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‘A Pivotal Moment’


Rites of Passage & Empowerment (ROPE) recently announced its official transition to independent 501(c)(3) status. The Pittsfield-based program, founded in 2010 by Shirley Edgerton, a longtime educator, community activist, and mentor in Pittsfield, has been a fiscally sponsored project of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts since its inception.

ROPE is a proven mentoring program for young women of color and young people identifying as female or non-binary. The mission of ROPE is to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescents into adulthood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent, and responsible people.

“This designation marks a pivotal moment for ROPE,” Edgerton said. “We are deeply grateful for the continuous and unwavering support of the Women’s Fund through the years. As we look ahead, we are excited to embark on this new chapter and continue our ongoing work with our scholars and ambassadors.”

Donna Haghighat, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, added that “it has been our honor to fiscally support ROPE and Shirley Edgerton’s vision. Too few philanthropic institutions believe in the power and possibility of the solutions that women of color create to address systemic barriers. The future is fierce thanks to ROPE’s nurturing of amazing young women and thanks to Shirley’s vision for ROPE itself.”

This new designation comes in the wake of other major news for the organization, which supports young people on their journey to a college education. This past April, ROPE was awarded a significant grant by the city of Pittsfield through its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Awards.

“This grant comes at an essential time,” Edgerton said. “Now that we are an independent organization, this multi-year funding will allow us to build into the future with a solid and secure foundation.”

In addition to the weekly mentoring, monthly workshops, and local trips through the Berkshires, two key elements of the ROPE program are college tours and biannual service-learning trips to Africa.

“These opportunities provide our scholars with deep transformational experiences,” said Jean Clarke-Mitchell, a mentor with the program. “It is gratifying to see their growth and confidence bloom with each new opportunity.”

In July, ROPE scholars and ambassadors traveled to Accra, Ghana, where they engaged with young Ghanaians, learned about the customs and culture, and visited historic sites, including W.E.B. Du Bois’ former home, which is now a museum.

Edgerton explained that, while the grant allows for a variety of initiatives, funding guidelines do not include international travel, so the organization engaged in fundraising to ensure the mentees had access to this experience. She then noted the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

“We depend on the ongoing partnership with community members who recognize and embrace their role as a part of ROPE scholars’ village. We are proud to know so many of our ROPE alumni return to the area to mentor the young people coming up behind them, to work in local organizations and government, and to otherwise give back to the community they come from,” she said. “Investing in these young people is truly an investment in the future of our community as a whole, and that is priceless.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) has invited Nancy Folbre, a scholar and expert on economics and the family, to a community discussion on gender, caregiving, and unpaid labor on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at noon.

WFWM CEO Donna Haghighat will facilitate the conversation to center the impact of caregiving on women’s careers and their livelihoods and the physical, psychological, social, financial, and emotional burdens associated with this form of unpaid labor.

Women tend to be the first people called upon to care for sick and elderly loved ones, in addition to being the primary child-rearing parent. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, an estimated 66% of caregivers are female. The Family Caregiving Alliance posits that “the value of the informal care that women provide ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion annually.” While meeting the needs of ailing family members and juggling work and family obligations, women tend to neglect their health and well-being.

This discussion will include a holistic view of the impact of unpaid care on women’s lives. For access to this virtual community event, visit www.mywomensfund.org/wait-what-dec21. To learn more about Folbre, visit her blog, Care Talk, at blogs.umass.edu/folbre.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) announced $135,000 in grant awards to organizations working with women and girls that address safety and anti-violence; gender-based sexual violence; parity in leadership, representation, and power; and economic security.

Reinforcing a commitment to racial equity, WFWM prioritized awarding grants to organizations fronted by women and black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) leaders. These grants will support efforts across Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties and work with a broad range of entities, including small startups, grassroots organizations, and well-established nonprofits.

Individual committees formed to review more than 70 applications and recommend a slate of grant awardees through participatory grantmaking — a process that puts the power into the hands of those most impacted by funding decisions — in which girls, women, people of color, and survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse were at the table. Additionally, the WFWM has been working to address power imbalances within philanthropy by employing a trust-based philanthropy model that includes simplifying the application and reporting processes, offering unrestricted funding, remaining transparent, and supporting organizations beyond the awards.

“We are so grateful to be selected for support by the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. This grant is very important for our immigrant women workers and mothers,” said Hodaliz Borrayes, a community organizer with Pioneer Valley Workers Center. “Many women live with psychological or emotional abuse, in the workplace or at home. We want every woman to know her rights and feel strong in expressing what she feels and thinks — to be herself and live her dreams.”

