Voice and Vision Forums inspire discussion, direction.

As The Women’s Foundation’s Stepping Stones Phase 2: Voice and Vision forums come to an end, many wonderful, enlightening thoughts on the future of Stepping Stones and women and girls in our region have been shared.

One thing I’ve observed about the forums as I’ve compiled the evaluation forms from many people–from different regions and communities–is that people from all over echo the same concerns and insights on issues related to what keeps women from succeeding economically and financially.

When you hear the concerns and worries at different points in time from different people, it helps to legitimize things and ensure you that they are, in fact, issues to address.

What are some of the discussion topics that continue to generate rich, interactive conversations?

Attendees always engage in a rich dialogue around the area of the targeted income range. The insights as to why we should consider lowering the floor from $15,000, or heighten the current bar from $35,000, are varied and you get to hear excellent different points of view of people from different walks of life. 

Our current geographic target population (Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax Counties in Virginia) is another hot topic.

Thirdly, the role of advocacy in the Initiative remains a question widely debated. Should we increase advocacy efforts? What strategies could we engage in to do so?

So, why should you consider attending the last forum on December 1? Because if you don’t already know what Stepping Stones is and why it came about, this is a great chance to learn more!

Stepping Stones is so great because it takes a comprehensive look in the long-term at the economic and financial well being of women. You also get an opportunity to share your voice on some of the hotly debated issues such as the ones listed above.

The grants given from the Stepping Stones fund nonprofits directly impacting the community.  They are not grants to provide a handout; they are hand-ups.  These funds and the technical assistance that come along are literal stepping stones that assist women in reaching their full potential.

These forums are a relaxed environment.  It’s only two hours, and after you learn about Phase 1 of Stepping Stones you get a chance to share your input with staff and other community leaders on what Phase 2 might look like.

I’m glad that this series of regional forums was launched.  It exemplifies how much The Women’s Foundation values input from our own community.

We want to hear from you, because we are all agents of change.  We’ve had Grantee Partners, leaders of nonprofit organizations in our communities, governmental officials, and friends from the general public attend and learn and share a great deal.

It’s an inspiring process that we welcome you to be a part of.

Learn more about the final Voice and Vision Forum on December 1.

The sister next door, in Prince George's county.

Deborah Avens asks us to take a thoughtful, real look at our sisters next door on her new blog, Sister Table Talk.

Avens is the founder and president of Virtuous Enterprises, Inc., a Grantee Partner that provides programs and services designed to give women and girls of all walks of life the skills they need to succeed in academic, business, and work environments.

With its inaugural post put up yesterday, Avens invites us to consider how poverty seems to weigh more heavily on women than men, and how, in particular, this is due to the insufficient lack of access to affordable housing and healthcare.

And she’s doing so to provide a unique perspective on these issues–that of low-income women in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

A welcome voice and perspective, given the recent efforts to bring nonprofits, government and citizens in Prince George’s County together to build relationships, forge collaborative strategies and advocate for policies and practices that work for this unique area where only four nonprofits have budgets of more than $25,000 per year.

Avens’ new blog is therefore a much needed and welcome one to contribute to the discussion around the realities facing women in Prince George’s County, which are unique and often lesser known, as Donna Callejon found out during a forum there earlier this month.

Avens’ asks a serious set of questions in her first post, writing:  "What will it take to decrease or eradicate the growing ‘trend of poverty among low-income, headed families in particularly in Prince George’s County, Maryland? What will it take for the economical gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ to close? What will it take for policy makers to increase the livable wage so that people can live the true American Dream without constantly working to simply pay bills and taxes. What will it take for the general public to move with more compassion and less criticism?"

She reminds us that it will take a true understanding of the realities facing the sister next door–and surely Sister Table Talk will serve as a great resource for those interested in getting to know their sisters next door in Prince George’s County.

The Women’s Foundation is proud to have Virtuous Enterprises within its Grantee Partner community and applauds the addition of their voice to the important dialogue about how to make investments in women and girls work for the women and girls they work with every day.

Giving thanks by giving, or, some Thanksgiving reading recs.

On this final day before the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems appropriate to look at ways to give thanks by, well, giving. Buddha says, "Wise [wo]men appreciate and are grateful. Wise [wo]men try to express their appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to their benefactor, but to everyone else."

Sort of a pay it forward approach to gratitude. 

