The giving circle of influential black women was looking to bestow its philanthropy on a local program with a focus on education, workforce, health, empowerment and leadership development. On Thursday night, at the Sarah Garland Jones Center in Church Hill, the giving circle called SisterFund awarded its third and largest grant — $40,000 — to Girls for a Change. The nonprofit will use the money to fund its Girl Ambassador program, which aims to bridge the digital divide and land its girls in the technology field.
Veronica Fleming, president of SisterFund, described the application by Girls for a Change as a grand slam. Typically, when assessing whether an applicant meets the organization’s criteria, SisterFund finds that an applicant “will hit one or two of those key areas. One of the most exciting things about Girls for a Change is it hit virtually every single area that we focus on.” Girl Ambassador’s emphasis on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — excited SisterFund. But what sealed the deal was its attention on leadership development and empowerment. “This program is just extraordinarily focused on what we call our sweet spot, which is building a variety of skills in girls,” Fleming said.
For Angela Patton, CEO of Girls for a Change, the Girl Ambassador program is an opportunity for participants to see what the future of work looks like, and “to learn how to not only snag the job but create jobs.” The mission of Girls for a Change is to empower girls of color to “visualize their bright futures and potential through discovery, development, and social change innovation in their communities.” The proximity of the influential SisterFund members is an added bonus beyond financial resources. “They have the opportunity to be up close and personal with these girls,” Patton said. The grant will go toward equipment, curriculum, trainers and administrative costs, she said. Girl Ambassador is using the 804RVA shared office space.
SisterFund is an outgrowth of discussions among six women about creating a philanthropic vehicle. The women — Fleming, Del. Delores McQuinn, City Council Vice President Cynthia Newbille, Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, Evette Roots of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building and Greta Harris, president and CEO of the Better Housing Coalition — “began to sit down and get our minds around what it would really mean to get formal and organize this,” Fleming said. They researched national black philanthropy, worked closely with a local African-American male giving circle, the Ujima Legacy Fund, and connected with the Community Foundation to serve as a source of support and its fiscal agent. “What is so great about them is they are a collective group of ladies who have come together to contribute their time, talent and treasure to support African-American girls and women,” said Sherrie Armstrong, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.
SisterFund now has 46 members who commit to giving $1,100 each year with $100 going toward educational, recruitment and administrative expenses and $1,000 going toward a grant that supports area nonprofit organizations that lift up the lives of black women and girls residing in our region, Harris said. Fleming said it would like to grow its membership by at least 25 members in 2019 to increase its collective giving. “There are so many worthy efforts out here, and the need is so great among African-American women and girls.”
At some point in middle school, I began to develop an intellectual passion for history. I’m not sure what sparked my curiosity in learning about the past, but it’s safe to assume my background and upbringing played a huge part in it.
My maternal and paternal roots trace back to Alabama and Georgia respectively and my family has always maintained a commitment to preserve and pass on our history. Since a young age, I’ve learned about the struggles experienced and sacrifices made by those who came before me. It is humbling to think about the vision and fortitude that individuals who share my DNA displayed in the face of unimaginable adverse conditions in the Deep South. Knowing that their actions afforded me the opportunity to enjoy experiences beyond their wildest dreams motivates me to uphold their legacy.
While some Americans can trace back their lineages to before America was even a country, most African-American family histories have been muddled by the legacy of slavery. I was inspired to pursue a degree in U.S. History and African and African-American Studies, with the hope of uncovering some of what was lost. Discovering the connectivity, processes and moments related to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Postbellum America, Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights Movement and the African diaspora expanded my worldview and ignited a lifelong commitment to learn more about my ancestry and heritage.
When I learned that I would be working on the 2019 Commemoration, it was a surreal full circle moment. The experience thus far has felt like a postgraduate education of sorts. I have a newfound appreciation for democracy, diversity and opportunity and take pride in the fact that Virginia has been America’s leader in many ways for 400 years. It is my hope that surfacing the many told and untold stories of the Commonwealth can collectively edify our community and inspire the next generation of leaders to uphold Virginia’s legacy.