Giving Back: Why I Volunteer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Are the Black Women During Black History Month?

Ida b. Wells February was always one of my favorite months growing up. Being the shortest month of the school year definitely helped, but serving as the host of some of the best holidays of the year mainly sealed the deal for me.  I recall the joy of exchanging candy and cards for Valentine’s Day and the pride I felt learning about my history while celebrating Black History Month. The month of February provided me with an opportunity to showcase my knowledge of African-American trailblazers and learn more about ones I was unfamiliar with. My love for Black History Month grew because it gave me a chance to learn about people that actually looked like me. It wasn’t until about the fourth grade that I realized that almost all of the black people I learned about during my black history lessons were men.

Conflicted by my new discovery I asked my mother, “Why do we learn about the same people during Black History Month every year?” My mother, a teacher by profession, simply replied, “Well whose fault is that?” She took that moment to share with me that it was my responsibility to find what was missing in my history books. So that evening in our local public library, we embarked on a journey navigating through the halls of African-American history that featured countless influential African-Americans who aren’t celebrated on a consistent basis. This journey through black history challenged me to learn more about notable young and female African-Americans who impacted our rich history. After reading about how Ida B. Wells-Barnett refused to give up her seat on a train and consequently sued the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company, I was hooked. As an Ohio native, I had previous knowledge of the railroad company and was fascinated that a black woman in the 1800s was courageous enough to sue for discrimination. Although Wells-Barnett initially won her case in local circuit courts, the railroad company appealed and the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the ruling. Rather than being discouraged, she used that experience as a catalyst to begin a career in journalism. As soon as I read about her, I found my new role model.

Luckily, I had great women in my life and a newly found hero, but too many girls today aren’t as fortunate. Young women shouldn’t have to wait until Black History Month to learn about a woman that they can aspire to be one day. It is imperative that women of color invest in young girls through volunteering and mentoring to ensure the success of our younger generation. Use this Black History Month to begin or continue “paying it forward.” Our girls are counting on you.

Top Blog Posts of 2012

An election, volunteering, a new logo, historic events, and opportunities to learn more about the needs and lives of women in our community. 2012 was a very busy year at Washington Area Women’s Foundation and much of it was captured on our blog. Here are our favorite blog posts of the year:

# 10: A Lot Left Unsaid at Presidential Debate Donna Wiedeman, executive assistant to the president of the Foundation, took the presidential candidates to task after the second debate when they failed to talk about Americans living in poverty and safety nets for low-income women and children.

#9: A New Look for The Women’s Foundation In this post, Foundation President Nicky Goren shared her excitement about unveiling our new logo and tagline, “Stand Together. So She Can Stand on Her Own.”

#8: The Women’s Foundation Supporters Volunteer on the MLK Day of Service Nearly 100 volunteers joined us as we helped A Wider Circle (a Foundation Grantee Partner) prepare donated items for families in poverty on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

#7: International Women’s Day – Celebrating the Impact of Women on the World Our Development Associate, Juliet Boye, shared how her mother’s entrepreneurial spirit in Ghana inspires Juliet’s work at the Foundation.

#6: Low-Income Women & Their Families Can’t Afford a Gender Wage Gap In this post, Nicky shared why working to “close the gender wage gap is part of ensuring that every woman and girl has the opportunity to reach her full potential and help her family and community thrive.”

#5: Food Stamp Challenge Foundation staff and other community members took part in the Food Stamp Challenge, spending a week learning how difficult it is to live on a food stamp budget – $30 per week. They reflected on the challenge in a series of blog posts.

#4: Closing the Achievement Gap for Students Begins Before Kindergarten After being extremely disappointed to learn about new educational goals for students based on race, I wrote to encourage educators to work on closing the achievement gap early on, so students and school districts won’t have to play catch-up later on.

#3: When the Clock is Ticking, Support Networks Become Lifelines for Working Parents Vice President Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat wrote about support networks that make all the difference to moms trying to juggle work and family.

#2: Witness to Olympic History Nicky recalled fulfilling her lifelong dream of attending the Olympics and how exciting it was to witness women’s history at the 2012 Olympics in London.

#1: Walk in Their Shoes How does safe, reliable transportation impact low-income women and their families? Walk in the shoes of a single mom who showed us her shockingly long commute in this short video.

