The Year in Review: Top Blog Posts for 2013

Where has the year gone?! We can barely believe that 2014 is just around the corner, and though we’re already looking forward to the great things the future holds for Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take this chance to look back at the incredible year we’ve had in 2013. We launched a new two generation grantmaking strategy for middle school girls and their mothers, saw incredible success stories from our grantee partners, blew past our annual Leadership Luncheon fundraising goal and much more! We chronicled these and more on our blog, and have rounded up some of our favorite blog posts from 2013:

1. New Grantmaking for Girls: A Two Generation Strategy: Foundation President Nicky Goren announced exciting new funding for innovative programs that work with both middle school aged girls and their mothers or female caregivers to establish economic security across generations.

2, 3, and 4. The March on Washington: In Marching Great Distances: My Family’s Past and Future, and the March on Washington, We March On: Diversity, Unity & the March on Washington, and “I Still Have a Dream:” 50 Years Later, March on Washington Remains Relevant our staff provide diverse perspectives on their experience marching with the Foundation and commemorating the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington.

5. Leaning in isn’t an option for all women: In March, Sheryl Sandberg made quite a splash with her book “Lean In,” in which she advises women to assert themselves in the workplace and beyond. On our blog, we looked at the complexity of “leaning in” for low-income women dealing with many other mitigating factors.

6. Sharon Williams Luncheon Remarks: On October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. Her remarks inspired those in attendance and were posted on our blog shortly after the luncheon. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families.

7. Why can the restaurant industry be so difficult for women? Spoiler alert: Top Chef Masters got it wrong: In this post, Jessica Zetzman responds to remarks made on Top Chef Masters to Chef Jennifer Jasinski and shares the real reason the restaurant industry is tough for women.

8. Miss Utah Equal Pay Flub Should Be a Call to Action: Following the media buzz after Miss Utah’s flubbed response at the Miss USA Pageant to a question about pay inequity and women’s rights, Foundation President Nicky Goren reflects on the incident’s indication of the lackluster state of the women’s rights movement.

9. No Joke: The Impact of the Sequester is Devastating Vulnerable Families: In June, we looked at the ways the sequester was affecting families in our region and across the US.

10. Changing GED Could Mean Greater Barriers for Area Women: Following an informative panel put together by grantee partner Academy of Hope, we looked at the upcoming changes to the GED slated to take effect this coming January and how they will impact women in our region.

Sharon Williams Luncheon Remarks

Sharon-SpeakingOn October 23, Sharon Williams spoke at The Women’s Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Luncheon. The following are her remarks. After speaking, Sharon received a Visionary Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and their families. Please click here to learn more about the Visionary Awards and click here to see a video featuring Sharon and her story.

Good afternoon everyone- It is kind of strange seeing myself up there on the big screen.  As I listen to myself talk – it really does remind me of how much my life has changed. You saw a little of my story in the video, and I’d like to share a bit more with you now.

Upwards of 10 years ago, my life was very different. I spent a lot time asking God, “Why me?”

I was in high school – 10th grade to be exact when I had my first child. I’m not sure if I was afraid – but I can tell you that I was more determined than ever to be and make a difference for my child. Part of that difference was getting married – which I did at 17.  By the time I was 21 years old, I had two children, my own successful daycare business, three vehicles and I purchased my first home – with a white picket fence. I decided that having a daycare was the best thing because I wanted to spend time with my children and everything that I did was for them.

That all sounds nice, but my personal situation was not good, but as I look back on it now I still feel like I made the right decisions especially with the cards that I had been dealt.

And then – life happened.   I got divorced. I closed my business – moved out of my home into an apartment– shared custody of my children and I felt cheated. I began to ask God, “Why me? I’ve done my best – I’ve tried so hard to be a better person and now look!”

I was getting frustrated with life itself and something within me stirred up like a fire and once again – I wanted to make this situation better for my children.

I began taking classes at Prince George’s Community College.   I learned about the Next Step Training and Education Program and I wanted to try it out.

