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'Women's Giving Circle' aims to offer new hope to women in need

June 06, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

There are organizations in Washington County that shelter women from abusive partners, give their children clothing for school and provide food for the family table.

Those are all immediate needs. But what the Women's Giving Circle wants to do is get the community focused on the long term and on changing the things that hold women and families back, such as teen pregnancy.

That's why the group will award a $5,000 grant this November to an organization that will devise projects to increase the life skills of women.

To publicize that, and to recruit new members for the WGC, Maryland's first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, will come to the Robinwood Conference Center on Friday, June 11, from 4 to 6 p.m.

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There's no charge, but to make sure there are adequate refreshments, attendees will be asked to RSVP to the offices of the Community Foundation at 301-745-5210 or e-mail to womensgiving@hagcomfound.org.

Cynthia Perini, co-chair of the group, said WGC began meeting in June 2003 out of concern that while there were groups helping women here, there wasn't enough focus on creating long-term solutions to the problems they face.

It was natural to seek help for those needs from women, Perini said, because "although women control the majority of the wealth in this country, there are not a lot of women involved in true philanthropic organizations."

The first step, along with co-chair Jeanne Singer, was to recruit at least 40 women who would pledge to give $1,000 apiece over three years. That money would be invested with the Community Foundation of Washington County, Md. Inc., where the interest will be used for projects to improve the lives of women and families in Washington County.

"Right now, we have approximately $25,000 and commitments from our existing membership for $50,000. Our next goal is to grow the fund to $100,000 by the end of 2005."

One of the group's long-term strategies is to change the present culture, which results in many teen pregnancies, Perini said.

"These young girls believe that success, in their minds, is becoming a mother. They don't realize the long-term impact of that decision," she said.

"Once that's happened for a generation or two, it creates a cycle that becomes very hard to break. We need to be helping them understand what the different options are for their lives," she said.

For example, most of these would-be mothers don't know how much child care costs, said Perini, a working mother herself.

After comparing those costs to her salary, Perini said, "I can remember coming home so many nights and saying 'Why am I doing this?' I can't imagine doing it on a minimum wage or with a smaller income."

Figures gathered by WGC show that while the median family income here is $42,400, the average income of households headed by women is only $14,153.

Such women must spend about $87 a week, or $4,524 a year for child care.

How will WGC get that word out and help young women understand what kind of life they could have if they chose not to get pregnant?

Through programs devised under the grant. Those interested in applying can call the phone number or e-mail the address listed previously for a simple "indication of interest" form.

Once those are in, Perini said, the group will narrow the applicants to "those who meet our purpose and invite them to submit a more detailed application."

Perini said WGC's goal is not to compete with any other nonprofit group, but to build up a fund that might be able to help those with good programs spend more time on service and less on fund-raising.

WGC won't have any big annual fund-raiser, she said, but added that the group did have a yard sale recently to offset administrative expenses such as postage.

WGC's emphasis will be on finding members who want to contribute personally to improving the lives of women here. The group meets six times a year and those who want to remain after the initial three-year commitment can do so, for an annual contribution of $350.

Some things to change the culture will be funded now, but later the priorities could change, Perini said.

"Hopefully, over time things will change in our community. As the dynamics change, we might be funding some other programs that might not have an opportunity to be funded now."

Some people will say that Perini and her group are trying to hold back the tide, that they won't change a culture. But 30 years ago, another group of local women took on the issue of domestic violence and changed minds about that. Just because the job is difficult doesn't mean it can't be done.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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