So, for your Thanksgiving pleasure, a few resources related to reflection on giving.

Julie Jensen, a great supporter of The Women’s Foundation, recommends Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why it is Necessary to Give.  "Salamon provides a thoughtful exploration of each one of Rambam’s steps, from the lowest kind of charity-giving (begrudgingly), to the highest form–the gift of self-reliance, so that the recipient, through a loan or a job, will not have to ask for help again," Julie says.

Speaking of paying it forward, Pay it Forward, the book and the movie, provides a unique perspective on the power of giving as an expression of gratitude.

Caitlin Duignan, our stellar office temp, said that one of her favorite giving inspirations comes from Little Women.  Caitlin writes, "I have always loved Little Women, not only for its progressive messages on women and society…but [also] I have always enjoyed how daily life in the March family revolves around giving back to the community, but also to one another and supporting one another through their dreams. The bond between the sisters and their parents, and even between the parents is such a driving force of the film, which can only imply that the success of this frugal and socially conscious family flows from their love for one another.  Besides this social justice as motivated by love theme, I just think it’s a really heartwarming concept that shows whether you’re a writer, a mother, a teacher, or an artist – both your perspective on the world and your abilities within it help formulate your sense of responsibility to the world, which for the March family is to help make it a better one." 

The Nonprofit Literature Blog has a post this week on selected resources related to giving circles and giving.

I, for one, have always been partial to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, with its touching approach to the complex nature–the costs and sacrifices, and joys and benefits–of giving.

Earlier this year, Tactical Philanthropy invited bloggers throughout the phlanthrosphere to recommend books on phuilanthropy and giving.  The results are here.  Among The Women’s Foundation staff’s recommendations were The Giving Family, The Prophet and Inspired Philanthropy: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Giving Plan.

The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving looks like a fun resource for young people to tap into their own power to change the world, and how they can best apply their strengths, interests and talents to contributing to meaningful social change.

There you go, now you’re all set for reading recommendations for that long flight, drive or boat ride (as applicable) home. 

And, if you’re stuck on your blackberry waiting on a flight delay, be sure to leave us a comment with your favorite giving book recommendation.

After all, the holiday season is upon us, and there is still a lot of airport, driving and snowside reading to do!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Impact of funding for women goes far beyond fairness.

Abby Disney, president and co-founder of the Daphne Foundation, spoke today on NPR’s Tell Me More about the power of women to move communities by moving millions in the direction of women.

Disney’s message was clear.  Because of the way women are positioned in communities, the most powerful way to change the world, to make it better for children–for good–is to change and improve the circumstances of women.

Empowering women, investing in women, supporting women, Disney noted, is no longer just about fairness or equity.  It’s about strategy.  People are getting the relationship between the status of women and poverty, she explained, and that’s why you’re seeing such power behind the women’s funding movement.

Which is currently set to raise $150 million in $1million donations through the Women Moving Millions campaign, which will bring the women’s funding movement beyond the $1 billion mark.

But whether you have $10 to give, or $10 million, Disney noted that this is really about empowering women at all levels.  To give, to grow, to speak out and say that the power of their achievement, their resources, their success, their talent, will be directed in support of other women and the programs and strategies that improve their lives.

Programs for women have always received less funding than other programs, Disney reminded us. 

And that’s not just unfair.  It’s ineffective.  

To read more, check out Julie Jensen’s story of how giving a million to women and girls changed her and how you can get involved in the women’s funding movement whether you have $10 million to give, or $10. 

From Texas to Tchad to Takoma, investing in women works.

Becky Sykes, Executive Director of the Dallas Women’s Foundation, wrote in the Dallas Morning News last week that when you help a woman, there’s a ripple effect.

Spoken like a true international development specialist, often quoted as saying, "To educate a woman is to educate a family," or other statements that tie the welfare of women to the welfare of families, and, by default, entire communities.

But Sykes accurately ties this accepted aspect of work developing communities abroad to the work of women’s foundations operating in communities throughout the U.S. 

Because the same principles that apply internationally to developing communities and the status of women also apply here at home, even if they are harder for us to see. 

Sykes writes, "International development studies and projects have shown time and again that an investment in women – more than any other – is the fastest and surest way to affect an entire community.  Here in North Texas, we often mistakenly assume that the needs of women and girls are not as critical as in other, less fortunate communities. What a dangerously incorrect assumption."

