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 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.

The inspiring independent women of Prince George's County.

I spent a few hours yesterday in Prince George’s County, Maryland, helping to facilitate a Voice and Vision session for Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Although I’ve been on the board for seven years, I have been focused on pretty much everything except our programmatic work in an intense way. Don’t get me wrong, I can recite the stats and progress and impact and all that good stuff.

Like that the DC metro area is a "tale of two cities," with the highest paid and most highly educated women in America.  We’re the fastest growing city for women entrepreneurs, and we’ve got a woman presidential candidate living in our midst.

BUT, we’ve also got the highest rate in the country of new incidences of HIV in women, and 1 in 3 kids lives in poverty –more than 75 percent in households headed by single women. 

See, I didn’t even have to check my notes (or our research) to lay that out.

But yesterday, instead of talking about it conceptually, I was with some women in Prince George’s County who, themselves, have come through the fire and are now doing amazing work to help lift struggling women out of poverty, away from destructive behaviors and relationships, and to independence.

Deborah Avens runs a non-profit called Virtuous Enterprises, Inc. Kim Rhim runs one called Training Source.  (Both are Grantee Partners of The Women’s Foundation.)

These women are doing God’s work for sure — against a fair number of odds and in an area that is somewhat forgotten in a metropolitan area where many people don’t really know the geography and demographics of their hometown.

Prince George’s County is the ultimate tale of two counties. While folks there don’t like to hear it said this way, these women – and others who were there – most definitely framed up the "inside the beltway" vs. "outside the beltway" dynamics of this county, which is the most affluent minority-majority (aka majority black) "municipality" in the world.

I feel lucky and proud to work with The Women’s Foundation and with women like Deborah and Kim.  They inspire me to keep investing in the future of independence – financial and otherwise – for women in our community.

Donna Callejon serves on The Women’s Foundation’s Board of Directors, and is Chief Operating Officer of Global Giving.  This blog was originally posted here before we subsequently stole it.  (With permission, of course.)

Cultural relevancy half the battle in fighting teen pregnancy.

Earlier this week, there was hopeful news about the declining national and local teen pregnancy and birth rates.

Among the areas that still merited attention and focus, however, were culturally appropriate strategies for educating young men and women about healthy reproductive health choices.

For instance, while rates are declining among many populations, including African Americans, teen pregnancy rates among Latinas continue to rise.

The reason why? 

Applying the same approaches and strategies to Latinas that are applied to black and white communities isn’t working.

Translating a message into Spanish doesn’t necessary mean that it’s going to get across if other cultural factors aren’t taken into account–a reality discussed in an article in Newsweek this week, "Learning to ‘Think Twice’: A new salvo in the fight to prevent Latino teen pregnancy."

Alvaro Simmons, COO of Washington, D.C.’s Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care (a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation), explains in the article that Latinos who are closer to their parents tend to delay sex, and engage in safer sex practices, due to an ingrained respect for elders that is part of Hispanic culture, as an example.

"Literature shows that this concept is unique to the Latino community," Simmons says.  "It is one [teen-pregnancy] intervention that works when tested against other communities. "

The article, and the work being done by Mary’s Center and other innovative organizations that are applying a researched, gender and cultural lens to the issue of teen pregnancy, are a great reminder of the importance of investing in social change strategies that take into account realities specific to culture, gender, geography, etc. to achieve marked impact.

Otherwise, even the best-laid efforts and intentions can be lost in translation.

Drop in teen pregnancy rates shows power of investing in women and girls.

According to today’s Washington Post, there’s good news to celebrate for our region’s women and girls–a declining teen pregnancy rate over the past decade.

In Washington, D.C., Arlington and Prince George’s County, teen pregnancy and birth rates have markedly declined–along with those around the nation–and have inspired hope that programs aimed at young people–and especially young women–are working.