This was one of the best decisions that I could have made.  The Next Step program not only assisted me with tuition but I was also given additional supportive services and tools to aid in my future success.  One of the most rewarding on the most rewarding gift that I took away from the program is a lifelong mentor in Cecelia Knox, the program’s director.

Once I was accepted into the nursing program I was ecstatic!  You would have thought that I hit the Powerball ten times over – and I don’t even play the lottery!

I want you to understand how huge it was for me to go back to school. College was never a goal for me. So you can imagine how shocked I was not only to be back in school… not only to be passing all of my classes… but getting a 4.0 GPA!

I must say to you all – and especially Cecelia – I am so grateful that the Next Step program was in place to assist me when life happened. What do I mean by “life happening?” What I mean is this: When circumstances place you in situations beyond your immediate control. No two situations are the same, and I know everyone in this room can relate to that.

Next Step put me back in control. You see life wasn’t just happening to me but it was I that decided what life would be.

For me, that meant becoming a registered nurse at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center. It meant an opportunity to provide my children with more stability and security.  It meant taking advantage of opportunities to travel the world – and I have.

I received a full scholarship to Notre Dame of MD University to complete my Bachelor’s Degree.  I traveled to Australia and South Africa – learning about their health care systems and volunteering with TB clinics and HIV orphanages.  I visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell – I walked in his garden – I strolled in the limestone quarry – just like he did.

But what made a most lasting effect on me was my visit to a nursing home – because that’s where I met Mrs. Christian.  She was a proud elderly South African woman who grew up in the brutality of apartheid.

I sat at her feet as she told our group about seeing the horrors of families being ripped apart and how she stood on the front line with the activists in fight to end to apartheid. Although her comments were towards the group as a whole – she looked into my eyes as she spoke – and I found myself once again asking God, “Why me?”

“I have fought for you to be free,” she said. “And you are under obligation to take advantage of the education available to you and use it to better yourself, your family and your community!”

And she told me – me – that she was proud of me and in that moment my priorities in life changed and my thinking changed and I made a conscious effort to see greatness in others.

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 – and  honestly my friends – that is the belief that NSTEP had in me.

As a Registered Nurse I have helped a lot of people old and young alike and I have found babies to be the most interesting species of them all.

Some of them come out kicking and screaming and ready to run for the world and others are born not so active.  They need extra attention – maybe some oxygen and a sternal rub in order to get them to breathe – to get their arms flailing and their legs kicking so they too can be ready to run for the world.

It’s that way for adults sometimes too –  Some are fortunate enough to have had a background and upbringing that allowed them to take off running – while Others need that sternal rub so to speak to help us breath again and give us the strength to stand up and take off for the world as it were –  And when we do – it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s been about two years now since my trip to South Africa and I have worked hard to help others. I know that I have encouraged and inspired others to go back to school.   I often have the privilege of returning to Prince George’s Community College to speaking with women in orientation for the Next Step program and I listen to their stories – I listen to their hopes and dreams without judgment – because I remember being in their seat.

Today, I work roughly 10 miles from where I grew up. Knowing my history – knowing where I come from and where I am now has caused me to ask at times:  Am I one in a million? A needle in a haystack – No.   There are many success stories emerging from the streets of S.E. Washington, DC just like mine.  How? Because we have been given an opportunity and found someone to believe in us more than we believed in ourselves and for me – that was Cecelia Knox and Ms. Myrtle Christian.

Today, my conversations with God are very different. I say a humbled thank you for my 22-year-old son who is my pride and joy – for my 20-year-old daughter who completed high school at 15 years old and is now is studying to become a child psychologist… and for my 11-year-old daughter who is smart and so talented and plays the violin exceptionally well!

Today, I say thank you to God for the courage to keep my head up despite adversity and for allowing me to become an example for those who have the potential to succeed although they may not even realize it – yet.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be with you fine people today and have you hear my story.  I am grateful that The Women’s Foundation invests in places like Prince George’s Community College – a place that has assisted me in my present and future successes – and hopefully I have been able to show you that what appears to be impossible is possible.

