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Philanthropy comes full circle for Harford County women

Women's Giving Circle pools resources to aid county nonprofits

By Karen Nitkin, For The Baltimore Sun

8:29 PM EST, January 20, 2013

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In its second year awarding grants, the Women's Giving Circle of Harford County gave 11 nonprofit organizations nearly $36,000 in 2012 to help women and girls in the county.

Four thousand dollars went to the local Arc chapter to help single parents; $2,500 went to the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation for a program to help children of people with cancer.

Then there was $1,696 to the Highlands School, a private school in Bel Air for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities in kindergarten through the eighth grade. The money was the precise amount the school needed to buy 24 iPod Shuffles and a program, "Read Naturally," that gives students access to recorded reading material.

"That kind of pulls at your heart," said Jodi Davis, a founding member of the Women's Giving Circle and chairwoman of the grants committee. "It's something so simple, so small, but really needed."

Women's Giving Circles are fairly common in this region and nationally. Women join by contributing a certain amount of money, then they decide as a group which organizations to support. Typically, Giving Circles benefit organizations that help women and girls.

"We give to organizations that support women, women and children and women and families," said Jayne Klein, who was president for two years, until Terri Garland recently took the reins.

Klein previously served on the board of the Baltimore Women's Giving Circle and decided to bring the idea to Harford County.

"I loved the idea that you could give a certain amount of money and you could decide how to spend it," she said.

She and a friend, Marlene Lieb, were on the board of the Harford Community Foundation, and in 2010, they made a list of local philanthropic women and invited them to dinner. Within three months, guidelines were written and the group was off and running.

The Giving Circle is under the umbrella of the Community Foundation of Harford County, a collection of funding sources with a local focus.

Klein and Lieb "were interested in putting together something that would engage women in Harford County and benefit women in Harford County," said Tamara Zavislan, executive director of the community foundation. Zavislan is not a member of the Women's Giving Circle, but describes herself as a "technical assistance person."

As the group formed, it was decided that members would pay $550 a year in dues. Of that, $50 would fund administrative costs and 25 percent of the remaining $500 would go to an endowment fund. The rest would be disbursed as grants.

The 16 women who joined by the end of 2010 were founding members. The group set a goal of 50 members by June 30, 2011, and reached 53 that day. In fall 2011, the group awarded its first grants, giving 10 county organizations a total of $20,000.

By the end of last June, membership had swelled to 94 members, and the grants were awarded in November.

Deciding how to disburse the funds is not easy, and falls to a grants committee composed of "15 very dedicated women," Davis said. The first year, the group received 28 requests, and in 2012 it received 25. The group evaluates each application based on six criteria, she said.

Of 11 recipients for 2012, five received funding the previous year as well. One of those was the Highlands School, which in 2011 requested and received $1,500 for 15 AlphaSmart NEO Keyboards, rugged keyboards ideal for children learning how to type.

Davis said there's pleasure in knowing the Giving Circle's grants fill real needs. "I'm part of a group of like-minded women who have charitable hearts and want to help their own community," she said.

One thing Klein likes about the group, she said, is that it "introduces women to the concept of philanthropy" and shows the strength of collaboration.

With each woman making a small contribution, "in two years we put $55,000 in the community that wasn't there before," she said.

Recipients in 2012 were The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region, $4,000; Boys & Girls Clubs of Harford County, $4,000; CASA of Harford County, $4,000; SARC, $4,000; Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services, $3,850; Harford Community Action Agency, $3,500; Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, $3,000; Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, $2,500; Harford Family House, $2,500; Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation, $2,500; and the Highlands School, $1,696.

For more information about the Women's Giving Circle of Harford County, go to cfharfordcounty.org/womens-giving-circle