Home Posts tagged Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts
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Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts recently appointed Vanessa Pabón-Hernandez CEO of the philanthropic organization, effective June 17. A native of Springfield’s North End and a driven, longtime mentor of women and champion for social change and empowerment, Pabón-Hernandez succeeds Donna Haghighat in the key role for the nonprofit.

Throughout her 25-year career, Pabón-Hernandez has supported women and Latinx community members, first as a marketing strategist in business for herself and later in roles that include program director for the YMCA North End Youth Center, founder of a community-based digital storytelling center, and executive producer at New England Public Media, a role she left in early June after 14 years to accept the CEO position at the Women’s Fund.

Pabón-Hernandez has experience as a program developer, grant writer, mentor, facilitator, consensus builder, and storyteller, and she is excited to put her skills to work for the Women’s Fund. “I want to make a meaningful impact that’s less about program development and more about supporting the people who have the ideas,” she said. “I’ve been the one who has been dreaming big and creating programs of impact. Now, I want to support the dreams of others.”

Luzed Guzman Romano, current treasurer and incoming board co-chair for the Women’s Fund, said the board is excited about the opportunities that Pabón-Hernandez’s experience, determination, and leadership present. “We are all confident Vanessa’s leadership will drive the organization forward, continuing its mission to support and empower women, girls, and gender-expansive people in the region. In many ways, Vanessa’s life experience mirrors the reason why the Women’s Fund exists.”

Inspired by a strong, independent mother who helped facilitate her path, Pabón-Hernandez defied the odds several decades ago as a young, single mother, earning two associate degrees at Springfield Technical Community College before launching her own business as a marketing strategist for political candidates and area businesspeople.

She mastered the art of storytelling to advance social change, entered the nonprofit sector, and, over 25 years, led and founded innovative programs in marginalized communities that have allowed thousands of individuals to access resources, leverage their strengths, and drive their own career paths. She has received the Unsung Heroine award from the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women and was named to BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty. She was also the grand marshal for the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) welcomes grant applications for its 2024 grant cycle and intends to award 10 to 15 grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 by summer.

WFWM strongly encourages smaller, community-based, grassroots organizations to apply. Organizations with 501(c)(3) status and those with fiscal sponsors are welcome to apply, and those serving women and girls and transgender and gender-diverse people in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties are encouraged to do so. Priority will be given to organizations aligning with race and gender justice and equity and WFWM’s strategic pillars: economic security, equality in positions of power and leadership, and freedom from gender-based violence.

The two-year, unrestricted grants can be used for general operations or program support, and the WFWM grantmaking committee looks for grant proposals with a meaningful impact.

“We are excited to continue to fund the important work that is being done to support women, girls, and gender-expansive people in our Western Massachusetts communities,” said Amihan Matias, senior director of Community Partnerships at the Women’s Fund. “We have diverse community members and residents from all four counties of Western Massachusetts on our grantmaking committee. We are grateful for their valuable perspectives regarding the needs of their communities. It is so important to hear directly from communities.”

To apply, complete an online application. Click here for the English application, or click here for the Spanish version. Submit a brief, one-page letter of intent. The WFWM strives to make the application process as inclusive and accessible as possible and also accepts video submissions or grant proposals written for other funders in place of the narrative portion of the written letter of intent. To have the application translated into a language other than English or Spanish, email Matias at [email protected].

Applications are due by May 15, and the grantmaking committee will announce recipients on Aug. 30.

Daily News

Donna Haghighat

SPRINGFIELD — Donna Haghighat, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, has announced her plans to retire, effective June 30.

Under Haghighat’s leadership, beginning in 2017, the Women’s Fund developed innovative programs, sought out effective partnerships, increased grantmaking, grew its corporate and individual donations, and focused on racial equity and trust-based philanthropy.

Haghighat was also integral in the launch of the Young Women’s Initiative for girls and young women of color in Springfield and the Greater Springfield Women’s Economic Security Hub.

The Women’s Fund is a leading philanthropic organization that fuels progress toward gender equity and justice, work that has been ongoing since 1997. It has been making grants to change-making organizations in the four counties of Western Mass. for most of its 27-year history.

Today, these grants are larger and more likely to be multi-year in duration. The Women’s Fund has initiated research about the lives and prospects for the region’s women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals, most recently in 2023. An additional focus of the organization is the intersection of race and gender as well as its Young Women’s Initiative.

“It has been an honor to lead an exceptional team and our expansive network of partners, donors, and corporate supporters,” Haghighat said. “Collectively, we have committed ourselves and our work to advancing issues of gender and racial equity in Western Mass. and beyond. Although I am retiring, I will happily remain part of this diverse and vibrant community.”

