Informed, Impassioned and Involved

October 3, 2013
BY Melissa Gerr
Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation celebrates decade of improving the lives of women and girls
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Last year, the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation allocated thousands of dollars to empower women and girls. Shown here: last year’s final voting session. (Melissa Gerr)

Last week, gathered inside Beth Israel Congregation’s sukkah, Julie Sakin, chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, launched the organization’s 11th year.

JWGF is a unique philanthropic group of intelligent, informed and impassioned women with varied backgrounds and of all ages. Now with more than 90 members, JWGF has allocated more than $700,000 to Jewish and secular groups in Maryland, the U.S. and around the world. The group’s mission is “to improve the lives of women and girls both in the Jewish community and the community at large in Maryland, the United States and around the world. JWGF strives to fulfill its mission by offering its membership opportunities to discover the power of women’s philanthropy and to gain an understanding of the needs of women and the needs of girls through a collaborative grant-making process.”

This mission makes JWGF a unique giving model within The Associated system. Each member has the opportunity to review a potential grantee’s letter of intent, a detailed proposal and budget for the project, attend site visits and participate in a voting session to decide exactly where each dollar is allocated. The grant round begins in the late fall, when the group reviews 60 to 70 letters of intent. Collectively, the JWGF women narrow down their list of potential grant recipients to 12 to 15. That final list submits more information so the women can make decisions.

When potential grantees are local, JWGF women will make site visits. This allows up-close interaction with the requesting organization, the population it serves and the staff involved. Site visits provide an extremely personal exchange with the organization, and women often come away changed from the experience.

For Lindley Weinberg, a member for seven years, the site visits are the highlight of the proposal review.

“The site visits drive home in a very eloquent, powerful way how many women and girls are affected by the deficits that living in poverty can cause here in Baltimore, in the Jewish community and abroad. Most often we leave more convinced to advocate for the programs during the voting session, and we sometimes become more involved personally. I love this opportunity.”

The final vote takes place in May.

In 2004, there were two groups with similar missions in Baltimore, the Jewish Women’s Giving Initiative and the Jewish Women’s Foundation. They merged in 2007. Martha Weiman, a founding member, has a historical perspective.

“I was there from Day 1; we were flying by the seat of our pants. Now we’re a group that’s educated and seasoned,” Weiman said. “The things we [JWGF] fund are at ‘street level’ and advocacy level. [The grants] have a lasting value and a lasting effect. We help a mother get on her feet, and it helps her, her children, a neighborhood — it’s the ripple effect. And it sends a message to the Jewish and the non-Jewish community, too, that we’re a community first and foremost. We’re not insular and isolated. It’s part of our DNA to give back, period.”

Heather Harvison, CEO and founder of My Sister’s Circle, a JWGF recipient organization, said, “JWGF believed in our mission and vision in the early years. They saw the value when we were a grassroots startup, and now we’re sustainable. They’ve invested in over 130 at-risk girls; some women have even become mentors. They saw the power of investing in girls long term, and now we’re seeing the results, helping break the cycle of poverty.”

For more information on becoming a member or to apply for funding, contact Jennifer Millman at The Associated at jmillman@associated.org or 410-369-9205.

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