Women’s Fund making a difference for nonprofits

In 2011, Susan Purnell conceived of a philanthropic idea to amplify the lives of local women and girls by starting a fund and asking each member to donate $1,000.

Interest in The Women’s Fund grew so quickly that in seven years, $165,000 has been donated.

“A lot of women decided, when we put our minds and hearts together, we can be a lot more successful in helping our community as a group than as individual so we set up a specific fund with the Community Foundation with hopes of providing for any local nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of our local women or girls,” Purnell said.

Every year, applications are made for funding and it’s given in the spring. This year, in June, about $30,000 will be disbursed.

The Women’s Fund has helped organizations such as the Art League of Ocean City, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Shore, Delmarva Discovery Center, Diakonia, Easter Seals and Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay.

“When people put their hearts and minds together than they can really help. I think there is an amazing amount of need and there are an incredible number of people who want to help,” Purnell said.

Now with 237 members, The Women’s Fund serves Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties. Gayle Widdowson is chairwoman and Purnell and vice-chairwoman.

When someone joins – and new members are welcome – she can pay $1,000 or $200 for five years. Members gather for events where, Purnell said, “we celebrate giving and we celebrate each other.”

“We make good contacts with one another. I met some really wonderful people I didn’t know. I’ve met a lot of great people through this, all with shared interests. We network. We meet socially and we also meet and make site visits to various groups asking for our help. We will have an annual meeting this June where we will give out several thousand dollars’ worth of different grants,” she said.

To join, call The Community Foundation at 410-742-9911.

Purnell hopes the organization grows to a total of $1 million being given by members each year so substantial grants can be awarded.

Those in need who can’t wait until spring disbursements receive help through the emergency fund.

The Women’s Fund aids Village of Hope’s Steps to Success for Traditional Living program, the Innovation Academy at SU and the Adult Depression program at MAC. It assists the six-week STEM program for the underserved in Crisfield and, also in Somerset County, victims of domestic violence.

The focus is “on the unmet needs of women or girls” in the three Lower Shore counties, Purnell said. Each eligible organization can receive up to $5,000.

“The Women’s Fund allows women who are committed to the betterment of our local community to come together and make a lasting impact,” Erica Joseph, president of the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, stated in a news release.

“Through this sort of collective charitable giving, we can teach future generations the importance of improving the lives of others and instill a tradition of philanthropy,” she stated.

The Community Foundation, with the mission of “connecting people who care to causes that matter for the common good of the Lower Eastern Shore,” has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the local community since 1984.

“As a woman, I think there are so many needs that women have. Oftentimes it’s the woman and her children who are left and the man goes out and has a job. Or, the woman’s life is interrupted because she is child rearing,” Purnell said.

“Women don’t have the same opportunities as men. Or, they haven’t traditionally.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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