Lesbians play big role in Women’s Foundation

Posted on 16 Sep 2010 at 6:01pm

Dallas organization dedicated to supporting, empowering makes diversity a cornerstone principle

Renee Baker  |  Contributing Writer renee@renee-baker.com

GIVING TO THE COMMUNITY | Members of the Dallas lesbian community who have been active in the Dallas Women’s Foundation include, back row from left, Wendy Lopez; Lesly Bosch Annen and Dena Bartnicki, and from from left, Pam Gerber, Connie Moore and Helen Chandler. (Courtesy Ruda Photography)

Wendy Lopez likes to say, “When you help a woman, you help a community.”

Lopez and her partner, Connie Moore, open up their hearts and their home to do just that — help women. They do that by supporting the Dallas Women’s Foundation, one of the largest women’s foundations in the country.

This year, the DWF celebrates its 25th year of service to North Texas women and girls, with a mission to educate on philanthropy and empower women, and with a belief that investing in women and girls is a key necessity to building community.

Lopez, a DWF Advisory Council member, and Moore have both been part of the philanthropic mission for five years, and they support the ongoing outreach to educate women on philanthropy. As women of means, the couple also opens their home to host the DWF Annual Luncheon.

Philanthropy has a long history of ties to education — to gather women together for each other, for their families and for social equality. In a spirit of benevolence, the DWF provides philanthropic education “to encourage women to discover the joy of purposeful giving.”

Lesly Bosch Annen, chief philanthropy and communications officer for DWF, says the education is “about setting up a giving plan and aligning one’s values with one’s giving, to be stronger in one’s philanthropy … and also to help you say no to giving outside of your focus.”

Sue Thieves Hesseltine, executive director for Our Friends Place, a DWF grantee, says that what the DWF gives is “far more than just the dollar.” She says the organization truly educates women and the community on how to give.

In teaching and helping women, the DWF changes women’s lives and hence their families — leading to a “ripple effect” throughout the community, she said.

Hesseltine also said that the benchmark research on the needs of women that DWF has done with their Out of the Shadows program has given the organization a basis to write proposals for grants.

According to Annen, the DWF provides research and subsequent reporting in the basic areas of economic security, health, safety, education and leadership.

The DWF opens the grant door up to all those supporting women. Annen said the organization has always been inclusive of ethnic, sexual and religious diversity. As such, DWF has a Lesbian Donors Circle, and the group is open to bisexual as well as transgender women.

Annen says, “Our position is, we are inclusive and we want to be a foundation for all women.”

Helen Chandler and Dena Bartnicki are partners and former DWF board members. Chandler held the grants chair and Bartnicki was the chair for governance.

Chandler said volunteering for the foundation was an “eye opening experience.” She and other volunteers were charged with visiting various agencies and organizations that applied for grants, to learn about their programs.

She said, “It was very important for us to really find out what was going on in the community so we could best serve those individuals in need.”

Chandler said that many foundations can’t incorporate the onsite investigation process, but DWF is able to with the help of a large volunteer research team which has between 20 and 40 members, depending upon the grant cycle.

The DWF has two grant cycles each year, in the spring and in the fall. The 2010 fall grant cycle is now closed and recipient announcements will be made in November. The 2011 spring grant cycle will begin in November of this year, and application information will be available at that time.

Of the granting process, Barntnicki said, “What we like [about DWF] is that they really run a very tight ship. They use board members and volunteers very well, so donations are not funding a huge organization.”

New researchers for the grant process are not just thrown into the fray, Bartnicki said, but are paired up with experienced researchers and go through extensive training. She said that the research team members are dedicated and some have as much as 20 years of experience under their belts.

Bartnicki attributed the dedication to a well-thought-out training program that gives women clear goals and expectations, so that they get a sense of meaning from their contributions.

Chandler mentioned a few of the LGBT-related programs they were proud to have funded take place at organizations, such as Youth First Texas, University of North Texas and the Out Takes Film Festival. Other LGBT organization recipients have included the Human Rights Campaign, Resource Center Dallas, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Since its founding in 1985, the DWF has invested more than $13 million in more than 950 organizations in North Texas, primarily Denton, Collin and Dallas counties. DWF’s current annual endowment is $2 million, and it is one of the largest endowments for women in the country, according to Bartnicki.

Pam Gerber, another former board member at DWF, agreed with Bartnicki on funding agencies such as Youth First Texas.

“I would have loved to have an LGBT program like that when I was a kid.” she said. “There should be one in every city.”

Gerber said the DWF is dedicated to the LGBT community. She said the DWF’s current president and organization cofounder, Becky Sykes, initially made serving the lesbian community a priority.

“She totally gets it,” Gerber said, “and when it comes to social justice, she does the right thing.”

Gerber agreed, too, with Chandler and Bartnicki that the organization is a tightly run ship. She said the organization makes educated decisions to make a bigger impact — every dollar is going to the right place.

On Oct. 29, the foundation will hold its 25th Anniversary Luncheon featuring keynote speaker Queen Latifah. Latifah, who is well known for her music and for inspiring women to empowerment and self-acceptance, will be speaking on how to help young women build a strong sense of self-esteem.

For more information about the DWF, the Annual Luncheon and how to get involved, go online to DallasWomensFoundation.org.

Renee Baker is a transgender consultant and massage therapist and may be found online at Renee-Baker.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

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