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Giving Circle creates endowment to benefit area women and famil

December 11, 2003|by Alicia Notarianni

alician@herald-mail.com

About 50 area women gathered from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the home of Cynthia Perini to learn more about a new organization called The Women's Giving Circle.

Last spring, Perini and Jeanne Singer, who serve on the board of trustees for the Community Foundation of Washington County, were encouraged by fellow board members to explore the idea of a local philanthropic women's group. They teamed up with financial planner Shelby Penn-Ross and did just that.

What the three women turned up were serious concerns regarding issues like teen pregnancy, hunger, domestic violence, child abuse and substance abuse in the Hagerstown area.

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Singer, a lawyer and active Rotary Club member, said she was shocked to learn that the teen pregnancy rate in Washington County was going up while the national average was going down, and that there are children in the area who have no clothes, soap or shampoo.

"We are insulated," Singer said. "But I was horrified during our research."

The women worked with the Community Foundation to establish an endowment to create, promote and support programs that improve the quality of life for women and families in the area. The group will serve as a permanent funding source for various nonprofit provider agencies. The Community Foundation will handle administrative duties and asset investment, while The Women's Giving Circle members will decide which organizations will receive money.

"It gives us a chance to have a voice," Perini said. "The money will go to whatever the group feels are primary needs in the community."

Projected areas of need include education assistance, and personal and professional development.

Perini, Singer and Penn-Ross recruited friends and held the first meeting of The Women's Giving Circle during June 2003. Since that time, they have been working to establish bylaws and to organize Tuesday's gathering as the group's first major membership drive.

Brad Sell, executive director of the Community Foundation, said The Women's Giving Circle, which currently has 20 members, has a goal to increase membership to 40 by the end of 2003 and to 100 by 2005. Anyone who commits to a three-year membership by Dec. 31, 2003, will be considered a founding member.

Members must commit to providing an initial gift of $1,000 or more, payable over three years. After that, they will be asked to sustain membership with contributions of $350 per year.

In an effort to get the next generation interested and to ensure long-term success, the group also has established a Junior Women's Giving Circle for people younger than 21. Junior members are expected to contribute $500 over three years with $175 each year to follow.

Singer said the financial pledge is not an overwhelming commitment for the difference the group will be able to make.

"It's we in society who help form where (kids) end up. If there are things we can do, it makes a better community for all of us," Perini said.

The Women's Giving Circle hopes to raise the value of the endowment to $1 million by 2010 through new memberships and appreciation of funds. This would provide about $50,000 a year to be distributed to area agencies through grants.

The first organizational meeting for The Women's Giving Circle will be held at at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, at Innerspace Floor to Ceiling on Virginia Avenue. The group will elect officers, create committees and set a plan for growth and allocation of funds.

Singer said the group anticipates distribution of its first grants during spring 2004.

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