In 2001, a group of local businesswomen put their heads and dollars together, hoping to make an impact on the lives of Sacramento foster youth. Since then, Women in Philanthropy, a donor group of the United Way California Capital Region, has been raising funds and support for kids across the state.
Since its inception, Women in Philanthropy has raised nearly $1.2 million for the United Way’s local chapter. Additionally, many members volunteer directly with foster youth preparing to live on their own, a responsibility WIP Volunteer Chair Lisa Watts says is highly important.
“The main goal is to make sure that when foster youth emancipate from the system, they have what they need to provide (for themselves),” says Watts, chief of staff of Intel Corp.’s Business Clients Division.
Women in Philanthropy provides its 255 members various opportunities to work face-to-face with foster youth throughout the year. Opportunities include sitting on the United Way’s income counsel, which directs funding to different foster agencies, to teaching classes and workshops on topics such as banking, cooking and resume writing.
The donor group specifically supports the United Way’s $en$e-Ability Project, which helps foster youth earn and save money before emancipation through individual deposit accounts. Participating youth can earn money for various achievements, such as a 4.0 grade-point average or perfect school attendance. The accounts have become one of the most effective tools for helping prepare young people to live on their own and are made available when foster teens are emancipated.
Since spring 2011, United Way’s nonprofit partners have helped 90 percent of 200 foster youth complete financial literacy training and earn credits toward matched savings accounts. In the past six years, they have helped prepare 320 foster youth for life after they leave the system.
“Kids, when they leave home, make all kinds of mistakes going off to school, but they can always come home when they screw up their bank account,” Watts says. “Foster kids don’t have anything to go back to, so it’s very important to us to make sure we do as much as we can to provide preparation. These are things that can make a life-or-death difference for some of these kids.”
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From donations to hands-on training and financial literacy to life-skills tutoring, Women in Philanthropy differentiates itself from other donor groups by its immersion in the foster care system. Still, the biggest challenge for the group is continuing to get small businesses and local leaders involved, whether through monetary contributions, teaching workshops or jobs and internship programs for foster youth.
Women in Philanthropy membership levels range from $375 to $1,500 annually and offer several opportunities to interact personally with the youth being served.
To get involved or find out more, visit yourlocalunitedway.org/wip.
For many foster youth, establishing stability within in the foster care system is exceedingly difficult. But it’s after emancipation that the realities of financial independence become even more challenging.
In her teens, Velvet Edwards dropped out of Lincoln High School to care for her mother, who had hepatitis and scoliosis. By 22, she had few life skills and no high school diploma as she watched her mother slowly disappear. “Toward the end, her organs just started to shut down, and she faded away,” says Edwards, now 28.