Liz Rehak Hodges, a staff member of Ready for Life, advocates for Girls Inc. of Pinellas, where her daughter attended summer camp, during the Aug. 27 meeting of 100 Women Who Care at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council’s office in Pinellas Park. Though it was her first meeting, Rehak Hodges successfully convinced members of the group to vote for Girls Inc., who will receive a donation of as much as $4,800 as a result.
PINELLAS PARK – The philanthropists behind 100 Women Who Care value the efficient allocation of their time and money as much as they care about their community.
Their quarterly meetings are no-nonsense proceedings, no more than an hour long, during which they quickly nominate three charities and decide which will earn the sum of their collective contributions. Each woman who participates commits to giving $100 per meeting.
The group hopes that their philanthropic clout will grow to $10,000 per meeting, four times a year – a more powerful punch than they could achieve individually.
“It’s a neat group. It’s simple. All the checks are written directly to the winning organization, so there’s no money funneled. So there’s no question,” explained Brenda George, one of the founders.
CASA, or Community Action Stops Abuse, was the group’s first beneficiary, with about 30 women donating at total of $3,000 during the first meeting in February. Last quarter, 35 women donated directly to Ready for Life, an organization that helps young adults aging out of the foster system successfully transition to independence.
For their third meeting on Aug. 27, the women met in Pinellas Park headquarters Ready for Life. In the half hour prior to their meeting, they toured its offices, poured themselves a glass of wine and walked next door to the board room for the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council board room, where the meeting began.
“It was just a sweet thing to be able to come here and meet some of the staff and see the facility for ourselves and learn more about it,” said co-founder Julie Webster as she welcomed the women in attendance and thanked Ready for Life for the room and refreshments. “It’s such a great organization and we really appreciate what they do.”
The idea for the organization was modeled after the original 100 Women Who Care, started in Jackson, Mich., in 2006 by Karen Dunigan.
“If we just give a little, which is our $100, together, as we grow we can make a bigger difference,” Webster explained. “We’re very excited about it. We’ve had a great response. We’re growing … We really want to get to that 100 mark. We can go past it if we want.”
Active members must commit to giving $100 a meeting. The commitment of a check earns the women the right to nominate a charity of their choice and vote on the final decision. Nominations are placed in a bucket and selected at random. The three women whose names are drawn have an opportunity to make a five-minute presentation, no longer, and answer questions about the charity of their choice.
For the August meeting, Carolyn Sinclair gave a presentation about St. Petersburg Free Clinic, where she volunteers every Tuesday. The clinic serves as a health center, temporary residence, a food bank and a shelter.
“We help all kinds of people with their medical needs, getting an ID, getting a birth certificate, dental,” Sinclair explained. “We help people in the transitional state as they’re moving into the work force.
“This is a really difficult time of the year for them,” she added. “We really need a lot of help.”
Liz Rehak Hodges, a staff member of Ready for Life, advocated for benefits of Girls Inc. of Pinellas, where her daughter attended summer camp. As a working mother, the organization was a godsend, she said, providing full-day camp, meals and field trips to NASA and the Museum of Science and Industry.
“The first thing that made me interested in it was there are no boys there and my daughter is 13,” she said, inciting an empathetic laugh from the group.
The organization also emphasizes girl empowerment in its educational programming.
Gail Miller explained how the Alpha House of Pinellas County offers a home for pregnant
women with no other resources.
“Since its inception, Alpha has served countless mothers and children as young as 13 and as old as 41,” Miller said, though she later clarified that the nonprofit has historically offered services to 3,000 women.
Members made sure the charities were 501(3)c nonprofit organizations, asked about their base of employees and clarified where they provided services. They vetted out each organization’s purpose and tried to determine how effective it was in reaching the community.
But in the end they relied on their peers to advocate for the groups that were closest to their hearts.
As the votes were counted, Ready for Life volunteer Michelle Waleg oversaw the spread of cheese and fruit she prepared for the group in the back of the room. She said she saw firsthand how much of a difference Ready for Life and volunteer mentors like herself could make in the lives of youth, but she was taken aback by the presentations she had just heard.
“There’s so much need. Every one of these groups is worth it and really doing a great job helping a lot of people,” she said.
The final vote was closer than ever, George said, but Girls Inc. was declared the winner. The group applauded Rehak Hodges for the win in her very first meeting and commended her for an excellent presentation.
A week later, Webster said she was still collecting checks from the group, but thought they might gather as much as $4,800 this quarter.
“It’s a powerful way to pool our resources,” said member Lil Cromer. “One hour: in and out. It’s a wonderful process.”
The next meeting will be held in November, likely at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council again, at 4000 Gateway Centre Blvd., Suite 100, in Pinellas Park. For more information about the organization and how to get involved, call Brenda George at 515-1868 or Julie Webster at 374-4854.