A few take-aways from the article:

  • Investing in issues that impact women and girls works.  For everyone.
  • To be effective, efforts require a unified effort across communities.
  • Investing in messages and work that protects the health and well-being of women and girls does inspire marked behavior change.
  • Efforts to truly impact diverse communities, such as Latinas, where rates are, unfortunately, still rising, requires approaches that view challenges, problems and program design through a culturally appropriate lens.
  • Providing information and access to health care to young women leads to wise decision-making.

In all, a very hopeful picture about the power of investing in women and girls.

But there still remains much work to be done, particularly in our region.  In Montgomery County, teen birth rates crept up this summer.  Alexandria’s teen birthrate increased over the past decade, and experienced only a minimal decline in its teen pregnancy rate.  Rates among Latinas are rising.

Overall, however, a hopeful picture of how investing in programs, messages and people that improve the health and well-being of women and girls does lead to positive change that impacts not only those women and girls, but their families and entire community.

A great message to carry with me as I prepare for Thursday’s Leadership Awards meeting, where a group of volunteers who have been working for the past few months to evaluate and learn more about innovative, effective nonprofits that are impacting the health and safety of our region’s women and girls, will award eight of them with a Leadership Award of up to $10,000.

The news from this article is a great note on which to finish up our efforts this year–and to remember that the decisions we make about how we invest our money, and the organizations and issues that we support, do have a defining impact on the health of our community.

It’s nice to have a voice in work that’s really making a difference.

The Leadership Awards committee is just one of many ways that you can be involved in the work of changing women’s lives through The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more.

Women's philanthropy: Steppin' up to social change, together.

On Wednesday, the day our challenge grant closed more than $25K over our goal, I couldn’t help but notice the serendipity when I saw this headline across my reader: "Women step up in philanthropy."

Don’t they ever.

The article focuses on women’s philanthropy in Utah, but illustrates the general and growing power of women’s philanthropy everywhere.  What is true in Utah is certainly true here, where our Leadership Luncheon just broke a record breaking attendance goal of 1,500 and a fundraising goal of $1 million.

The lesson we learned?  Never doubt the power of women’s philanthropy.

And it’s not just here.

In her piece, the author explains how women’s roles in philanthropy have shifted dramatically, from stamp lickers to the social change agents making the decisions and writing the checks.

The article states: "Women’s philanthropy is a rising trend. You’re seeing women have access to financial resources as never before," said Kathy LeMay, a professional "social change fund-raiser" and president and CEO of Raising Change.  "Always, women have been combining their time, their talent and their treasure to make a difference," she said. "This is the time for women to have the greatest impact for women in history. Hands down."

The article discusses some of the fundamental differences between men in philanthropy and the way women do it.

"More so than men, women tend to become more involved in a cause than simply donating money on a regular basis, LeMay said. They also tend to better leverage their donor dollars by invoking what she calls the "three Cs" of philanthropy: connection, collaboration and community.  Philanthropy is one of the vehicles where women can affect change … it’s a place where a lot of women find their voice," she said.

I couldn’t help but wonder if LeMay had been hanging around these halls when I read that, and taking a glance in at our committee meetings, at our board’s tremendous involvement, at a Leadership Awards deliberation meeting, at our site visits–where women are participating, every day, and lending their voice to our work, to their community.

Finally, the article ends on the note that women must live their values with their money.  "Write checks where your heart lives," she added.  "The possibilities are available to every single woman in that room.  Together we’re stronger. Don’t try to go it alone."

These words sound like a page out of our Leadership Luncheon, where Ralph F. Boyd, Jr., Executive Vice President of Community Relations, Freddie Mac and Chairman of the Freddie Mac Foundation, reminded us of the proverb, "To go fast, go alone.  To go far, go with others."

Or out of African American Women’s Giving Circle member Claudia Thorne’s thoughts in this blog, and in her Washington Post op-ed, on all she has gained from giving together, on the importance of giving with the heart.

