Women’s Foundation Builds Economic Wellness

By Christy Krueger –

A number of local charities have found that by teaming up they can make a greater impact toward helping low-income families get on their feet and achieve financial goals.

One organization that’s been instrumental in forming such partnerships is Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona.

“We’re a community foundation defined by gender rather than geography,” said Executive Director Laura Penny. “We make grants to programs serving women and girls.”

Over the past 19 years, Women’s Foundation has granted $1.8 million to 170 charitable groups in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.

“We also do research on the status of women in Southern Arizona,’’ Penny added. “We found that more women than men graduate from University of Arizona at bachelor’s and master’s levels and, depending on the year, there’s parity in law school, pharmacy and medical school. Yet 38 percent of single-parent households headed by women live below the poverty level.”

As a result of these findings, Penny is focusing on programs that promote women’s economic self-sufficiency. These include New Beginnings for Women and Children, Primavera Foundation and ACCION.

New Beginnings received a three-year grant for ELEVATE – Women’s Economic Empowerment Network.

Since 1987, New Beginnings has helped homeless, female-headed households by providing housing, case management, financial education and job skills training. “These are things families need to get back on their feet,” said Patti Caldwell, executive director.

ELEVATE expands financial education services offered to women transitioning from homelessness to self-sufficiency. “They learn about credit issues and how to plan for the future so they don’t end up in dire straits again,” Caldwell explained.

Caldwell said many women seeking services had received expensive career training after high school that resulted in significant financial-aid debt. “One major approach in our case management is to support pursuing education in less expensive approaches that are public, like Pima Community College.”

Caldwell said two families in the past two years have qualified for Habitat for Humanity homeownership and have moved in.

Hearth Foundation has been a long-time partner, leasing properties at low rates to New Beginnings for its housing programs. Another is realtor Nikki Halle. “Nikki has been a key supporter both personally and through her family’s foundation for 10 years,” noted Caldwell. “Providing shelter is very expensive, but federal money only funds 50 percent. Nikki is visionary and helpful in thinking through ways to look further down the road.”

Halle sees New Beginnings making a difference. “As I meet the women and children who are working hard to rebuild their lives, they all say that the support and skills they receive from NBWC is an inspiration for them to work harder and to pass on what they’re learning to others,” she said.

Women’s Foundation also awarded a three-year grant to Primavera Foundation for the Her Family program.

Primavera offers shelter and pathways out of poverty for men and women through rent assistance, transitional housing, job training, placement services and financial and home-buying education, said Peggy Hutchison, Primavera CEO.

Her Family was established after Hutchison noticed large number of single moms with kids struggling financially. “Some of them came to us and said, ‘You’d have more impact if you go after moms and daughters.’ So we designed Her Family. We partnered with Hughes Federal Credit Union, Girl Scouts and University of Arizona Credit-Wise Cats. Girls take financial education classes with other girls their age and the moms take courses,” Hutchison said.

Some participants have been able to buy houses. “At the end of the second year, we have 110 mothers and 152 daughters in Her Family. Six families have purchased their first home and seven more are close to closing on their first home.”

While Primavera has benefited from individual and corporate donors, such as Cox Communications and JPMorgan Chase, Hutchison said the Women’s Foundation grant is making a significant impact. She is determined to keep it going after funding expires this year and she’s hoping Citi Foundation, a previous partner, will respond.

Jason Ott, community relations state director of Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Citi, said Her Family fits in ideally with the mission of supporting economic empowerment by creating methods of change.

Although Ott can’t make a commitment about the next step with Primavera, he did say, “At this point we’re in a conversation with Peggy to see about stepping up our funding level. We look at what programs are affecting change in behavior and Her Family is a perfect example.”

Also awarded a one-year grant from Women’s Foundation is ACCION, which supports the state’s smallest businesses, said Marisa Barrera, marketing and communications specialist.

“We are a direct lender,’’ Barrera said. “One thing that brings them through the door is help getting credit and small business loans. We do this for both aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in amounts anywhere from $200 to $300,000.”

ACCION offers one-on-one training and technical assistance. “We assess cash flow, growth trends and viability of goals projected. We work with partners that help with business planning.”

Microbusiness Advancement Center is one agency that teams up with Barrera. She said MAC helps entrepreneurs set up a business plan and often refers them to ACCION for guidance in fulfilling those plans and goals.

Assistance from Women’s Foundation has enabled ACCION to launch a women’s entrepreneur program. “We were honored last year to receive the $10,000 grant from Women’s Foundation. It was a huge catalyst for us to connect with other donors and it gave us some recognition.”

The grant enables ACCION to support women business owners, especially those in the lower income brackets. “We are actively reaching them and equipping them with training and the credit they truly need. Women’s Foundation has helped in our ability, through staff, outreach and client services, to grant 49 loans in Southern Arizona for a total of $180,000. It has allowed us to reach emerging entrepreneurs with limited assets,” Barrera said.

She pointed to the example of a woman-owned iron works company in Tucson that manufactures custom metal goods. “She was starting to land federal government jobs, including federal agencies in the area. She came to us and now she’s seeing great growth and success.”

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