Published November 14, 2019
By Erica Moser,

New London — Dozens of women — and some men — gathered in the Red Barn at Mitchell College on Thursday evening to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Southeast Women & Girls Fund.

In marking that milestone, founding members also asked for continued support as they seek to expand the fund's philanthropy and do more legislative advocacy in the decades ahead.

This fund is one of four Women & Girls Funds that are part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, along with the Windham, Norwich and Northeast area funds. The Southeast fund has awarded $1,424,938 in grants to 283 programs and has a $3.6 million permanent endowment.

Maura Casey recalled that when she was associate editorial page editor at The Day 20 years ago, she was "so grateful" to get a phone call asking her to be part of the founding.

"One of the most beautiful questions you can ask, I think, is, 'How can I help?', and I think the Women and Girls Fund has been asking that question, and listening carefully, for 20 years," she said.

Casey noted that from the beginning, the fund didn't rely on big donors: Becoming a founding member involved giving $1,000 over the course of five years. The fund had 200 women as its founding members.

Only 7 percent of charitable giving in the United States is targeted toward women, and the overwhelming amount of that is for women's health and reproductive needs, Casey said.

While that is important, she said, "we are more than the sum of our ovaries," and the fund has helped women who need money for scholarships, mothers who need help for after-school care, and aging women who need support.

One of the programs that has received money from the fund is Writer's Block Ink, a New London nonprofit with the mission to "arm young voices with the power of pen and prose."

Felicia Hurley and Juanita Wilbur gave a spoken word performance about "Black Girl Magic," speaking about the beautiful "symptoms" of it along with the struggles of loving without getting loved in return and being sexualized too young.

In a video, founding member Rosetta Jones said that she's "encountered many girls and women whose dreams were broken by drugs, abuse and exploitation by others," but the fund helps transform women "from victims to victors."

Founding member and Community Foundation Trustee Peg O'Shea talked about how the Women & Girls Fund Task Force on Public Policy formed last year and helped the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund get the paid family and medical leave bill passed.

O'Shea told The Day she doesn't know what the task force's priorities will be the next legislative session, but it's doing listening conversations around the state and to underserved women, such as young women who are trying to find the resources to go to college and young mothers.

O'Shea also announced that the fund has raised two-thirds of the $215,000 necessary for a matching grant that two founding members have pledged.

She and Valeria Grimm, co-chair of the Southeast Women & Girls Fund with Ruth Crocker, encouraged attendees to read the Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Eastern Connecticut, which the Community Foundation released in early 2018.

"While it reveals some progress for women in this area," Grimm said, "it also showed huge gaps in pay equity, in child care and all sorts of things we didn't know existed, so that is our call to action."