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Women's Endowment Fund celebrates 25 years

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Image of pin depicting woman holding city
Commemorative Leandra Drumm pin created to celebrate WEF's 25th anniversary.

An idea sparked in the early 1990s by six women ignited a 25-year legacy of uplifting local women and girls.

Through the years, founding mothers Jody Bacon, Marie Covington, Carrie Herman, Norma Rist, Ilene Shapiro and Laurie Zuckerman have seen the Women's Endowment Fund transform into a crucial community resource.

"We had a list of things that needed to be done for women in the community - a really, really long list," said Norma Rist, founding mother of the Women's Endow­ment Fund. "We need a foundation."

So, to harness the power of endow­ment, the founding mothers turned to Akron Community Foundation in 1993 with an establishing gift of $106,000, which they had raised by asking local women to give $1,000 each.

"It wasn't enough to have a good idea, we had to have money behind it," said Laurie Zuckerman, founding mother of the Women's Endowment Fund. "And how could we get all these needs filled without the money behind it?"

In 2012, the Women's Endowment Fund spearheaded an aggressive "For Women, Forever" campaign. Named after the fund's signature annual event, the campaign began with a goal of rais­ing $2.013 million for the health, safety and economic well-being of women and girls in Summit County. One year after the "For Women, Forever" campaign launched, the Women's Endowment Fund achieved its goal.

Since then, the Women's Endowment Fund has grown to $3.5 million and awarded $1.1 million in grants to sup­port its founding mission.

"It's like we blinked and it's 25 years later," said Carrie Herman, founding mother of the Women's Endowment Fund. "We've come so far from the $106,000 that we first raised."

To help define its grantmaking priorities, the Women's Endowment Fund also offers its resources to fund important studies on women and girls, and its biennial forums help uncover critical issues in the community.

"Without the Women's Endowment Fund, I could not do what it is we do," said Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, founder of Sisters United Now (S.U.N.). "Very early on, they saw the value and impor­tance of our project, and it is through their funding that our project has evolved to the stage it is now."

In 2018, the Women's Endowment Fund awarded grants totaling $183,000 to 23 Greater Akron nonprofit organiza­tions. Of this $183,000, impact grants totaling $50,000 were awarded to programs that help reduce Summit County's infant mortality rate by address­ing key issues identified during the fund's 2017 Forum on Women and Girls.

"Our vision is to be the lead advocate for women and girls in the community," said Kendra Williams, vice president of the Women's Endowment Fund. "The fund is also a way for women and girls to tell their stories - when we think about who we're supporting, we want to know those stories."

The Women's Endowment Fund aims to grow to $3.9 million by 2025 through its "For Women, Forever" event and other initiatives such as the "Who Is Your SHEro?" campaign, which raised $50,000 in 2017.

"I see the future, and what we are creating and enabling is really something positive," said Ilene Shapiro, founding mother of the Women's Endowment Fund. "This fund is essential to women and girls now and for years to come."

Watch videos featuring WEF's past, present and future on our Facebook page.

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