Women's and Girls' Fund Leads, Many Follow, and Hundreds of Lives are Changed

We will transform the lives of women and girls in Kern County by mobilizing the power and passion of women working together. – Mission, The Women’s and Girls’ Fund  (Pictured: Vision Committee)

Each day thousands of women and girls across Kern County are hard at work giving time, talent and treasure in support of charitable causes they care about. Since 2004, more than 400 hundred of them have embraced the bold mission of a one-of-a-kind leadership initiative of Kern Community Foundation in an effort to improve the lives of women and girls in our community.

"Women's philanthropy is a growing phenomenon across the country and here in Kern County," says Judi McCarthy, immediate past Chair of Kern Community Foundation and Founding Chair of its leadership initiative, The Women's & Girls' Fund. "The Women’s & Girls’ Fund addresses the needs of our community's women and girls."

The Women’s and Girls’ Fund is a natural extension of Kern Community Foundation’s mission, as this all-volunteer Fund has grown its endowment to a half-million dollars for distribution to programs that empower women and girls to break unproductive cycles and improve the quality of life for themselves and their families.

Mary Bynum, a donor and leader involved with the Fund since 2005, says continual education is a major goal. "We raise money for the endowment so we can provide grants to programs that reach the root of problems, not programs that serve as band-aids. We are comprehensive in our approach…we want to reach all women and girls so that they can in turn become philanthropists in their communities, giving money or time and talents."

Cathy Perfect, a founding member from the Kern River Valley, says the message of the Women’s and Girls’ Fund has really gotten through in her community – evident in the kinds of programs and projects that seek support from the Fund. She and her daughter are two of the original Founders, and both have served on the grants review committee for three years. "We spend a lot of time delving into each grant application to ensure the proposed program will be beneficial and replicable, so that it can be shared with other like organizations," she says. "I really enjoy the mix of people…we work very hard at finding consensus in funding programs. And I enjoy communicating the sincerity of the Fund’s mission to serve all of Kern County," Perfect adds.

While similar funds in other cities employ staff to help in the operations of their Women’s and Girls’ Fund, the Fund serving Kern County is an all-volunteer effort, with the support of Kern Community Foundation. "We value social change grant-making that focuses on long-term solutions to societal problems facing women and girls in all parts of Kern County," McCarthy notes. "We believe that when women and girls prosper, communities thrive." To date, $63,000 has been awarded, with up to an additional $20,000 being awarded in 2011. "Our focus this year is Education and Training."

As an example, in 2009 the Fund awarded a $4,000 grant to Foothill High School/Kern High School District Foundation for its GOAL/MODEL program (Girls Overcoming Any Limitation/Mentors Opening Doors & Encouraging Leadership). This program was designed to mentor 25 female students to ensure they successfully complete their A-G requirements and are prepared to meet University of California admission requirements.

"This successful program can be replicated at any other high school in the community," says McCarthy, "making it an investment in not just the initial 25 young women, but students from all over Kern County."

The grant process is a tedious one, in that it begins with a comprehensive review of Kern County community needs. Each of the 258 Founders and Advocates participate in an annual issues ballot, voting for the area of need or area of focus in the coming cycle based on the research. Once the focus is announced, organizations are encouraged to submit a letter of intent for participation. After a review of the letters, up to ten invitations are sent to those organizations who best qualify for the grants. McCarthy then holds a grant writing tutorial for applicants to ensure they understand the process and clarify any questions they may have. Once submitted, the grants committee reviews each application and interviews are conducted, often times demonstrating the passion a project may exude that cannot be communicated on paper.

Unique to this organization, the grants committee includes two local high school girls who are chosen to participate in the grant review, interview and awarding of grants process, with the goal being to teach these girls through the process that philanthropy can be giving money and/or giving time.

Typically two or three programs are funded, with half of the money being distributed upfront. An interim report is submitted by the grantees half-way through the year so that the Women’s and Girls’ Fund members can review the progress of the project, and help if help is needed to ensure the success of the funded program. Communication is important throughout the process, with a final report being submitted at the conclusion of the year.

"We feel a huge part of the process is our final report back to the Foundation and our Founders…they need to know where the success has been, and where we can continue to grow," McCarthy notes. "The donors have a lot of trust in our work…there is a lot of credibility there. I think donors appreciate the honest candor we provide in effort to continually reach for improvement."

Laurie Bustamante is a founding member and current Chair of the Vision Committee, which leads efforts to ensure continual growth and response to the needs in our community. "This is how I grew up – watching my mother give her time to church and school activities. Getting involved, at any level, by donating time or money is a great way to give back."

Bustamante emphasizes the key to selecting fund recipients is to select programs that go beyond provision of a direct, one-time service. Instead, the goal is to support programs that can be turned into something more.

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