Sykes notes the realities that make this true for Dallas, and our region is no different.  Our Portrait Project has shown that in the Washington metropolitan area:

  • Women-headed households, especially those headed by single mothers, suffer disproportionately from the region’s growing poverty.  In the District of Columbia, 30% of women-headed families live in poverty – above the national average and the highest in the region.
  • Women still earn less than their male counterparts. In Fairfax County, where the discrepancy is largest, men’s annual median earnings outpace women’s by $18,700. 
  • In 2000, in the District of Columbia, women-headed families at the median income ($26,500) could afford to buy only 8% of homes in the city. Many families are faced with childcare expenses that consistently exceed earnings. For example, the estimated cost of childcare in Montgomery County for an infant and a preschooler is $15,329, more than one-third of the median income for women-headed families in that county.
  • Despite the improvement in the rates of teen pregnancy, communities in our region still lag behind in infant-mortality rates, a key indicator of healthy pregnancies. The District of Columbia and Prince George’s County have the highest infant mortality rates in the region.
  • The District of Columbia has a higher incidence (new cases) of AIDS among women than anywhere else in the country. The rate of new AIDS cases among adolescent and adult women in the District of Columbia is 10 times the national rate.

As Sykes explains, " When you see women in trouble like this, it is often an early warning signal of deeper, growing problems. Because, just as helping a woman has a ripple effect, so does letting her sink into poverty and disenfranchisement."

Luckily, there is another side to this story, one of communities coming together to invest in programs and work that supports women, lifts families out of poverty and creates stronger cities, neighborhoods and regions for all of us. 

And when they do, the level of impact and transformation they achieve can be astounding.

That’s the work of foundations and funds like The Women’s Foundation that are operating throughout the country and world. 

As Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations has noted repeatedly, "Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, or to reduce infant and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health—including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation."

Just as these problems are not unique to countries and communities abroad, neither are the solutions.  The power of Investing in women is a principle that is just in true in Mauritania as it is in Maryland. 

Ready to invest in the single most effective strategy for improving your community?  If you’re in the Washington metropolitan area, learn more about The Power of Giving Together.

Elsewhere, visit the Women’s Funding Network to find a women’s foundation or fund near you.

Fun Friday Reading: The global (or your local) gender gap.

For some fun Friday reading, the World Economic Forum  has just released its report on the 2007 Global Gender GapFeministing is hosting a dialogue in comments about the strengths and shortcomings of the report.

For a take on a more local picture of the gender outlook, check out our Portrait Project, the only comprehensive study of many of the same topics–health, education and economics–specific to women and girls in the Washington metropolitan area.

Whatever your Friday Fun Reading, enjoy your weekend!

From single mom to nonprofit CEO…a journey of perseverence.

This post is the first in a series from DeVonna on her experience as a single mother and the joys and challenges of starting a nonprofit.

In the summer of 2002, I discovered that I was pregnant.  My child’s father made it very clear that he would take care of his responsibilities but he did not want to be in an exclusive relationship.

Talking about somebody crushed!  I was devastated!  It felt like my whole world was coming to an end!

Never in a million years would I think that I would be somebody’s “baby mother.”  I yearned for a family setting and had dreams of being married with a white picket fence, a dog and one or two kids!

The thought of not having the life I envisioned didn’t sit with me too well.  I also felt that I was taking the easy way out because there were preconceived notions by many people that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I can remember so vividly certain things that my family would say to me. For example, you are going to be just like your mother–a drug addict–or you are going to be pregnant before you graduate from high school.

But I used words like that as my motivation to break the cycles of dysfunctional families.

On January 6, 2003, I gave birth to my daughter.  I loved my child, but being a mother felt like a chore instead of parenting. I had sleepless nights, moments that I would forget to eat and moments that I felt as if my life was over.

I had nothing and the little bit of self-esteem I had left slowly drifted away. The day my daughter turned three months I looked her in her eyes and said “I promise that we will be in our own place for your first Christmas!”

From that day forth, I channeled all of my pain into determination. I started to set goals and never looked back. It’s amazing because the goals that were so major to me back then seem so small right now. I had goals such as:

I will have a job by the time my daughter turns 6 months
I will pay off my credit card debt within the first 2 months of working
I will be in my own apartment by my daughter’s first Christmas
I will have furnished my apartment within the first two months
I will have my driver’s license by my 21st Birthday
I will save 10 percent of my income for a rainy day
I will save my income taxes to purchase a reliable car
I will go back to school

I put copies of my goals on the kitchen refrigerator, bathroom door, my daughter’s crib and more.