D.C. Government Slashes Funding for Some of the City's Most Vulnerable Women

Days after the District made the shocking announcement that $20 million had been cut from the homeless services budget for the 2010 fiscal year, advocates and organizations that provide shelter for the homeless are still reeling. One of The Women’s Foundation grantee partners is reaching out for help – as winter approaches and the organizations that assist the homeless face a crisis.

Calvary Women’s Services was notified Monday, September 28, by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) that contract funding for Calvary would be cut by nearly $75,000 beginning October 1st.  These funds support safe housing and other services for 150 homeless women each year.  TCP is an independent, non-profit corporation that coordinates DC’s Continuum of Care homeless services.

Calvary is one of many social service providers notified of cuts to their existing contracts. Emergency, transitional and supported permanent housing programs were all targeted as the city attempted to close an ever-widening budget gap.  The impact of these cuts on the overall homeless services system is going to be severe, with some housing programs reducing their services and others likely closing programs. 

Although these cuts may provide some immediate relief to the city’s budget problems, the real impact of the cuts will be felt by those in need of safe housing and support services.  Women who have already lost their jobs in this economic crisis will have fewer services and housing options available to them. These cuts will make women who are already at-risk much more likely to end up living on the streets or in unsafe situations.

The women who come to programs like Calvary are survivors of violence, women struggling with mental illness, and women working to overcome addictions.  At Calvary we make sure they have access to all of the services they need to address these challenges – in addition to providing a safe place to live.

We know that programs like ours work.  Every five days a woman moves out of Calvary and into her own home.

We have always relied on the support of both public funding and private donations to make our programs possible.  In the past, supporters have helped us close gaps like this one, and I am hopeful that the community will step up once again.  But I am also concerned that this gap may be too wide for our generous donors to close.

The coming months will be challenging ones for organizations like Calvary, as we try to find ways to continue to provide women in this community with critical, life changing services.  More so, they will be challenging months for women who need services like ours, as they face closed doors and reduced services at programs across the city.

 You can make a difference.  Support Calvary – or another agency facing these cuts – today. 

 Volunteer, donate or learn more at

Kris Thompson is the Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services, recognized as a 2009 Leadership Awardee by The Women’s Foundation.  Learn more about them on their Web site or on Facebook.

$1.1 million in grants: We couldn't do it without you!

Have you ever noticed that when someone wins a Grammy or an Oscar, they always thank the myriad of people who have supported them along the way?  Sometimes they go on a bit too long and the music begins to play, but they almost always utter, “I just want to thank my mom.”

Well, that’s how I’m feeling this week.

We’ve just announced that The Women’s Foundation hit our goal of granting $1.1 million this year to organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls—a major milestone in this economy.

And we certainly didn’t do it alone!

There are countless individuals, organizations, foundations, and corporations who helped us along the way.

So here are my thank you’s (and please don’t play the music until I finish):

  • Our donors, who fuel this important work and enable us to make our dreams a reality;
  • Our volunteers, who spent hours of their time reading proposals, conducting site visits and agonizing over the final decisions;
  • Our current and former board members, who have extraordinary vision and commitment to our mission;
  • Our staff, who poured over hundreds of proposals and had the difficult task of sometimes saying no;
  • Our Grantee Partners, who are on the frontlines every day striving to improve the lives of women and girls; and,
  • Of course, my mother, who inspires me each and every day.

Thank you!  We couldn’t do it without you!

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is The Women’s Foundation’s Vice President, Programs.

Announcing the 2009 Leadership Awardees!

What do you get when you combine 58 volunteers, 66 nominations, 54 phone calls, 33 site visits, 20 presentations and hours of deliberation and due diligence?

You get the 2009 Leadership Awardees, of course!

Someone really wise once said, if you want to know how something began, look at how it ended.  As I reflect on that statement, and my experience with the Leadership Awards, I am still undecided about whether or not I agree.

As I was recruiting volunteers for the Leadership Awards this year, I blogged about my experience at the Leadership Awards Reception in March 2008.  The reception, that year’s “ending,” did indeed tell me a lot about the Leadership Awards Program – the inspiration, the passion, the dedication, the diligence of these organizations working so hard on behalf of women and girls.

That said, even as I stood in awe of those eight recipients, there was no way of knowing what an amazing journey it would be to the selection of the 2009 Leadership Awardees!

Among the recipients, we have representation from all over the Washington metropolitan area, including Northern Virginia, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Washington, DC.  All are doing innovative, effective work on behalf of women and girls in our region in the area of safety and health.