Today, this spirit is catching, particularly among women, whether they’re giving their time, their talent or their treasure.  Whether they’re giving $10 or $10,000.   Whether they’re giving in Salt Lake City or Washington, D.C. 

Together, women are looking to give together, to give smarter, to give where they are, in their own backyard, to build better communities by supporting other women.

The Power of Giving Together.  It knows no bounds.

To step up to find out how you can join the powerful wave that is women’s philanthropy in your backyard, click here if you’re in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area

If not, visit the Women’s Funding Network to find a women’s fund or foundation near you.

Leadership Luncheon '07 raises $1 million! We did it!

Well, I just came out of a wrap-up meeting of the Development Committee about our fantastic Leadership Luncheon.  Who would have believed it was possible to raise a million dollars from a luncheon?

Last year we thought we were pretty great to raise $670,000.  A goal of $1 million for 2007? No way!

But WE DID IT.  Amazing!

Last year, we thought we were pretty great to have 1,225 people at the luncheon.  But this year, we had just over 1,500 there (give or take those who showed up with guests unexpectedly and those who didn’t show).

An amazing increase!

The Omni Shoreham ballroom was bursting at the seams.  Not just with people, but with excitement, enthusiasm, good will and dedication to a worthy cause.

Only superlatives can be used to describe every aspect of the luncheon – the video, the program, the WAWIT participants, the panel, all the materials – even the food.

It happened because of the wonderful network of committed board members, staff and Leadership Luncheon Committee members who worked all summer long to make this luncheon so very special and very successful. I had the honor of being the chair of the Leadership Luncheon Committee and am awed by the effort of our 33 members to expand our network thoughtfully, thoroughly and productively.

I think I should quit while I’m ahead.  I can’t imagine a more successful luncheon in the future!

But there will be.  Stay tuned.

We’re brainstorming about it already.

Marion Ballard chaired the 2007 Leadership Luncheon Committee, and has played an instrumental role in every Leadership Luncheon The Women’s Foundation has held.  She is a former board member and a tremendous supporter of The Women’s Foundation.  She truly epitomizes all of the ways that you can give back and be a part of The Women’s Foundation and changing women’s lives.  Learn more about how you can become part of The Power of Giving Together.

The Dalai Lama gets it.

At The Women’s Foundation, we have a phrase for men who support our mission.  We call them guys who get it.

We’re lucky to have many wonderful, supportive men in our camp here in our local area, including Leroy Pingho, Ralph Boyd, Jr. and Frederic L. Ballard, Jr.

This past Sunday’s Washington Post has a wonderful and thoughtful article in the Outlook section written by the Dalai Lama, titled, "My Vision of a Compassionate Future. "

He writes so eloquently about how we, as a global community, can and must bring about a more peaceful world through non-violent, pro-active approaches to social change. He tells us that we need to instill a sense of caring for others, to tap our compassion, and to teach our children to develop their brains and their hearts.

He goes on to write: "To promote greater compassion, we must pay special attention to the role of women. Given that mothers carry the fetus for months within their own bodies, from a biological point of view women in general may possess greater sensitivity of heart and capacity for empathy. My first teacher of love and compassion was my own mother, who provided me with maximum love. I do not mean to reinforce in any way the traditional view that a woman’s place is confined to the home. I believe that the time has come for women to take more active roles in all domains of human society, in an age in which education and the capacities of the mind, not physical strength, define leadership. This could help create a more equitable and compassionate society."

This paragraph nearly jumped off the page for me. The Dalai Lama speaks of something that we at The Women’s Foundation have known for a long time: that the world would be a much better place if women were given equitable opportunities and a chance to reach their full potential.

The Dalai Lama is definitely a guy who gets it.

Jennifer Cortner is president of EFX Media and serves on The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors and as the chair of the communications committee.  Our committees are just one of many ways that you can get involved in our work and making sure the women of our region get a chance to reach their full potential.  There’s a place for everyone at The Women’s Foundation.  Find yours today.