‘Small but mighty’ Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle doles out over $24,000 in grants

School Sisters of Notre Dame Sister John Kearny helps a young woman from Sudan with English lessons. Clients of Asylee Women Enterprise are fearful of having their photo published.
School Sisters of Notre Dame Sister John Kearny helps a young woman from Sudan with English lessons. Clients of Asylee Women Enterprise are fearful of having their photo published. (submitted photo)

The Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle, now celebrating a decade since it was established, disbursed $24,108 in charitable grants to 21 local organizations in the greater Catonsville area during its grant cycle this year.

Funded through $250 membership dues, 89 donors helped pay for projects from nonprofits supporting mental health care, arts development, feeding and clothing impoverished families, providing assistance to a refugee family in Catonsville and the protection of green space.


“We try to fund things that run the gamut,” co-convener Rebecca Barshick said. “We try to look at the ask and make sure we are meeting the [diverse] needs of the community.”

On Saturday, Feb. 15, the giving circle will have its first fundraising event hosted by Catonsville artist Jane Byers, who will sell original artwork, notecards and art books, with proceeds going toward the group’s next grant cycle.

Among the recipients chosen during the circle’s meeting last week were Catonsville Emergency Assistance, the Children’s Home and Asylee Women Enterprise.

Applicants are vetted by the circle’s grants committee, which performs site visits before the group decides which organizations to fund. Those that are selected must have specific projects they are seeking to fund, Barshick said.

Asylee Women Enterprise was one of the returning nonprofits that applied for the mini-grant, Barshick said.

The Baltimore-based nonprofit, established in 2011, serves asylum seekers and forced migrants in the Baltimore area, offering “wraparound services” to those starting an often lengthy and sometimes traumatic immigration legal process, said executive director Tiffany Nelms.

Those services include medical care, temporary housing or rental assistance, assistance in getting work permits and help in connecting with immigration attorneys, Nelms said.

Because asylum seekers cannot work in the early stages of their legal case, which usually drags on for a year if not more, and because those individuals aren’t eligible for public assistance, “that leaves people in dire situations financially,” Nelms said.

The giving circle’s $925 grant will help support a refugee residing in Catonsville by funding some of those services, Nelms said.

Asylee last year served a record number of 218 women, 181 children and 39 men seeking asylum, Nelms said.

"Grants are really helpful to us to continue to meet the needs that just keeps growing every year,” she said.

Giving as a group “is really a kind of collective power,” and “has such a greater impact than us individually giving” to nonprofits, Barshick said. “We’re small, but mighty.”

The Catonsville Emergency Assistance plans to use its awarded $3,000 to buy frozen meats for eligible families from the Maryland Food Bank.

“Depending on what’s available, that’s what we purchase,” ranging from beef to poultry to pork typically at 19 cents per pound, CEA Executive Director Bonnie Harry said.


“There aren’t many food pantries that have the resources we do” to hold and distribute frozen food along with canned goods, cereal, fruits and vegetables, Harry said.

The nonprofit on Bloomsbury Avenue feeds approximately 150 families each month and around 400 individuals within those families, Harry estimates.

“We [want] to try to do what we can for food insecurity in our community,” Harry said. “Being fully funded is certainly very vital to our mission.”

Dianne Burch, communications co-chair, has been involved with Catonsville Women’s Giving Circle since its inception in late 2010.

The group did not hand out its first round of donations until 2011, she noted.

“I felt that this was such a good thing, that I could take that amount of money and see it going to a lot of organizations that I believe in,” Burch said. “This was a way to pool the money and see it going to some specific needs in the community.”

The Children’s Home will put its $925 from the giving circle toward its horse riding arena on the nonprofit’s campus on Bloomsbury Avenue, said Bruce VanDervort, Children’s Home grant writer and publicist.

The residential care facility runs an equestrian program for approximately 45 youths ages 13 to 21 every Thursday in partnership with the horseback riding nonprofit The City Ranch in Windsor Mill, VanDervort said.

City Ranch brings in four or five horses each week “and gives riding lessons and horse care lessons for the kids and they love it,” he said.

The Children’s Home will improve the arena with better fencing and ground cover, like sawdust, “so it’s easy to walk on and doesn’t get muddy in the rain,” he said.

The Children’s Home tries to take advantage of the giving circle’s grant cycle each year, VanDervort said. Last year, the home used grant funding to build a garden house, and uses the vegetables grown there during the summer for meals in the kitchen.

The giving circle has set out a goal of reaching 100 members this year, and is exploring options for how it wants to celebrate a decade since its formation, Burch said. The most giving circle members numbered 114 women in 2018, but the numbers tend to fluctuate slightly; in total, 265 women have donated to nonprofits over the last 10 years, Burch said.

The group is both a chance for members to socialize with each other and contribute to a larger cause, Burch said.

“What we hope is that people don’t [just] see us as a tax benefit,” Burch said. “Primarily, what I like about it is we focus on organizations that are going to really do good in the greater area.”

Those who are interested in joining can go to the giving circle’s website.