Women’s Giving Circle celebrating 10 years of grants

As council director and a coach for Girls on the Run, Cathy Goike knows this influential program has reached more than 1,600 young girls in a positive way since 2010.

“Life comes at these girls so fast,” Goike said. “Girls on the Run helps them find their ‘pace.’ They learn about positive self-talk, teamwork and handling stress, and that’s what makes this program different than an extra-curricular sport.”

For Jessica Luther, development coordinator at Alpena County Library, it’s about the impact that reading can make in a child’s life. She’s particularly enthused that the library has been able to launch a 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program to encourage early childhood literacy.

Katy Conklin, executive director of Hope Shores Alliance, fully embraces a new collaboration that enables young clients served by her agency to engage in an art therapy program at Art in the Loft. She said allowing children who have been traumatized by domestic abuse to partake in art sessions can have a positive impact on their lives and give them an outlet to express themselves.

All three local programs share a common thread: each was the recipient of a Women’s Giving Circle grant. They aren’t the only ones either in Northeast Michigan to benefit from the Women’s Giving Circle. Over the past 10 years, a total of $63,000 representing nearly 90 different grants have been awarded to programs and causes important to women.

The statistics aren’t lost on Julie Wiesen. It was her vision that provided the impetus for starting the Women’s Giving Circle. A part of the Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan, WGC invites women (and men) to give whatever they can from as little as $10 up to major donations. The amount doesn’t matter as much as the all-inclusive opportunity to be a part of something significant.

“The number one reason people give is to make a difference in their community or in someone else’s life,” Wiesen said. “It’s much more than a tax donation, and for $10, anyone can be a part of it.”

Wiesen still bubbles over with enthusiasm, especially now that the WGC grant cycle is 10 years down the road. She looks back gratefully at how much the fund has grown since first established in 2006 and how many it has helped through a wide variety of programs in the four-county area of Alpena, Alcona, Presque Isle and Montmorency counties.

“The Women’s Giving Circle just keeps on giving,” Wiesen said. “There are so many stories in our four-county area of those who have been impacted by the grants.”

Things started out small scale with the first WGC grant distribution made in 2008, but as more and more people, especially women, stepped forward to give to the fund, the amount available to present to worthwhile causes has increased. In 2008, only $510 was split between two recipients. This year, a total of $21,463 was distributed between 23 different programs, with most grants typically ranging from about $500 to $1,500.

The other piece of the equation that makes the WGC unique is that the donors are the ones who decide which programs to fund. Once a donation is made, the donor becomes a part of the WGC and is recognized on a display board at the Community Foundation headquarters. As a member (there currently are 314), donors have the opportunity to serve a two-year term on the committee that reviews the grants.

Currently, the WGC fund stands at $600,000, but Wiesen has dreams of seeing it reach the $1 million mark. Using sound investment strategies, a percentage of the total is granted each year to non-profit groups.

“When we reach our first million dollar goal, we will have an estimated $50,000 each year to give out – forever – and the fund will continue to grow,” Wiesen said.

She has no way of knowing when the $1 million will be attained, but she’s confident it will happen as caring people in the region continue to give either a little or a lot.

“The goal of the first million is a question of when, not if,” she said. “The goal also is to help women look back on the success of the fund and tell their family and friends that they were a part of making a difference that will last forever. All it takes is one donor or 400 donors or someone to make a challenge grant or all of us giving a little. It will get there – how fast can we do it?”

Like Wiesen, Community Foundation Executive Director Patrick Heraghty sees great value in the WGC fund.

“The Women’s Giving Circle illustrates that you don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist,” Heraghty said. “Anyone can belong and make a difference.”

He also appreciates how WGC grants connect to women and children.

“There’s a lot of data out there that shows investing in girls and women strengthens not only families, but their community. That makes the giving potential of the Women’s Giving Circle pretty special,” Heraghty said.

Anyone interested in becoming a part of WGC may contact Wiesen at 354-6881 or toll free at (877)-354-6881. Information also is available on the Community Foundation website, www.cfnem.org. A perfect time for giving online, Wiesen said, is on the nationally recognized Giving Tuesday, Nov. 28.