Celebration of 35 
Reflecting on a Milestone

April 28, 2021

 

On the same history making night we celebrated two women sharing the dais for the first time while the President addressed a joint session of Congress, we also celebrated our 35th year. 

It was a moment to reflect and honor the bold women who created this valuable community asset and it provided a chance to reflect on the journey.  

Starla Thompson, WF Board Director kicked off the evening with an English and a traditional introduction with an acknowledgement of land.  Thompson is a member of the Otter Clan of the Santa Ynez Chumash & Potawatomi Nations.

Next Mayor Tom Barrett reflected on how when the WF was started in 1986 there were zero women on the Common Council and now 1/3 of the Common Council is women. “What the WF was established to do, is as important if not more important now more than it has ever been,” he said. Barrett recognized that the WF is a leading agency seeking to create an inclusive, world class city where everyone thrives. “I have the honor of designating today as Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee Day across Milwaukee.” 

Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, also commented that the common council is represented by the largest number of women today than ever before in history, he congratulated the WF on 35 years and read a Resolution commemorating the day. 

Doris Heiser, Founding Mother recounted how she was at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation in 1984 when she began researching other Women’s Funds. She recalls gathering women leaders and philanthropists in Milwaukee and every person in the room unanimously and enthusiastically decided we needed a Women’s Fund in our community. What followed was determining the goals of the WF and raising funding which launched, One woman, $1,000. Some woman paid their $1,000 pledge right away, others over 20 years, and for many this was their first gift of philanthropy which began a culture of philanthropy.  “I never lost the enthusiasm for the need for the WF. I saw the tremendous need so strongly and that need is just as strong today,” Heiser said.

Felisa Parris, WF Board Director, spoke about her excitement for the WF, followed by Erika Sander, Chair of the WF who shared that in 35 years, $3.5M has been granted by the WF to 150 agencies, who focus on systemic issues for the betterment of the lives of women and girls in our community.

Sandy Cunningham, Chair of the HER Scholarship Committee explained how the HER Scholarship helps non-traditional woman scholars gain economic self-sufficiency through higher education. $430,000 has been distributed to 120 scholars through the year.

Attendees were inspired and moved when Deborah Evans Washington, a HER Scholarship recipient recalled her experience of struggling to obtain her degree. “While at Mount Mary I saw the application for the HER Scholarship. That scholarship opened the door to the rest of my life. I received a boost of confidence! I did not feel I deserved it even though the scholarship committee told me I deserved it. I received my Bachelors in 2005 and Masters in 2008. My pursuit of education helped my children tremendously. It gave me confident to get involved in my community and church. Education opened doors only education can open. You may not know what you are giving but if you are on the other side as a recipient, it is invaluable. I thank everyone who has ever donated to help any woman or girl.”

Erika Petty, Executive Director of Lotus Legal Fund, a WF grant partner shared how funding from the WF allows Lotus to look at barriers to women achieving employment and education and work to elevate those barriers and help women be who they want to be in life. Survivor empowerment is the core of what makes Lotus unique. “We greatly appreciate all the support the WF has given us through the years,” Petty said.

Jeanne Geraci, Executive Director of the Benedict Center and also a WF grant partner expressed gratitude “for the WF who “provided early and multi-year funding for our long-term systems change work and both of those are critical and rare from funders to do early and long term.”

Marilka Velez, WF Board Chair shared her goals as board chair…continue to grow and build the WF Endowment, increase visibility in the broader Milwaukee community, and engage, and re-engage with supporters. “I want to invite all of you to take part in our 35/35/35 campaign. Our goal is to reach 35 gifts in our 35th year.”

Before the evening concluded, guests had the opportunity to have conversations in virtual break out rooms and then collectively as a group to share memories, impressions, and congratulations. It was evident much has changed since we first launched and this arc of history provides a basis for informing how far we have come. 

We feel hopeful about our future because we see persistence makes our voices heard…influencing attitudes, changing behavior and shifting culture. 

We all have a role to play.  We must each pledge (or commit) to do better. We must reimage the social constructs of gender and race. We must challenge the traditions, hold each other accountable and lift others, even when they are not in the room.  We must believe that everyone is valuable, no matter their gender, race or social economic position.

Starla Thompson, WF Board Director

Mayor Tom Barrett

Doris Heiser, Founding Mother

Deborah Evans Washington, HER Scholarship recipient

Marilka Velez, WF Board Chair

Monica shah-davidson, Chair, Annual WF Presents Event Committee