete it. It (a high school credential) is already opening up new doors of opportunity for me!”

Beverly, like so many adults in Washington, DC, was desperate to get her high school credential and begin to turn her life around.  She was one of the lucky ones.  More than 64,000 adults in the District of Columbia lack a high school credential but the city only serves about 7,000 residents through its locally funded adult education programs and adult charter schools. In recent years, Academy of Hope has had a waiting list of over 200 adults each term with the goal of obtaining their GED or improving their academic skills to obtain a better job or to enter college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 30 million adults lack a high school credential in the U.S.  Across the city, adult education providers report long waiting lists for their services. Yet, for the last ten years, national and local funding has continued to decline, with more cuts to come due to sequestration.

Adult education has been the easy target for cuts as we blame adults for squandering an opportunity – one that some would argue, given the life circumstance of many who drop out, never existed. The ramifications of continued funding cuts in adult education have begun to reveal themselves. The release of survey results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competency (PIAAC) last fall confirmed what many in adult education already knew. American adults are not doing well in literacy, numeracy or problem solving skills compared to other countries. The impact of low literacy extends beyond the adult with low skills. PIACC findings indicate that more than any of the 24 nations participating in the survey, a U.S. parent’s literacy and socioeconomic status had the greatest impact on a child’s ability to succeed in school. Because of this, it is not surprising that U.S. results from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA are also lagging. PISA is designed to test whether high school students can apply what they’ve learned in school to real-life problems.

When dealing with the drop-out crisis, elected officials often cite stopping the pipeline of dropouts as a justification for increased funding in K-12 education. The pipeline, however, begins with the parent. Parents with strong literacy skills can better help their children do homework, study and succeed in school. According to a 2012 Urban Institute report, young adults whose parents have a high school diploma are more likely to complete high school than are those whose parents do not. They are also less likely to live in poverty.

Beverly S., who is also a mother of two, illustrates the key role a parent’s literacy plays. She says her life has been a struggle but she managed to get by, and she always instilled in her children the importance of learning and finishing high school. Both of her children graduated high school. Her example is also motivating her son to continue his training as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and work towards a stable career.

Beverly has already begun to reap the benefits of her education. Most recently, she applied and was accepted to Public Allies’ DC fellowship program. Through Public Allies, she has been placed at Academy of Hope and serves as our Student Navigator, providing support for fellow adult learners! She says her plan after her 10-month Public Allies fellowship is to enroll in college to study business management. With her high school diploma in hand, Beverly is aiming for a career, not just a job. Her goal is to own her own business, become a consultant to help other small businesses and nonprofits, and someday buy a house of her own.

In Her Words: Transportation Barriers

Katrice Brooks is a student at our Grantee Partner SOME’s Center for Employment Training (CET). Below, Katrice writes about her struggles with transportation and how her long, expensive commute affects her life and prospects for the future.

People opt to use public transportation for a variety of reasons: some to save on the cost of fuel and car maintenance, others to get back the time that they were losing driving.  Despite the benefits of driving enjoyed by few, some have no choice in the matter.

As a single mother and full time student, when I think of public transportation one word comes to mind: bittersweet. I am required to get up before the sun has risen every day of the week to take my daughter to daycare and to be at school before 8:30am.  My daughter, Lauren, is 20 months old, and because it is usually  so early in the morning, I have to carry her in one arm with my school books in the other because she is usually still asleep.  Traffic jams are very common during rush hours, meaning even more time on the bus, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and less time spent where I really want to be. I spend most Katrice-Quote-july-enewsof my time on public transportation, catching the eight buses a day I need to make it to where I need to be on time.  In this modern society, this is what I have to do to access my education, jobs, events and social network.

This commute affects the opportunities I would like to take advantages of to provide a better life for my daughter and me.  I am currently without a car, and the required fare needed to ride public transportation interferes with my family’s health, housing, medical bills, even food.  I am not willing to limit my daughter’s education quality due to transportation restrictions or be forced to change my preferred job options because of difficulty accessing affordable transportation choices. I cannot begin to mention the drop in my social activities caused by inadequate transportation. I’ve become isolated and miss normal social interactions. My daughter, Lauren’s, face is the reason I smile.  Every moment my daughter rises and opens her eyes, I want to be there for her.  With challenges like daycare, long daily commutes, feeding and preparing Lauren for bed, she’s too tired to do anything else, so I sing her favorite songs and off she goes to sleep preparing her little body for the next day ahead. Then I begin the load of work that has to be done before returning to class the next day.

I have decided to make a change in our lives.  With all the time we spend on public transportation, I don’t want to have to worry myself with a pick-pocket, or an irate and noisy commuter. Imagine how wearisome it can be when someone beside you is drunk, and you have to keep an eye on them the entire commute, all the while praying that they won’t harm your baby girl.   The SOME Center for Employment Training has been extremely helpful by providing me transportation assistance in the form of a smart trip card, but with the kind of commute I have on a daily basis it is nowhere near the amount I need to make ends meet.   Public transportation is an importation part of my life, but I am writing this essay to speak about the problems with public transportation, not only for myself, but also for other single mothers and passengers.

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.