March 7, 2016

Women’s Fund is a model of caring and success

Women need to be celebrated for the work they do.

And they need to be supported for their creative and innovative efforts to help other women and girls.

Those simple goals serve as the roots for annual get-togethers that started in the mid-1990s and have morphed into the wildly successful Women’s Fund of the Wayne County Foundation.

Mary Jo Clark  (above) and partner Pat Heiny were co-founders of the Women’s Fund.

It was seeded 11 years ago with a $2,000 donation from Contemporary Consulting, the company owned by Women’s Fund co-founders Mary Jo Clark and Pat Heiny.

Since then, the fund has awarded $134,000 in grants to more than 100 recipients.

Thousands of dollars more will be given on March 12th at The Women’s Fund annual fundraising event — a combination grant awards ceremony, art show and gala luncheon — that will be held at the Leland Legacy Ballroom.

Close to 200 are expected to attend in what Clark says “is probably the largest gathering of women (and girls) in the city.”

The event is expected to make a profit of $20,000.

Pat Heiny is an original founder of the Women’s Fund.

Clark and Heiny, who have been partners in Contemporary Consulting for 30 years, first held a community celebration for women they appreciated in the mid-1990s, drawing a crowd of 85. When it quickly grew to 300, they decided there was a better way, a bigger way, to celebrate women.

Thus was born the Women’s Fund: “We like to wrestle with large, big-picture issues,” Heiny says. “We have limited resources, but we can help out, be catalysts. We can give a voice to women and their issues.”

She and Clark had seen other women’s funds succeed in communities during their work travels. “We thought: ‘Wouldn’t that be fun and useful here,’” Heiny says.

It’s certainly has proven to be useful here. Women’s Fund grants have helped everything from language translation services, to a trip that took middle-school girls to the White House — and even have helped with down payments on Habitat for Humanity homes.

“It’s nice to see the community focus it has had,” says Beth Harrick, executive director of Girls Inc. “Strong women and strong girls create a stronger community. The grants are game changers.”

An advisory board helps decide the recipients each year. The biggest grant ever was given in 2015 to celebrate the fund’s 10th anniversary — $25,000 to help seed the Women’s Resource Network. That major collaborative effort, which is a long-term project, has already brought together fire, police and sheriff’s departments and legal services to provide immediate help and protection for abused women.

Women’s Fund volunteers, including Clark and Heiny, pose together at last year’s event.

“There is such a need for collaboration, for using the human capital pipeline,” Heiny says.

The fund has been about bettering lives and building community alliances from the beginning. The first grant — for $1,000 — was given to Dunn Center in 2006 to provide outfits, makeup and hairstyling services for women who had recovered from incarceration and drug abuse “so (they) could feel good about themselves when they went out to interview for jobs,” Clark says.

The fund definitely builds connections, Harrick says: “They have definitely inspired a level of collaboration. They have raised the profile for women’s issues and they have really helped specific programs.”

A Women’s Fund grant helped send these six girls from Girls Inc. to Washington D.C. They are shown at the podium of the press room in the White House.

They have helped 110 programs to be exact.

Dozens of women have been sent to conferences and training sessions and also have been provided educational opportunities that might have been unattainable without financial help.

Girls Inc. has frequently received grants. “We want every girl to be empowered, to be the best they can be,” Clark explains.

Grants have also helped:

  • Provide translators for non-English speaking women who are giving birth and child-care services for mothers who are still attending high school
  • Fund sex education and efforts to battle teen pregnancy in schools across the county
  • Fund Challenge Day, which is designed to battle bullying, and also fund a program to teach marketing to single mothers

“Every woman should be empowered,” believes Clark.

“It’s our mission to help them however we can.”

Wayne Township Trustee Susan Isaacs says the Women’s Fund definitely empowers women. “It’s a group of caring, community-minded women who are totally dedicated to being very intentional about the grants they make,” Isaacs says about the board. “They have funded so many organizations over the years. It’s amazing.”

Susan Issacs models a scarf made by artist Carvin Rinehart, which was part of the 2015 art auction at the annual Women’s Fund event.

Those organizations encompass a wide array of ages and needs, ranging from Genesis and Cope Center to JACY House and from The Laundry Project and Diplomas Day Care to Wayne County Minority Health Care.

Isaacs is coordinating the evolving Women’s Network.

“It will be a giant umbrella organization under which all the issues, resources, interests, support, and opportunities that women need to thrive will be embraced and addressed,” Isaacs says. “This includes everything from working to improve our community wide response to women in crisis due to domestic violence to eventually having a physical site that produces an atmosphere of mutual support and intentional relationships that can help women develop support.”

The network ultimately aims to create transitional housing “for women and their children who are motivated to change their lives, but find that our community is not equipped to provide support for their efforts,” Isaacs says. “Lucky for us, our community has a very large number of really incredible women who really want to make these things happen.”

The art world has embraced the Women’s Fund. In fact, it’s become a major source of help and fund-raising.

Artists Ben Clark, Carvin Rinehart, Steve Sizelove and Terri Logan were honored in 2015 for donating works all 10 years for the Women’s Fund.

About 70 artists donated works to be auctioned off this year. They also compete in a judged show, with $500 going to Best of Show.

Color Your Way is the theme of this year’s Women’s Fund Luncheon and Art Auction.

Several artists created invitations that are designed to be colored in. “This year’s theme is Color Your Way,” Clark says. “Coloring books are big this year and will be part of the decorations.”

The event will be catered by Chef Jen Ferrell.

It’s a natural fit to combine the grants award ceremony with lunch and an arts competition, says Harrick: “The creativity that women have embraced is so inspiring.”

Clark is inspired by the acceptance and growth of the Women’s Fund. “To bring these groups together is amazing,” she says. “We see how many women have been helped. We’ve made a difference in many lives.”

You can make a donation to the Women’s Fund here.