WFWM distributed $70,000 through this initiative to organizations whose work aligns with one or more strategic pillars (economic security, parity in positions of power and leadership, and freedom from gender-based violence, harassment, and abuse). Grant recipients for this general funding include Flying Cloud Institute, New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, New North Citizens Council, Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Sow Well Tots Early Education Center, Voices from Inside, and WAM Theatre.

Additionally, the WFWM continues to support organizations through the Fund for Me Too Movement and Allies for the prevention and intervention of sexual-based violence. Grants awarded through this fund total $50,000. This year’s recipients include Breathing Space, Elizabeth Freeman Center, the Rites of Passage Project, Root Studio, Safe Passage, the Salasin Project, Survivor Arts Collective, and the Women of Color Health Equity Collective.

For the grants awarded through the Springfield Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) of WFWM, members of the current cohort and alumnae convened over two months to make nominations for funding. The YWI distributed $15,000 in grants to Springfield-serving organizations whose programs address safety and anti-violence, economic security and prosperity, or leadership and visibility. Recipients of this grant include a summer-camp program focused on leadership development, an initiative that provides public-speaking coaching for young people, and a healthy-relationships outreach program partnering with local schools. YWI grant awardees include Alianza (formerly known as Womanshelter/Compañeras), the Care Center, Lady Soldiers, A Queen’s Narrative, and Take the Mic.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) announced upcoming grant opportunities, with up to $250,000 available for organizations that serve women and girls in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties.

Funding awarded during the next five months will be made available from the following programs: the Fund for Me Too Movement and Allies, Emergency Grants, the Young Women’s Initiative, and a general, open call for proposals.

“Grant funds provided through these programs position WFWM as a leader for gender equity, where people in our communities have the power to prosper economically, live safe and healthy lives, and thrive,” said Nicole Young, Community Investments manager. “Being able to make grant funding available at this time is critical as we are in a unique position to support our communities in meeting these urgent, unmet needs. Our board is committed to investing in the organizations serving women and girls who are equally as dedicated to addressing these disparities.”

WFWM is considering a renewal of the agreements made with organizations that received funding through the Fund for Me Too Movement and Allies, initially awarded in 2020. These programs deliver services and support across the four counties for prevention and intervention of sexual-based violence. Last year’s recipients include the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Human in Common, Root Studio, Safe Passage, and the Salasin Project. Funding from the renewal grants will total $50,000.

In response to the overwhelming needs of community organizations working to prevent homelessness and food insecurity, WFWM will disperse at least $100,000 in emergency funding immediately to empower organizations providing fast and direct economic aid to women and families. Potential recipients were vetted through an interview process using an anti-racist lens, with awards being determined based on immediate need.

The Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) of WFWM seeks to distribute $15,000 in grants to Springfield-based organizations whose programs address safety and anti-violence, economic security and prosperity, or leadership and visibility. Participants from the current cohort and alumnae of YWI make up this grants committee. They are given autonomy to select recipient organizations through participatory grantmaking, an approach that cedes decision-making power about grants to community members who will be directly impacted by funding decisions.

WFWM will also award grants totaling at least $70,000 through a general request for proposals. Women and girl-serving organizations based in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties whose work aligns with one of WFWM’s following strategic pillars of work may apply for consideration: economic security, parity in positions of power and leadership, and freedom from violence, harassment, and abuse. Grants will be unrestricted, and the application process will start with a letter of intent due by Monday, Feb. 28, with final decisions announced by June. More detailed information, including a grant timeline, letter-of-intent criteria, and submission guidelines are available at mywomensfund.org.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) announced a spring grant cycle to fund organizations that are working to fight sexual violence in the Western Mass. region. Funding for this grant cycle is made possible by a grant the WFWM received from the Fund for the Me Too Movement and Allies (the Me Too Fund), housed at the New York Women’s Foundation.

Joining the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in this work, WFWM will carry out the Me Too Fund’s goal of ensuring ongoing philanthropic investments toward transforming the oppressive systems that produce structural inequalities of power that result in harassment and violence by making grants from this fund in and for the local community.

“The Women’s Fund of Western Mass. is proud to have been selected to partner with the Fund for the Me Too Movement and Allies to support organizations devoted to preventing and interrupting sexual violence in Western Mass.,” said Donna Haghighat, WFWM CEO. “As our recent research report has shown, over 82% of the perpetrators of sexual assault were known by their victims/survivors. This funding will allow us to focus on preventing such assaults and reducing this staggering statistic.”

Applications will be accepted from women- and girl-serving organizations in all four counties of Western Mass. starting on March 1, and the deadline to submit applications is 5 p.m. on March 31. Projects funded by this grant from WFWM must focus on prevention and/or intervention of sexual violence and harassment.

Visit mywomensfund.org for additional information or to apply.