Groups of women all over the country are donating $40,000 a year to local charities—and a number of Mercer County women are ready to join their ranks.
Ellen Fahey started 100+ Women Who Care of Mercer County just over a year ago, and though the group doesn’t quite have 100 members yet (it currently sits at around 40), it has seen consistent growth since its first meeting in May 2016.
Women Who Care is a nationwide organization with chapters in most states across the country; it started in Michigan in 2006. At each meeting, members hear presentations from local charities and then vote on who to donate to that evening. Each member donates $100 per meeting, and each group meets four times per year. That means groups with 100 members or more give away at least $10,000 four times a year.
“This is about empowering by joining forces,” said Fahey, a Hamilton resident. “And that’s what 100+ Women is: a bunch of women who care about their community and the people who are most in need. It just blew me away. I was so inspired.”
Fahey, an instructional assistant in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district, was inspired to launch a Mercer County chapter of the group after reading about it in Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible by Regina Brett, one of her favorite authors. In the book, Brett interviewed a woman who started a Women Who Care chapter in Cleveland. Brett wrote, “More people than ever are feeling pulled in a hundred different ways by commitments at home and at work. They no longer have the time to volunteer like they used to.”
Many local women have the resources to donate, Fahey said, but they might not have the time to commit to joining a volunteer group. Enter Women Who Care. The women meet four times a year, and each meeting is about an hour and a half long.
“I had a friend who said to me, ‘I want to do something, but I don’t know what to do,’” said Mary Theresa Weil, a Robbinsville resident who handles public relations for the group. “She said, ‘I don’t have much time to go places and go things, but this is the perfect thing for me.’ She can still feel good about it, she can still make a donation. She might not come to a meeting, but she’s still involved, and that makes it nice.”
Fahey decided to go ahead with launching the chapter around Thanksgiving 2015 and immediately got to work researching other local Women Who Care groups. The closest she found meets in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (the only other New Jersey chapter is in Cape May County), so she went to one of that group’s meetings and took notes.
“Wow, was that so exciting,” she said of her first Women Who Care experience. “You read about it, you envision it and then you go to a meeting to see how it really goes. We were really pumped about it. The flow of the meeting, it’s like, ‘We can do this. This is simple.’ I have to keep things simple. This is pretty basic.”
Each meeting begins with check-in and a welcome. Then, they dive right into the first of four brief presentations. A representative from last meeting’s donation speaks about what their organization does, or what the money the women donated was used for. Then, the three charities selected to present at the last meeting make their case to the group. At the most recent meeting on May 15, representatives from Anchor House, Shine and Inspire, and Mount Carmel Guild all spoke for five minutes each.
‘Gaining knowledge about local, small organizations appealed tremendously to me… the immediacy of this was very appealing.’
Next comes the voting. The members take about 10 minutes to choose the charity they want that evening’s donations to go to. Shine and Inspire won the vote in May, and each woman wrote one $100 check on the spot. Then, three more charities are chosen from a basket to vie for a donation next time. The next meeting is set for Aug. 7.
Hearing directly from different charities was a big part of the draw for Debbie Endo, a Lawrence resident who joined the group last year. She often donates to larger organizations, but she said she likes giving to a charity while learning more about the organization right from someone directly involved with the group.
“I always struggle with how I want to spend my money with charities and honest causes,” she said. “Gaining knowledge about local, small organizations appealed tremendously to me. I do send money to bigger groups—Planned Parenthood, the Southen Poverty Law Center—but the immediacy of this was very appealing.”
Endo, 72, submits a charity she’s involved with, Arm in Arm (formerly known as the Crisis Ministry of Trenton), into the basket each meeting, and though it was drawn once before, it hasn’t been voted for yet. The group provides food, housing, job support and driver’s license assistance services, entirely though donated funds. Endo volunteers with the housing division, which provides small grants to help with back rent, security deposits, utilities, mortgages and more to make stable housing a reality for Arm in Arm’s clients.
Endo, a retired social worker, has lived in Lawrence since 1975. She worked in the Lawrence school district for many years, and all three of her children went through the district. She heard about Women Who Care through her friend Lorell Levy of West Trenton. The two have participated in a book club together for the last 20 years.
Levy, 56, works with Fahey in the West Windsor-Plainsboro school district. When Fahey first brought the group up to her, she thought it was a “wonderful idea” and came out to the first meeting last May.
“It’s a very, very simple way to do something powerful,” Levy said. “Everyone wants to help, but not everybody has the time. It’s easy to have time for four meetings.”
Levy has submitted a charity she is passionate about, I Am Trenton, to the pool. The group awards grants and seed money to different innovative projects throughout the city of Trenton. Being involved with Women Who Care and the prospect of eventually donating thousands of dollars at once to I Am Trenton has been rewarding for Levy.
“Hearing these stories when they come back to thank us and tell us how the money was used warms your heart,” she said. “The idea is to have 100 women or more, but the number has gone up each meeting. It’s exciting. We’re really starting something.”
As membership increases, so does the dollar amount at the end of each meeting. So far, the Mercer chapter has presented donations to City of Angels ($2,600), Community Christian Choir ($2,800), Rescue Mission of Trenton ($3,100) and Good Grief ($3,150).
“For me, it just feels like we’ve done so much,” Weil said. “We’ve gotten so many good charities that we’ve donated to. It’s like a flower, really. It’s a bud, and the flower is forming. It keeps growing and growing.”
Weil, a real estate agent for Keller Williams, added that the organizations that have received donations have been spreading the word about Women Who Care, and so are other women in the group. Levy said once Fahey asked her, she turned around and told Endo and some other women about the group. Weil herself runs an all-female networking group and passed the information along to some of them.
The experience has been rewarding, Weil and Fahey said, though they do have to deliver bad news when a group doesn’t get chosen. Some take it personally, or feel like they didn’t do enough during the presentation, but Fahey always tries to reassure them. Plus, members can submit their groups as many times as they want, until it receives the money. When members vote in favor of a charity, it can’t enter back into the running for another two years.
‘For me, it’s such a warm feeling to know that all of the money that we raised means something to them.’
Endo and Levy’s submissions were actually drawn at the same meeting but lost out to Good Grief. Though they were disappointed, they both knew that the money was going to a good cause regardless. Most groups tend to feel the same way.
Women Who Care includes four “core” members: Fahey, Weil, Maureen Cozzi (treasurer) and Elizabeth Kelly (member relations). Weil was wone of the first women Fahey reached out to.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Mary Theresa knows a lot of people,’ because if she was a horrible person and knew a lot of people, I would never [ask her],” Fahey said. “I’m like, ‘Mary Theresa’s awesome. I love Mary Theresa. I want to work with her.’ She has so much personality. She’s not afraid of or intimidated by anybody. She’s just so friendly. I knew right away Mary Theresa had to be PR, because she’s perfect for that.”
The group still has a little ways to go before reaching the 100+ member mark, but watching the dollar amount increase each time a donation is made has been the best part of being involved for many of the women.
“For me, it’s such a warm feeling to know that all of the money that we raised, as small as it is compared to what it’s going to be, it means something to them,” Fahey said. “To see the look on their faces and the appreciation that they have, they sometimes have tears in their eyes. It gives you a sense of pride.”