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WEF co-chairs kick off campaign to raise $2.013 million by 2013

Karen Lefton

Before the Women's Endowment Fund could embark on a $2.013 million endowment campaign for its 20th anniversary, it needed a champion: someone who could get people excited about helping women and girls forever. 

It didn't take long before two incredible women stepped forward. Board members Karen Lefton and Dianne Newman volunteered to co-chair the "For Women, Forever" campaign, and it sprung to life.

"I knew the need was there, and I knew we could do it," Dianne said. "I felt like it was going to have an amazing impact."

As an attorney, Dianne has spent her career supporting the growth, independence and health of local women. She is a past recipient of the Women's History Project Woman of the Year Award, as well as an award from the Ohio Legal Aid Association for her advocacy for children. 

As a lifelong promoter of women and girls, Dianne was outraged when the YWCA closed its doors in 2005. 

"It just seemed so wrong that the YWCA and its wonderful programs didn't flourish in this community," she said. "Nobody was focusing on women and girls."

Soon after, Dianne found the Women's Endowment Fund. She was particularly excited about the fund's goal of helping women become financially empowered because she had seen so many women struggling to support their families.

"Educating women about financial literacy is the key to everything else," she said. "When a woman knows how to use her money, she can plan for the future."

Dianne sees this campaign as a way to make sure future generations of women can stand on their own two feet. "It's absolutely vital that we grow our fund and address these needs," she said. "It's the difference between giving a person a fish and teaching them to fish."

Permanency is one of the biggest advantages of giving to an endowment fund, Karen said. "This type of fund is so important because we are leaving money for generations to come," she explained. "We're not feeding a family or educating a woman just for today. We are educating, feeding and keeping people safe forever."

Karen, a partner at Brouse McDowell, said she is especially interested in protecting children from domestic violence. 

"This campaign is an opportunity to make a difference for girls who are growing up in a home with violence – for young women who don't know how to provide a safe place for their children," she said. "This is an opportunity to change lives. And I believe if we can change one generation, then we're breaking the cycle forever."

Both Karen and Dianne expressed their gratitude toward community members who have contributed to the campaign in its early stages, including each of the fund's board members, as well as supporters like Roger and Judy Read.

"Without the encouragement of the Reads and their ongoing involvement in the campaign, we wouldn't be where we are today," Dianne said. "Their gift really set the tone for the campaign, and we are so grateful for their leadership."

Karen said she has been humbled by people's generosity. "We know there are enormous needs, but we also have people with enormous hearts," she said. 

Both Karen and Dianne have made their own leadership gifts to the campaign. In December, Karen and her husband, Douglas, started a designated fund called the Karen C. Lefton Endowment Fund for Survivors of Domestic Violence of the Women's Endowment Fund.

This designated fund at Akron Community Foundation will provide a permanent stream of income for the Women's Endowment Fund and increase the fund's grants to programs that change the lives of women and girls affected by domestic violence. 

"This was a great opportunity for me to earmark money for a cause that is very close to my heart – a cause I truly believe in," Karen said. "Every child should be able to grow up without worrying about violence in the home."

Karen's fund, combined with the gifts of other campaign donors, will benefit women and girls forever. 

"I hope in 20 or 40 or 60 years – long after we're gone from the world – that children are able to live in peace, and women are able to raise their children in peace, because of the programs the Women's Endowment Fund is supporting," she said. "In large measure, women are the backbone of our families. To be able to raise your children in a safe environment, free from violence and physical want, is the starting point for raising a healthy next generation."

"Giving to the Women's Endowment Fund is like planting seeds," Dianne concluded. "And from those seeds will grow beautiful flowers that will come back year after year."

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