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News / Clark County News

Empower Women + Girls aims to make a difference

New 'giving circle' works to support nonprofits that aid females in county

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: April 21, 2016, 6:01am
3 Photos
Rhona Sen Hoss, campaign manager for Sen. Annette Cleveland, center, takes a selfie with Stacey Graham, president of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, from left; Kate Sacamano, YWCA director of philanthropy; and Teresa Lawwill of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce during a meeting of the giving circle Empower Women + Girls.
Rhona Sen Hoss, campaign manager for Sen. Annette Cleveland, center, takes a selfie with Stacey Graham, president of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, from left; Kate Sacamano, YWCA director of philanthropy; and Teresa Lawwill of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce during a meeting of the giving circle Empower Women + Girls. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

To an outsider, the dozens of women gathered at Pacific Continental Bank in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday evening looked like they were just socializing, perhaps over happy hour. There was wine, hors d’oeuvres and constant chatter. Rhona Sen Hoss was snapping photos with a selfie stick.

Yet, on the tables were copies of “The Status of Women in Washington,” a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and Women’s Funding Alliance — a reminder of the main reason they were gathered.

Jennifer Rhoads, executive director of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, cited the report as she spoke before the group. In 2013, women in Washington earned 77.9 cents on the dollar compared with men. Given the way things are progressing, the state’s wage gap is predicted to close in 2071, the report said.

“Women and girls still have a long way to go to be equal in a lot of ways, whether it’s in self-esteem, whether it’s in education, whether it’s in professional careers and equal pay for equal work,” Rhoads said during an interview with The Columbian. “We just think that we as females should be supporting women and girls in our community.”

Joining Empower Women + Girls

 Visit www.cfsww.org/donate to donate $1,000 and become a member.

To learn more about giving circles

• Visit www.givingcircles.org.

By “we,” she means the members of a new giving circle called Empower Women + Girls. It aims to “celebrate, promote and empower women of all ages” in Clark County. Current and potential members gathered Tuesday evening to learn more about the group, which officially began meeting in September.

The idea is to pool members’ donations and annually award grants of $20,000 to $25,000 to nonprofits that could grow or create programs supporting women and girls. Members commit to donating $1,000 annually for three years, which is kept in a fund at the Community Foundation.

It all came about when a group of women got together for lunch and had blunt conversations about what they wanted to see happen in the community, said Lisa Lowe, shareholder at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt. She emceed Tuesday’s event and helped found the circle. It took 2 1/2 years to fully form the concept of Empower Women + Girls, she said. Lowe was motivated by self-esteem issues she saw in one of her nieces.

In September, the group will vote on where the first round of grants should be dispersed. By then, the group hopes to have at least 100 members.

“We’re really, seriously going to try to make a difference,” Lowe said. “Women really are amazing at collaborating.”

Giving circles are about pooling resources and directing them toward a specified cause, rather than scattering money across organizations. One hefty donation makes a bigger impact, and members feel more ownership given that they collectively decide on how the money is spent.

Empower Women + Girls may support organizations such as YWCA Clark County, which recently started a leadership center; Girls Inc., a national organization expanding in the Pacific Northwest; the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington that has after-school mentor groups for girls; or Second Step Housing, which provides single mothers with supportive and transitional housing.

Currently, Empower Women + Girls has about 50 members, primarily middle-aged professional and philanthropic women. Meetings are a chance to network, although members aren’t required to attend them.

“I think for women, because we’re connectors and we really thrive on relationships, I think that’s why you mostly see women in giving circles,” Rhoads said. “Women view it as an opportunity to socialize and to network and to support each other in addition to the charitable component. We view it as enlarging our friends circle. All of a sudden, you have these friends who have a lot of the same characteristics and philosophies. You have similar attributes when you’re in these giving circles because you’re supporting the same thing.”

Other giving circles

There are other giving circles in Clark County centered on female issues and dominated by female members. The local chapter of Dining for Women focuses on international organizations that benefit women and girls in the developing world. The Vancouver Women’s Foundation doles out smaller one-time grants to local women in crisis to help get them back on track. Most of the members were working women when the foundation began in 2000, but now a lot of them are retired, Rhoads said.

“If you were to look at what the Empower group wants to do, it’s really kind of helping women and girls before they get in crisis situations to give them the tools they need to succeed in life,” Rhoads said.

“I think it’s a really necessary focus,” said Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver.

She used to be part of the Vancouver area Women in Action group (before it dissolved in 2007), which she said encouraged and supported her early in her career. She likes the idea of Empower Women + Girls for its similar vision of helping women and girls seek leadership positions.

“What I love the most is women helping girls and women. I think it’s pretty important today, more than ever, that we need to be doing that together,” Rhoads said. “What if we would have had the support when we were kids? What could that have done for us? Would we be in a different place in our careers now? Would we be in a different place in our relationships?”

At the Community Foundation, which helps people set up charitable giving, Rhoads has noticed women tend to have a stronger voice in the charitable activities of families. That’s not anything new, she said, but women also live longer than men, resulting in a lot of widows engaged in philanthropy.

Giving circles don’t involve the cost or paperwork of establishing a private foundation or becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Their stipulations and the way they operate can cater to the people comprising them.

“What’s interesting about giving circles is they can really serve a lot of different purposes,” Rhoads said.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith