Kimberly Warren believes women are collaborators at heart. As 2013 co-chairs of The Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle (BWGC), she and Gail Shawe have seen this firsthand. Founded by Shelley Goldseker and Pam Corckran in 2001, BWGC started with funding from the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) and 52 women.
The Giving Circle remains a fund of the BCF, but today, said former steering committee member Elaine Freeman, “the group has more than 400 members who pay $1,000 a year into a grant pool. Then, they spend months considering how best to spend the money to improve the lives of less fortunate women in Baltimore City and County.”
This year, Freeman said, $410,000 went to 23 local nonprofits, bringing the total given by the Circle since its founding to $3.1 million to 134 organizations.
“Most of the Circle’s work is done in committees,” said Shawe. “A real plus is that women meet others from different parts of the city whom they might not have met otherwise.”
Giving Circle members also learn a great deal about Baltimore City and County, both areas served by BWGC grants. As part of the grant-making process, committee members make site visits to various nonprofit organizations to see them in action.
“It is eye opening to see the need [for funding], but also to see how much the people who work in these nonprofits — the people in the trenches — are doing to better the lives of others,” Shawe said.
Warren said the benefits of being involved in BWGC are broad.
“Everyone [in the Circle] starts out on an equal playing field. If you want to be part of the grant committee, you can do that. If you want to be on the education committee, you can do that, or you can just give us your money to invest. We had over 100 grant-readers out of 417 members this year. That’s great participation,” said Warren.
Shawe noted that membership in BWGC offers opportunities for problem solving, friendship and collegiality with women who share similar goals and values. Although Shawe and Warren are passionate about many of the programs the Circle funds, both are enamored with a program called the Culinary Arts Training Program, which operates under the auspices of Baltimore Outreach Services.
“Connie Crabtree, [a world-class chef and caterer], trains unemployed or underemployed women to become chefs. When we have our education committee lunches, they prepare the food,” explained Shawe.
Another stand-out program for Warren is the Incentive Mentoring Program, which is based on a family model.
“High school students in the worst situations are surrounded with seven or eight people — Johns Hopkins graduate and medical students. In the process of working together, they create a community both for the high school kids and the students,” she said.
This year, said Warren, BWGC also funded a program for people on food stamps that enabled them to shop at farmers’ markets where they can purchase healthy foods.
“We try to step outside the box when we look at programs that have promise,” she said.
To learn more, visit the bwgc.org.
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter firstname.lastname@example.org