The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee awards its first grants

 “The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee was born from the passion of East Tennessee Foundation board member Carol Transou,” reads an excerpt from the program at this year’s The East Tennessee Foundation’s Women’s Fund luncheon.  “Her vision and persistence to create a fund dedicated to the needs of women and girls from East Tennessee has been infectious…”


 Transou first introduced the idea of a women’s fund to the board of the East Tennessee Foundation about three years ago.  At that time, she asked if anyone was interested in working with her on developing and creating The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee which would serve as a catalyst to transform the lives of low-income women and girls in East Tennessee.  Four women, fellow East Tennessee Foundation members, stepped forward and the process began.


 Research into women philanthropy, women’s funds in general, and visits to communities with existing women’s funds followed.  As their informational base grew, so did their determination to create a fund that would help low-income women and girls confront some of the issues they faced. 


 Their studies found that only seven percent of philanthropic grant making was distributed to organizations that addressed women and girls’ issues, Transou explained.  “The dollar that goes into women’s philanthropy, out of all philanthropy, is only about nine percent,” she continued.


Researchers from University of Tennessee, Knoxville and East Tennessee State University, spent more than a year identifying barriers to self-sufficiency for women and girls in East Tennessee.  That research identified the following areas of need:  Education and Work Related Skills, Life Skills, Domestic Violence, Physical or Mental Illness, and Transportation.


 “I was the initiator, but I very quickly found companions who were eager to do this and they were women with terrific skills.  They have leadership skills.  They know people.  They are smart and well educated.  They’re not afraid to ask,” said Transou.


 And, ask they did.  First, they contacted a number of women throughout the 25 counties The Women’s Fund would serve and asked if they could become founders of the fledging organization with a minimum $10,000 donation.  Many answered the challenge. Several others made contributions of $20, $100, $1,000, or whatever they could afford.


 Transou, a former teacher and community activist, remembers a time when the group’s ambitions were to raise $300,000.  It was quite a relief when she got the note saying that goal had been met, but the group kept on raising funds.   They made a banner which read, “We Thought We Could and We Did,” when they had raised one million dollars.  When they reached the two-million-dollar mark, they awarded their first grants.


 In mid-April at a sold-out lunch event in Knoxville, with more than 300 in attendance, the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee awarded two grants totaling $75,000 to organizations which help women focus on Education and Work Related Skills and/or Life Skills.  Mary Ellen Brewington, chair of the Women’s Fund Advisory Board, said how excited everyone was to start putting their mission into direct action in East Tennessee with the announcement.


 The programs receiving grants exemplify the impact we intend to make on an ongoing basis, Brewington pointed out.  Receiving a grant of $15,000 was the Sisters of the Rainbow program which acts as an intensive outpatient alcohol and co-occurring treatment program for adult women, operated by the Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville.


 The second recipient, the New Opportunity School for Women, serves Appalachian women through programs in Berea, Kentucky, Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia, and Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina.  The $60,000 grant from the Women’s Fund will be used to support the costs of establishing an East Tennessee program at Maryville College. 


 As The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee moves forward to meet its goal of a $10 million endowment, Transou points to its belief that “when you invest in a woman, you invest in a family, a community, and ultimately a region.  By helping women and girls, we create healthier communities for all of us.” 

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