We have organizations working with youth, and organizations working with the elderly. 

We have organizations providing basic needs of shelter to victims of domestic violence, and those helping survivors of domestic violence get a second chance in life by find new and sustainable careers.

We have an organization providing activities and infrastructure to girls during the after-school hours when they are most vulnerable, and an organization providing transitional housing for female ex-offenders.

So, who are these 10 exciting, inspiring organizations, you ask.  Click here to see the press release announcing the recipients!

As I sit in anticipation of what my second Leadership Awards reception experience will be like, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the tremendous job done by our outstanding volunteers this year in making this extremely difficult selection.

Because the reality is, while we can only give 10 awards this year, there are many wonderful organizations doing really important work in our community on behalf of women and girls.

So, please join me in congratulating our stellar slate of 2009 Leadership Awardees

And stay tuned for our second annual online vote to help your favorite awardee receive an additional $5,000!

Nicole Cozier is The Women’s Foundation’s Philanthropic Education Officer.

Congrats Doreen, and thanks for being an inspiration to so many!

I’m so thrilled to hear of Doreen being recognized as a 2008 Washingtonian of the Year!  This is so well-deserved.

I recall first meeting Doreen in an early round of the Rainmakers Giving Circle, and was so impressed by how thoughtful and engaged she was in the circle’s work, which was fairly demanding, time-wise.  Knowing how complicated her schedule was, her example motivated me to strengthen my commitment to The Women’s Foundation.

If she could make that meeting downtown, I had better get there!

Through the years, it has been delightful to witness her effect on others as well.

I remember how moved I was to see Grantee Partners beaming as they had picture after picture taken with her at a house event.

At a Washington 100 breakfast at her home, a Grantee Partner told our group how, after meeting Doreen at a previous event, she stopped watching her regular Spanish newscast and started watching Doreen’s. Not only did her English improve, but now her sons also watch Doreen.

And just last month at the board meeting, Covenant House’s Executive Director, Judith Dobbins, broke out with a huge smile as she recognized Doreen during our otherwise routine, round-the-table introductions.  We all had to laugh.

Because of Doreen’s personal graciousness and the respect she garners throughout our region, The Women’s Foundation’s good work is amplified every time she represents us.

But Doreen also has a tremendous fun side that I’ve had the pleasure to get to know as we’ve worked together as co-chairs of Washington 100.  Given how organized and poised she is, you probably would be surprised that half the time I feel like we’re Lucy and Ethel.  We spend a lot of time laughing, just scrambling to keep up and improvise with our latest version of a "plan", which is often a work in progress.

Thank goodness Doreen is a rare combination of extremely dependable and organized, mixed with go-with-the-flow and a really wry sense of humor.

I’m so proud of her earning this prestigious award.

Doreen, you make us all proud!  Congrats on this dazzling accomplishment.

Barb Strom Thompson is co-chair of The Women’s Foundation’s Washington 100 network and a board member. In her professional life, she is a child development specialist.

Leadership Awards Program is looking for a few good nonprofits, and volunteers. Join us!

It seems like only yesterday I was attending my very first event at The Women’s Foundation: The Leadership Awards reception.

The Leadership Awards Program is a signature program of The Women’s Foundation that identifies and recognizes local – but largely undiscovered – nonprofits demonstrating innovation and measurable success in the service of women and girls.

The event started out as so many others, with snacks and drinks, friendly chit chatting, and meeting new friends and old.  It was lovely, but also very reminiscent of a number of other receptions I had attended before.

That was about to change.

As the program began and the awards committee co-chairs began to introduce the recipient organizations, I could feel the whole tenor of the room change. I was immediately enthralled with the work of these organizations and the individuals working within them.  All of these incredible organizations were doing work right here in my own back yard! 

More amazingly, I had never heard of most of them! I realized then that though I had lived in the area of the last 10 years, I did not really know my own community.

By the end of the awards presentations, this ordinary reception had become an extraordinarily inspirational event – and not just for me. As I looked around the room, I could see that many other attendees had been as amazed and inspired as I was.   (See event photos!)

Today, I am part of the great process that brought these wonderful organizations to the attention of so many others that evening back in March 2008.  I am working with at least 45 volunteers eager to get to work on what will no doubt be a challenging, but engaging selection process.

As was the case last year, the Leadership Awards are focused on organizations working to improve the health and safety of women and girls.

I can’t wait to see what hidden gems we uncover!