Today, I place you all under obligation to take advantage of what is before you and join me in making our community better than it was yesterday.

Thank you.

Holly Fischer Storms Capitol Hill

This guest blog post was written by Goodwill of Greater Washington, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner. The Foundation invests in Goodwill’s job training and support services programs. On October 23rd, Foundation supporters will have another opportunity to support Goodwill by participating in a clothing drive. Bring business clothes and accessories to the 2013 Leadership Luncheon, and help the women and men who participate in Goodwill’s job training programs.

It seems like everywhere you turn these days you hear words like “furlough” and “sequestration.”  Recent budget cuts have cost many federal employees their livelihoods; and with Goodwill of Greater Washington having nine federal contract sites, it has been an issue of serious concern for us.

This past June, Goodwill of Greater Washington participated in Source America’s “Grassroots Advocacy Day.” This event gives agencies from across the country who employ and support individuals with disabilities the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital and advocate to Congress in support of employment for those they serve. This year’s advocacy day focused on attempts to ensure that individuals with disabilities who work in government facilities are not affected by sequestration. Goodwill of Greater Washington was fortunate to be represented by President and CEO Catherine Meloy, Vice President of Contracts Tony Garza, and Holly Fischer who is employed at our U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) contract site. Holly is back to her regular work schedule today, but the recent government shutdown makes voices like hers more important than ever.

When Holly first arrived on Capitol Hill she was very nervous because she wasn’t used to public speaking. “In school I always wanted to be the one holding the flag in the assemblies,” she said. “I never wanted to have a speaking part.”

However, Source America provided several classes for the hand-selected group of advocates to help them become more comfortable with public speaking. With that training Holly felt prepared to take on the opportunity before her.

“A job is more than a way to make money; it is a way to a feeling of self-worth,” Holly told a Senator’s aide. “I know what it’s like to have a hard time finding a job and I know what it’s like to be laid off.” Holly continued by emphasizing the work ethic that she learned as a child. “My father taught me how to work hard and I know how to work hard,” she added. “I appreciate the opportunity to work for Goodwill through the Ability One Program.”

Holly hopes to visit Capitol Hill again one day. Those who saw her in action believe she is a powerful and eloquent speaker. But Holly only wants our elected officials to walk away with one message: that she would not be able to find a good job without the help of Goodwill. “It was well worth it,” Holly said with pride. “If it’s advocating for my job, I will advocate to keep my job. And I will advocate for those who are disabled.”

Holly is a woman of bold conviction who is not only willing to stand up for herself but also for those around her who share similar challenges in life.  Goodwill of Greater Washington is proud to have someone like Holly as an ambassador for our cause!

VIDEO: Families are Transformed When We Stand With Women

We are so excited to announce the release of our new video from Stone Soup Films!  With your help, we are using strategic investments to create economic security for women and girls in the Washington region.

Great change is possible – when we make smart investments in our community.  Please share this inspiring new video with your networks!

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Changing GED Could Mean Greater Barriers for Area Women

GEDgirl_courtesyColumbusStateCommunityCollegeI’ve had the amazing opportunity to be a volunteer teacher at Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partner, The Academy of Hope, and can speak to the hard work of the learners who step through their doors each day. This innovative organization provides basic education to adult learners. Though most learners have jobs, families and a myriad of other responsibilities that compete for their time, they still make their studies a priority. In spending time with the learners there, I’ve come to see that the value of a GED or high school equivalency diploma goes beyond the increased job opportunities and higher wages associated with obtaining that level of education (though these are extremely important). Their value is also in the confidence gained by the adults who walk across the stage at graduation, in a mother who is more equipped to help her children with their homework, in that member of society who is more prepared for civic engagement and in immeasurably more ways. In January of 2014, however, the GED is undergoing significant changes that will likely make it considerably more difficult to obtain.