Haghighat has facilitated the monthly meetings of the Women Heads of Nonprofits group in Western Mass., which the Women’s Fund hosts, and has served on the state’s Community Reinvestment Fund Advisory Board and the advisory board of the Center for Social Justice at Western New England School of Law. She was appointed by Gov. Maura Healey to the Massachusetts Cultural Council this year and is a board member for WAM Theatre in the Berkshires.

Lisa Ranghelli and Arwen Lowbridge, co-presidents of the Women’s Fund’s board of directors, jointly acknowledged the impact of Haghighat’s leadership. “Donna will be a hard act to follow,” Lowbridge said.

Both Ranghelli and Lowbridge said Haghighat has vision and diehard commitment to gender and racial equity. Ranghelli added that “she has propelled the fund and focused the organization on work that will impact those who are most vulnerable and marginalized.”

A succession committee drawn from board membership is charged with searching for the new CEO. The committee’s progress is underway, and information on the search can be found at mywomensfund.org.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, collaborating with results-oriented partners, recently completed its 2023 research report, “Gender Equity in Western Massachusetts: The Status of Women, Girls, Transgender, Nonbinary, and Gender-diverse Adults and Youth.”

This is the Women’s Fund’s third commissioned research report on the status of women and girls since 2013. This report was prepared by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and funded by Women’s Fund donors and grants from Feeding America and the Beveridge Family Foundation.

Lisa Ranghelli, the Public Health Institute’s director of Assessment and Capacity Building, noted that “this report fills an important gap in our understanding of gender equity in the region by including the best available local data on issues facing transgender and gender-diverse residents, women and girls of color, Indigenous women and families, domestic-violence survivors, formerly incarcerated women, and newcomers to the U.S. Our resourceful, creative, and collaborative communities are making progress, but many systemic inequities continue to undermine the well-being of women, girls, transgender, and gender-diverse people in Western Massachusetts. I hope this report spurs coordinated action that engages these communities in making change.”

The public is invited to learn about the research report and some key findings at one of the Women’s Fund’s upcoming presentations in Springfield on Monday, Nov. 6; Pittsfield on Wednesday, Nov. 15; or Greenfield on Wednesday, Nov. 29. For details and required reservations for the presentations, visit www.mywomensfund.com/events.

The research report includes data on gender demographics, employment and earnings, poverty and opportunity, health and well-being, reproductive justice, violence and safety, leadership, and political participation.

“We engage in research not only to measure our progress toward gender and racial equity, but also to provide our region and its many nonprofits with data that help them develop their own strategies and to have critical data they need when applying for grant funding to fuel their missions,” Women’s Fund CEO Donna Haghighat said.

Click here for both the full report and key findings.

Women in Businesss

‘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.

Do you want to get paid what you deserve? Want to learn how to maximize your income when looking for that next job?
Attend AAUW Work Smart, a FREE, salary negotiation skills workshop co-hosted by the Women’s Fund of Western MA, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, the Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment, and the Greenfield Community College Women’s Resource Center.
This program provides women with the tools they need to overcome the negative impacts of wage inequality. AAUW’s Work Smart program is designed to empower women with skills to advocate for themselves in the workplace, close their personal pay gaps, and earn their market-value through salary negotiation.
Check-in begins at 5:00 p.m. and the program begins at 5:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) surveyed women and girl-serving organizations across all of Western MA to identify their capacity-building needs. The WFWM is collaborating with expert trainers to offer capacity-building workshops focused on the needs of organizations serving women and girls.
Join The Connecticut Data Collaborative for a Data Storytelling Workshop. Data stories can be a powerful tool to communicate data in a clear and compelling way that can lead to action. Yet too often the data we convey leaves our audience wondering what they should do or with more questions than answers. In this workshop you will learn what a data story is, a process to create clear and compelling stories, and how to combine your insights with a visualization that will guide your audience to action.

Do you want to get paid what you deserve? Want to learn how to maximize your income when looking for that next job?

Attend AAUW Work Smart, a FREE, salary negotiation skills workshop co-hosted by the Women’s Fund of Western MA, the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women, the Treasurer’s Office of Economic Empowerment, and the Berkshire Community College Women’s Center.
This program provides women with the tools they need to overcome the negative impacts of wage inequality. AAUW’s Work Smart program is designed to empower women with skills to advocate for themselves in the workplace, close their personal pay gaps, and earn their market-value through salary negotiation.
Check-in begins at 5:00 p.m. and the program begins at 5:30 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

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.