But we all know that we can’t do this alone. To uncover gems like these, we need the involvement of many people.

We have officially opened nominations for organizations to be considered for the 2008 Leadership Awards.

Additionally, I encourage all of you to get involved in identifying innovative and emerging organizations – many of them operating below the radar – working to improve the health and safety of Washington-area women and girls.  Visit to learn more about how YOU can help the Leadership Awards committee by either joining a regional team or nominating an area nonprofit.

We will continue to welcome new members to the committee through October 24, 2008.

If you are interested in joining, please complete and return the volunteer commitment form and be prepared to attend the kick-off meeting on Tuesday October 28th from 6-9 p.m.

Or, to nominate an organization for a Leadership Award, click here.

Nicole Cozier is The Women’s Foundation’s philanthropic education officer.

Announcing the 2007 Leadership Awardees!

But first, a little FAQ about the Leadership Awards!

What are the Leadership Awards?
In 1998, The Women’s Foundation made $17,500 in grants, in the form of Leadership Awards, to five organizations in our region. The first five Grantee Partners of The Women’s Foundation each received $3,500.

In 2007, only nine years later, the Leadership Awards Program gave $80,000 in awards to eight organizations, each receiving $10,000 to recognize their work focused on the health and safety of women and girls.

The idea behind the Leadership Awards is to recognize and bolster organizations doing amazing work–and getting results–for women and girls. A Leadership Award serves as a vehicle to promote their work and helps them leverage additional support.

In many ways, the Leadership Awards Program represents the spirit of The Women’s Foundation: to foster innovative, effective organizations that truly change the lives of women and girls, and to help deepen the impact of their work.

Who selects the awardees?
The awardees are selected by members of our community. A dedicated committee of volunteers vets applications, conducts phone interviews and site visits and recommends a panel of organizations for approval by the board of directors. The volunteer committee is open to any donor to The Women’s Foundation at any level–making it a public, citizen-based grantmaking process reflecting the diverse interests and experience of people throughout our region.

Jeanie Lee, a 2007 Leadership Awards volunteer, says, "It was an enormous learning experience, and I really appreciated having the opportunity of getting to know our community organizations that are doing good work."

Want to become a Leadership Awards volunteer?  Contact me and I’ll tell you all about it!

What do awardees do with the money?
The awards are not grants in the traditional sense. They are not funded to conduct specific work outlined in a proposal. Instead, a Leadership Award is an acknowledgment of work already accomplished and allows the organization to continue to build on those achievements. It says, "Thank you for the excellent work you are doing for the women and girls of our region. We support you in your efforts and we’re encouraging others to do the same."

Do Leadership Awards really make a difference?
As a result of this support, many organizations in our region have been transformed.

Deborah Avens of Virtuous Enterprises, Inc. cites The Women’s Foundation–and receiving a Leadership Award–as having been the cheerleader that inspired her to expand her work with women in Prince George’s County.

In 2002, a Leadership Award was granted to Tahirih Justice Center, and this year, their accomplishments were acknowledged with a Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.

Consulting the list of past Leadership Awards recipients reveals many more organizations in our region that have grown and expanded their impact–in many cases due largely to that first recognition from The Women’s Foundation through a Leadership Award.

Who are the 2007 Leadership Awardees?
This year, The Women’s Foundation is proud to announce the eight 2007 Leadership Awardees, which represent excellence, innovation and impact on behalf of women and girls in the area of health and safety.

Congratulations to the 2007 Leadership Awardees, and many thanks to every member of our community for supporting The Women’s Foundation and making it possible for us to continue to inspire and cultivate leadership on behalf of women and girls in our region.

Learn more about these outstanding organizations.

Stay tuned for a public, online vote in the new year to give an additional $5,000 award to one of these awardees!

To learn about the Leadership Awards Program, click here, or contact me for more information on how to become a volunteer and get involved.  (It’s fun!) 

Food Stamp Challenge: Lessons learned, from the personal to the global.

Well, I didn’t successfully complete the one-week D.C. Hunger Food Stamp Challenge, but, I did learn valuable lessons and new personal insights. 

But first, full disclosure.  Why didn’t I finish?  I pretty much gave up.  I tried, but it was pretty tough.

The first lesson I learned was, if grocery shopping on a limited budget, it’s best to buy everything before the week begins. That way, it’s harder or better yet impossible, since there’s no money, to be tempted to buy high priced foods here and there throughout the week that you really don’t need.