While there are several changes coming to the GED, three of the most significant shifts are the transition from paper-based tests to computerized-only exams, the jump from a $50 testing fee to a fee of $120, and an increase in the test’s difficulty. These changes have been widely debated, and Academy of Hope has been tackling the tough questions around this transition through a series of panels and continuing dialog on this issue. Most recently, they hosted local experts for a panel discussion on July 17th, in partnership with the Moriah Fund and PNC Bank, to discuss the implications of the changing GED for DC adults.

The panel raised several great issues, discussing the challenges and barriers that the changes to the GED could mean for adults looking to pass the test, and balancing these with comments on the need for the GED to remain relevant at a time when many jobs demand higher levels of computer literacy and “soft skills” such as listening, critical reasoning, and inductive reasoning. For me, one of the most relevant comments came from Nicole Smith, a research professor and senior economist at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. She noted that her research has shown that women need an entire layer of education higher than men to obtain the same salary, meaning that when a woman obtains her GED she would still need at least an associate’s degree or certificate just to earn what a man with a GED alone would be able to earn; women with the same educational attainment as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts over a lifetime. For the new GED, with the increase in difficulty, greater need for computer literacy and higher financial burden just to take the test, women will face an even more difficult road to higher education and family sustaining wages.

In a city where, in 2008, 14% of girls did not complete high school, the ramifications for this are serious. The GED test is the most widely recognized alternative to a high school diploma and a gateway to higher education opportunities. The changes to the GED will likely increase the time commitment of adults studying for the test, and will mean a tremendous amount of work for organizations that prepare adults in the Washington area for the GED, as they will need to revamp and adapt their programs to the new standards. At the panel discussion, NPR’s Kavitha Cardoza remarked that with the coming changes in the GED, “this is a really scary time for adult educators and adults in DC.”

As the barriers to higher education for women in the region increase, so, too, do the barriers to better jobs and more opportunities for women and their families to find economic security. This is why The Women’s Foundation funds programs like Academy of Hope and appreciates their commitment to continuing the conversation with great events like this panel!

For more information on what the changes to the GED could mean for area adults, click here for a policy brief courtesy of The Working Poor Families Project.

You can follow Academy of Hope as they continue the discussion on twitter at @AoHDC and on Facebook.

Photo courtesy of Columbus State Community College

No Joke: The Impact of the Sequester is Devastating Vulnerable Families

Capitol Bldg by Amanda Walker_CCSeems like the word “sequester” has become part of our everyday vernacular here in the DC metro region, so much so that not a day goes by without it coming up in some context. Yet, since its implementation, it feels like the sense of urgency to resolve the impact of the sequester has dissipated. It’s no longer front page news and has become the source of jokes and derision. There was the non-“snowquester” in March; the sparring about what was really behind the cancellations of all White House tours; and the reports about how Congress quickly passed legislation to resolve the impact of the sequester on air travel – just as their week-long recess was beginning (really???). And all the while, critical social services that are helping to meet the needs of our poorest communities are being cut. Programs like Headstart, nutrition assistance, child-care subsidies, and health screenings for low-income women all faced significant cutbacks but without the same sense of outrage or swift action that some of these less consequential outcomes spurred.

The reality is that the sequester is not a joke, and though the hype has faded and pundits are saying the effects have not been as bad as predicted, for many people the very real implications and impact of these policy decisions are just beginning. For them, this will be devastating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by cuts to programs like those listed above; poor people in this country are once again bearing the brunt of bad policy and are finding that their pathways out of poverty have been blocked.

And the sequester isn’t only affecting people who rely on social services. There are also the large swaths of the federal workforce that have been required to take mandatory furloughs. A chief economist for Moody’s Analytics told The Hill last month that one-third of the federal workforce – nearly one million people – “will be furloughed for an average of 13 days through September.” This can have an enormous impact on any family, and for those at the bottom of the federal pay scale – who are probably already living paycheck to paycheck – it is likely crushing and life-changing. Keep in mind that, in the Washington region, the federal pay scale that determines how much most of the federal civilian workforce is paid starts at just over $22,000.