I accomplished each goal, but two accomplishments stand out the most: obtaining my first real corporate job and moving into my first apartment.

When I got my first job through a temp agency, as soon as I hung up the phone, I jumped and screamed at the top of my lungs! I already had a sitter lined up. I just didn’t know how I was going to get the money to get to work. My aunt gave me her last $10.00 and said, “DeVonna I am very proud of you.”

 I did my work with pride and was like a sponge.  I wanted to learn everything!

I used my first few paychecks to pay off my credit card debt so I wouldn’t have a problem getting approved for my apartment.  On October 1, 2003, I moved into my first apartment.

It wasn’t the best neighborhood, but it was something that I could afford and call my own. I decorated and tried my best to make it feel like a home. I didn’t have a car so it was very difficult to get acclimated to catching the bus with my child. I would get up 5:30 in the morning.  I would catch a bus to the metro and another bus from the metro to get to the baby sitter’s house. The same bus that took me to the corner of the sitter’s house turned around within six minutes to take me back to the metro so I could catch the train to work.

Though I was able to accomplish each one of my goals, it still wasn’t appeasing to me! 

When I would pray to God, He would say, "I would like for you to make a difference in this world…give back to your community.”

This marinated in my heart for approximately a year.  One night, I couldn’t sleep.  I tossed and turned all night long.

I felt this strange feeling in my heart, so I closed my eyes gently and slowly, tilted my head back and recalled all that I’ve known.  I began to dream, while imagining things unseen.

I figured out my life’s mission: to restore positive attributes into the lives of low-income, single mothers and at-risk youth! I called the organization Tyunin’s Breakthrough, Inc. after my mother, who is striving to overcome her drug addiction. I believe that this organization is her breakthrough to positively impact the lives of women and girls!

DeVonna Petree is CEO of Tyunin’s Breakthrough, which focuses on restoring joy, strength, and growth opportunities into the lives of low income single mothers and at-risk youth located in the D.C. metropolitan area.  Tyunin’s Breakthrough is not a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, and is not officially associated with The Women’s Foundation.

Women Moving Millions: What giving a million gave me in return.

Today marks a huge day in women’s philanthropy—the official launch of the National Women Moving Millions campaign.

This campaign is the first time that women’s funds from around the world have come together—through the Women’s Funding Network—to raise more than $150 million for women’s funds around the world.  From women giving $1 million each.  In all, the campaign is designed to infuse women’s philanthropy with enough money to bring its totals to the $1 billion range.

But the campaign holds special meaning for me, since $1 million was my first significant gift to any organization, and it was a big step. My $1 million gift was an investment in Washington Area Women’s Foundation, and I sincerely believe that it changed me as much as it changed them.

Neither of us were very seasoned at the time, in 2004. They were a young organization still, and it was the first time they made a really big ask of a donor. And it was the first time I stepped up to really act upon my vision, on my true passion not only to give, but to really shift my community.

It felt bold, it felt daring, and it felt risky when I made my $1 million contribution to Stepping Stones, an initiative with a range of strategies to create self-sufficiency for women, especially single mothers.

A new initiative. An untested initiative.

I had no idea if it would work. I only knew that as a single mother who went to law school when it was tough for women to do so, it felt right to invest in other single mothers, women who may not have the resources I did.

Today I think back on that gift, and I remember my thinking when I made it. How I had just read Rambam’s Ladder by Julie Salamon and learned of the Eight Stages of Giving, or the rungs on the ladder.

Salamon provides a thoughtful exploration of each one of Rambam’s steps, from the lowest kind of charity-giving (begrudgingly), to the highest form–the gift of self-reliance, so that the recipient, through a loan or a job, will not have to ask for help again. 

The highest rung is all about charitable actions aimed at breaking the poverty cycle and enabling the poor to establish themselves as independent and productive members of society.

But many things were flying around in my head.  How much to give?  How do we know if our gifts are being used wisely?  Is it better to give anonymously? 

Rambam argued that giving at the highest level often requires that you don’t remain anonymous. So I made the decision to actually use my name.