The second lesson I learned is how connected I am with food, emotionally, physically, and psychologically. The fourth night of the challenge was the hardest. I went to bed feeling almost depressed because I couldn’t eat what I really wanted. The smell and taste was so close, yet so far.  Up until the fourth day, physical hunger wasn’t a problem, but that night, my stomach was feeling empty.  Ironically while I write this, an ABC Nightline commercial just aired about gastric-bypass surgery and referred to food “as an addiction.”

On the morning of the third day, I was so irritable that I grabbed a cold cookie from a refrigerator and ate it within 20 seconds. I felt so restricted that I didn’t even warm it up like I usually do. I didn’t even like that particular chocolate flavor, but it was sweet, quick, satisfying, accessible, and free.

I pretty much knew that I was going to go back to the usual eating regime on the morning of the fifth day. I still can’t really imagine how people who are really suffering from chronic hunger, and people who don’t necessarily starve, but who can’t afford the foods of their choice, feel.

I think I took it so hard because it was such a fresh experience for me, but for someone who hasn’t had the foods of their choice for months, I wonder if there is a kind of desensitization to the whole thing of missing tastes.

All this wondering made me pull the late Elliot Liebow’s, Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women, off my bookshelf.  I like this book because the information comes from his participatory observation of single, homeless women in emergency shelters in DC.  One of the main problems of daily living was health and diet.

“Obesity, stomach disorders, diabetes, food allergies, cardiovascular irregularities, and other disorders for which diet is integral to treatment made up another class of common health problems that resisted treatment by the very nature of homelessness…typically in shelters, few choices were available. Low-fat, low-salt, low cholesterol…and other low-this-or-that dietary injunctions were almost impossible to observe,” Liebow writes.   

Nobody, especially in the U.S., should go hungry, and/or be subject to affordable but highly unhealthy food. We have enough food in our stores and restaurants for everyone to eat sufficiently and healthy. This made me want to do a little research.

According to the nonprofit organization CARE:
•  More than 840 million people in the world are malnourished — 799 million of them live in the developing world;
•  Over 153 million of the world’s malnourished people are children 5 years of age or younger; and,
•  A lack of essential minerals and vitamins contributes to increased child and adult mortality. Vitamin A deficiency impairs the immune system, increasing the annual death toll from measles and other diseases by an estimated 1.3 million-2.5 million children.

That’s hard to digest (no pun intended), not because it doesn’t seem valid (I wish that were the case), but because it’s mind blowing.

What’s going on in the most developed country?

Looking at hunger stats at home (the U.S.) according to FRAC (The Food and Research Action Center):
•  At least 10.8 million people live in homes considered to have “very low food security.”
•  In my home state, Maryland, 196,000 households were considered “food insecure” from data gathered between 2003-2005. 115,165 of people in these households were WIC recipients (Women Infants and Children). Minimum wage in Maryland was $6.15 as of 2006. That is not enough for a woman who has a young child or children, and is trying to pay for decent housing, to live on.
•  In DC, the number is lower, with 31,000 households considered to be “food insecure” from data gathered between 2003-2005. 15,193 of people in these households considered food insecure are WIC recipients. The minimum wage in DC was $7.00 as of 2006.

These types of facts outrage me, especially when I hear about the kids.  That’s also what made it frustrating to quit the challenge prematurely–guilt from knowing that I have the privilege to return to my “regular eating” when many don’t.

On a positive note, a good insight I had from all this was that I should continue volunteering at the Pathways shelter I go to monthly.  I am a “dinner volunteer” for the smaller subcomponent of Calvary Women’s Services in DC, and in the two weeks prior to the challenge, I’d just started searching for different volunteering opportunities that might provide more direct interaction between me and the clients.   

Pathways houses about 10 chronically homeless women, some with mental disorders, and at the site there isn’t much talk between me and the women when I go to deliver food and prepare plates.  While I understand why they wouldn’t want to chat it up with someone they see bring some dinner in every once in a while, I really would like an opportunity that allows me to interact more, so I was thinking of not going anymore, and instead looking into reading for children in local hospitals or something.

After this challenge, while I can look for other opportunities, I know I can’t stop bringing the food.  The women always say they like my dishes, and the least I can do is send some hot, tasty, nutritious dishes their way.

Nobody should have to go hungry, and for me it starts on working on issues that affect the women right here in the local community.

For information on other ways to get involved in our community, Volunteer and Connect!