People I know and people you know and maybe see every day could be among those who will have to go without pay for more than two weeks to ease the financial strain on the federal government. It makes you wonder what the average person is supposed to give up to ease her own financial strain.

Our lawmakers need to start putting the needs of those who are most disadvantaged first instead of last and try to put themselves, even for a moment, in the shoes of those who are most profoundly impacted by the policy decisions they are making (or not making as the case may be) from on high.

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

Equal Pay Day: Gender Wage Gap is a Chasm for Women of Color

As we approached Equal Pay Day (April 9th), a number of bloggers and organizations were asked to write about what they’d do with an additional $11,000. That’s how much more the average woman would earn per year if her pay were equal to a man’s.

If she were a woman of color, however, that gap would be even greater. In the Washington region, the median earnings for black women are over $37,000 less than that of white men ($46,138 vs. $83,299). For Latinas, the gap is more than $52,000 ($30,831 vs. $83,299). Asian women have median earnings of $48,891 – over $34,000 less than the earnings of white men.*

If women’s incomes matched those of white men, what would that additional money mean for women of color in our community? It would be more than enough to fund an entire associate’s degree at a local community college. It would fund more than half of a bachelor’s degree at some local universities. It would send three children to a really high-quality preschool in DC. And it would cover the cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the District. It could provide more reliable transportation and could fund afterschool activities and trips. Something could be set aside for the inevitable emergencies life throws everyone’s way, and investments could be made.

In addition to funding the basic needs of themselves and their families, these women would be putting a staggering amount of money back into our community. In our report, 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area, we shared that nearly two million women live in the DC region. Fifty-three percent of them are Asian, black or Latina – that’s about one million. If just half of them had an income that matched the median earnings of white men, they’d have a combined income of $42 trillion. And that’s only half! Imagine if all women across the area were compensated as well as men….

That money would support families, be spent at local businesses, and could be invested in assets across our region that would build better neighborhoods and ultimately a better community. A significant portion would go to the federal government and – given the fact that women donate an average of 3.5 percent of their wealth – the nonprofit community would see some pretty significant changes, as well.

In addition to discussing what women would do with a higher income, I think it’s important to recognize what we can all accomplish when women earn more. Like so many other things, pay equity is an issue that primarily touches the lives of women – but it’s not simply a “women’s issue.” It affects every one of us and as long as it exists, it means that we’re not doing as well as we could be economically or morally. Equal pay for equal work is the right thing to do, the smart thing to do, and the only thing to do if we truly want to make this a country where everyone can thrive.

*See page 32 of 2010 Portrait of Women & Girls in the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Partnership for Women’s Prosperity Empowers Women & Girls Nationwide

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel with our president, Nicky Goren, to a meeting of the Partnership for Women’s Prosperity, a cohort of six women’s funds from across the country that share best practices and find replicable solutions to address systemic problems facing economically vulnerable women and girls nationwide. Our collective grantmaking will touch the lives of more than 16,500 women across the country.

The Partnership will be gathering on a regular basis this year and next as a “Professional Learning Community.” So, what did I learn?

  • Women’s funds across the country are responding to their communities in innovative and powerful ways. In Mississippi, they’re partnering with employers to support alternatives to predatory “pay day” loans.  In New York, they have an increased focus on small business and entrepreneurship.  Our work is always place-based, and in the context of our communities, but there are tremendous things to learn from one another.  And I’m excited to explore some “lessons learned” from our partner communities.
  • Many of us are investing in community colleges. We have a concerted effort around post-secondary credentials, which are shown to help women attain jobs and advance to earn wages and benefits that can support a family.  We’re supporting scholarships for tuition, transportation and childcare, and coursework that helps women gain basic literacy and numeracy skills, English language skills, and degrees and credentials that will lead to quality jobs in in-demand sectors.
  • “Economic security” is intrinsically about money – but it’s also about having choices and opportunities.  We work together to ensure that women and girls are empowered and supported so that they may reach their full potential.

