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Women's Endowment Fund founders
The founding mothers of the Women's Endowment Fund. From left: Carrie Herman, Norma Rist, Laurie Zuckerman, Marie Covington, Jody Bacon and Ilene Shapiro.

One Sunday morning in the summer of 1986, fellow business owners and Women's Network members Marie Covington and Norma Rist were sitting on Marie's back porch.

They were discussing the needs of women and girls in Greater Akron, which were too many to count and had very little funding to support them.

"You know what we need?" Marie asked. "A women's foundation."

They soon began brainstorming with other like-minded women, including Ilene Shapiro, Carrie Herman, Laurie Zuckerman and former Akron Community Foundation President Jody Bacon.

Rather than create their own private foundation, Jody encouraged the women to partner with Akron Community Foundation to harness the power of endowment while avoiding the costs and burden of administration.

"It was a blessing from heaven," Marie said. From that seed, the Women's Endowment Fund grew.

Beginning in 1993, the Women's Endowment Fund was established with support from 100 women and one committed father (100 women donated a total of $100,000, and Charlie Booth gave $6,000 in honor of his wife and five daughters). It was a major accomplishment, particularly in the early 1990s, but it was also proof that the fund's mission of encouraging philanthropy among local women and girls was necessary and attainable.

"We think so often of philanthropists as people who give millions, but through the Women's Endowment Fund, we all can be philanthropists," Marie said.

Since then, the fund has impacted the lives of thousands of women and girls in Summit County through its annual grants to programs that improve their health, safety and economic security.

Its innovation and success have led the Women's Endowment Fund to serve as a model for many other women's funds in Ohio, including the Medina County Women's Endowment Fund and the Women's Fund of the Richland County Foundation in Mansfield.

"The fund is an investment in the present, but also in the future," Marie said. "We are so fortunate, and it really is incumbent upon us to share that."

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