Recently, Chautauqua County joined communities across the country in launching its own women’s fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. Establishing the Coalition of Chautauqua County Women & Girls Fund is the latest in a series of activities dating back six years by a local group of women, led by Jane Cleaver Becker.
“Our vision is to be a community where all women and girls can thrive,” said Ms. Cleaver Becker. “As this fund grows, it will grant money at the direction of a core group of women to support programs and activities in Chautauqua County.”
In 2013, Ms. Cleaver Becker began meeting with community leaders regarding the status of women and girls in Chautauqua County. The conversations culminated in Ms. Cleaver Becker providing the financial support to generate a report on the status of women and girls in in our area.
“We wanted credible, unbiased data to help us understand the community,” said Ms. Cleaver Becker. “It was important we look at our local statistics compared to the state and nation as well.”
When the report was complete, community leaders gathered more than 80 local women to discuss the findings and explore what could be done to move the needle on issues such as poverty among single mothers, managing personal finances and inspiring community volunteerism and civic engagement. From there, the Coalition of Chautauqua County Women and Girls was born and has been quietly at work for more than 5 years.
“We never imagined the energy we would discover from every woman who read the report,” added Ms. Cleaver Becker. “We felt that establishing the Women’s Fund is the next logical step as it allows us to invest in programs and strategies that build a strong future for women and girls in Chautauqua County.
One of the most notable activities of the Coalition was launching Women2Women, an adult mentoring program that uses one-on-one relationships to help women reach their personal goals. It began as a small pilot program coordinated by volunteers and currently operates under the umbrella of the YWCA Jamestown, with funding from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. It shows promise as a transformational intervention that could help women and their families.
“Meaningful change only happens because someone takes the lead on it,” said Patricia Smith, author of the Status of Women and Girls Report. “In this case, that person was Jane. And now she’s established this fund at the Community Foundation which opens the door for others to support programs and activities that strengthen our community by impacting women.”
Ms. Cleaver Becker and Ms. Smith encourage women of all backgrounds to consider making donations in honor or in memory of special women who impacted their lives. “We would love to see 100 women each donate $100 as a way to kick off the Women’s Fund.”