That’s just a snapshot of our most recent conversation, so be sure to stay tuned for more updates in the months to come! In the meantime, please take a look at the cohort’s work by visiting: Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s grantmaking page, The New York Women’s Foundation, Women’s Fund of Mississippi, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and the Women’s Funding Network.

Lauren Stillwell is a program officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

The Earned Income Tax Credit: 13 for '13

IMG_1982Top reasons working families should claim the EITC in 2013 – and that policymakers should protect and strengthen it

Article written by the National Community Tax Coalition

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) represented nearly $60.7 billion in help for almost 26.5 million low- and moderate-income, working households in 2012. But about one in five EITC-eligible taxpayers fails to claim the credit, missing-out on valuable assistance in covering their families’ most fundamental expenses. Below are 13 of the many reasons that families should ensure they obtain the EITC for which they qualify – reasons that also illustrate the significance of policy efforts to maintain and strengthen this crucial tax credit.

Recently, Congress voted to retain key improvements in the EITC and other key tax credits for working families, but only through 2017. Congress must continue to prioritize these credits throughout federal tax-policy discussions in 2013 and beyond. Similarly, state governors and legislators should support families’ well-being in their own, state-level policy discussions – protecting and improving such credits in states that already have adopted their own versions of the federal EITC, and creating such state credits where they do not yet exist.

It’s important to remember that the EITC:

1. Reflects hard work. The credit is available only to taxpayers who work and have earned income.

2. Helps families to cover their basics. Groceries, rent, and utility bills are common uses for families’ EITC dollars. Another frequently-cited expense: car repairs, to help family breadwinners with the transportation necessary to get to and maintain their jobs.

3. Is particularly important to households with children. The amount of the credit is greater for families who incur the added expenses of raising kids. And this EITC assistance was responsible for keeping an average of 3.1 million children out of poverty annually from 2009-2011.

4. Is typically needed for only temporary stretches of time. Families only use the credit until they can get back on their feet. Indeed, among EITC filers studied between 1989 and 2006: 42 percent claimed the credit for only one year at a time, 19 percent retained it for two straight years, and only about one in five kept the credit for five or more consecutive years.

5. Helps struggling families who already pay a significant amount in federal taxes. In fact, the poorest one-fifth of Americans paid 8.3 percent of their incomes in payroll taxes in 2009, compared with the wealthiest 1 percent of households, who paid only 2.5 percent of their incomes in payroll taxes. And among those Americans who owed no federal income taxes in 2011, about 93 percent were either workers who still owed federal payroll taxes, elderly, not working due to illness or disability, or students.

6. Helps struggling families who also pay a significant amount in state and local taxes. In 2011, the poorest one-fifth of Americans paid 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes, while the wealthiest 1 percent of households paid only 7.9 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes.

7. Lifts more families out of poverty than any other federal policy. The EITC kept an average of 6.1 million people out of poverty annually from 2009-2011, and reduced the effects of poverty for another 21.2 million people.

8. Strengthens families’ health outcomes. The EITC is associated with decreases in maternal smoking and increases in infants’ birthweights, according to research.

9. Bolsters students’ education outcomes. The EITC is associated with increases in kids’ math and reading test scores, studies show.

10. Boosts the economic strength of local communities. As families spend the money they save through the EITC, small businesses benefit. In fact, studies have shown that one EITC dollar – spent at the local level – generates as much as $1.50 to $2 in economic activity for the area.

11. Is important to rural Americans as well as those living in other areas of the country. In fact, a higher percentage of rural tax-filers claimed the EITC in 2007 than did urban filers.

12. Helps families to begin or improve upon savings. Many families strive to set-aside some of their EITC to work toward long-term goals or to brace for emergencies. One survey found that about 39 percent of households receiving the credit devoted about 15 percent of their EITC refund dollars to savings.

13. Has historically enjoyed bipartisan support. The EITC was designed during the Nixon administration, established during the Ford presidency, and improved by bipartisan majorities of Congress working with Presidents Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama.

Content was produced by the National Community Tax Coalition. For more information, please contact Sean Noble at 312-630-0259 or visit their website at https://tax-coalition.org/.