This gift went far beyond writing a check. It was a way of seizing my own power, of taking responsibility for a significant decision and investment, and it required me to jump in, to learn, to become an incremental part of the success of this initiative.

Today, Stepping Stones is on fire. It’s changing lives every day, providing women with training and access to jobs, the opportunity to save money and buy their own homes. The women emerging from programs funded by Stepping Stones are changing the landscape of their own lives, and of our entire community.

When I sit and listen to the stories of women who have transformed their lives by entering fields in construction or law enforcement, fields they never thought they’d be capable of entering, I can’t help but see myself in their stories.

Because whether you’re a philanthropist or a single mom working towards a better future for your family, we are all changed when we do something outside of our comfort zones, bigger in scope than anything we’ve ever done before.

Women Moving Millions is so exciting for me not only because it’s a first, and it’s bigger than anything anyone has ever imaged for women’s philanthropy, but because I see such potential in the women who will emerge, many for the first time, to step up and invest their success, their wealth, their resources, their voice—with power, with certainty, with impact—in other women.

I know the adventure that awaits them, and I can see, just from my experience here in Washington with The Women’s Foundation and Stepping Stones, the rippling impact that this is going to have on our communities, on our country, on the world.

Women’s philanthropy—and the power it has to change lives and communities—is about to be lit on fire. And we’re all about to feel the warmth and light of it.

The mighty hearts of Washington 100 profiled in Capitol File!

Mighty hearts indeed.  The title Capitol File chose for their November profile on the launch of Washington 100 couldn’t be more a propos.

Washington 100 is certainly a network of philanthropic leaders with the mightiest of hearts–with many giving not only of their treasure, but of their time and their talent to truly learn about, dig into and understand their philanthropic commitment to the women and girls of the Washington metropolitan region.

As a result, their impact is exponential, much like the strategy behind their giving.

100 people giving $10,000 over two years=$1 million.  The embodiment of The Power of Giving Together.

Co-chaired by Doreen Gentzler and Barbara Strom Thompson, this philanthropic network is, as Doreen notes in her letter in Capitol File, making a real difference.

"Together," Doreen writes, "we’re helping women get training for better paying jobs, helping them learn how to get out of debt and even buy their own homes, helping girls get better educations and learn how to plan for their futures."

Washington 100–truly mighty hearts making a mighty impact.

To learn more about Washington 100 and how you can get involved with the Washington region’s premier network of philanthropic leaders changing the lives of women and girls, contact Allison Mitchell at amitchell@wawf.org or call 202.347.7737 x207.

Fall doesn't have to mean a child care crunch for parents in Fairfax.

In Fairfax County, more babies are born in August than at any other time of the year. Working parents who added children to their families this summer face tough choices this fall. 

Will they be able to find child care that will allow both parents to go back to work?

“More than one-fourth of mothers who don’t work say the reason is that they can’t find good or affordable child care,” says Judith Rosen, director of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services’ Office for Children.

The Office for Children runs the Child Care Assistance and Referral program, which helps families find and pay for child care. This free service gives parents information about 2,100 providers who have state licenses or county permits to care for children in their homes, and more than 300 licensed child care centers. The Office for Children ensures that child care providers with county permits have met the health and safety standards required by Virginia law.

In Fairfax County, 56 percent of households with children 12 years-old or younger have both parents working outside the home. The demand for child care continues to grow as a result of the county’s low unemployment rate and high cost of living. Among children from working families, 73 percent are regularly cared for by someone other than a parent.

“Parents without dependable child care can become worried and distracted employees who, despite their best efforts, end up repeatedly missing work or dropping out of the workforce altogether,” Rosen says.

The Office for Children helps reduce employee stress by helping parents find care for their children.

For more information about child care providers in Fairfax County, call the Office for Children at 703-449-8484, or search the online database.

Lois Kirkpatrick is the Marketing & Strategic Analysis Manager for the Fairfax County Dept. of Family Services Office for Children. 

Do you have something to say about child care, or other issues impacting women, and particularly low-income single moms, in Virginia?  Join Washington Area Women’s Foundation for a Voice and Vision Forum in Fairfax County, Virginia on November 16.  Come learn about the impact Stepping Stones is having on women’s lives in Northern Virginia and throughout our region, and offer your take on how we can best shape its second phase–with a focus on child care and the health and safety of women and girls.