A $17,000 grant to provide counseling and vocational training to women victims of domestic violence was one of two gifts awarded last week by the 3-year-old Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. The foundation, which itself just received a $500,000 grant from UJA-Federation to hire clerical staff and cover promotional expenses, also presented a $25,000 check to the New York Legal Assistance Group. The goal of both grants is to educate low-income Jewish women so they can become economically self-sufficient and reduce their dependence on welfare programs.
The executive director of NYLAG, Yisroel Schulman, said he would use the grant toward hiring a lawyer to ensure that low-income Jewish women “receive their legal entitlements to government-funded job training programs and to child care while attending the programs. A full-time volunteer will also work on this project, and we anticipate serving 750 women starting July 1.
”Eileen Cohen, co-chair of the foundation’s grants committee, said the $17,000 grant will go to the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. She said it is designed to help women victims of domestic violence through counseling and training.
“The hardest thing for these women is to get back on their feet economically,” she said. “They may have never worked before.”
She said this new program would operate out of the council’s Borough Park office. She noted that NYLAG and the council were two of 11 grant requests from non-profit organizations reviewed by the foundation. All but two were UJA-Federation agencies, and Cohen said they all had to be geared to serving the needs of women.
Susan Mark, the foundation’s finance committee co-chair, said the foundation has been an eye-opener for her.
“We’ve been solicited to support all kinds of groups,” she said. “I didn’t know Jewish women had all kinds of problems. Everybody wants to help the underdog and I did not realize that there are underdogs among my own [people].”
One of the things that makes the foundation unique, said Mark, is that its members can change its focus each year. Last year, for instance, it awarded its first grant of $30,000 to help immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were in danger of losing government assistance due to changes in the welfare laws.
“We are educating [our members] about philanthropy, the power of money and how to use it and make it,” she added. “We are educating ourselves as to how to be effective players in the world and help Jewish women who have invisible needs.”
Cohen added that the foundation “makes women feel they can make a difference.”
Its president, Arlene Wittels, said the foundation was created for the “economic advancement and empowerment of women. … Most women in the philanthropy world are attracted to the foundation when they find out about it. We own this vehicle; it is a form of self-expression.”
She said that members of the foundation contribute a minimum of $10,000 over five years. There are now 94 members; to date, they have contributed $800,000.
The executive vice president of UJA-Federation, Stephen Solender, said the foundation was given a $500,000 grant because “this is a very important way to help us work more closely with women in philanthropy. In addition to its members’ support of our annual campaign, the foundation provides resources for programs of interest to them. … It is another in a series of initiatives we are taking to develop closer connections to women in our community from a philanthropic perspective.”
Wittels said the members of the foundation decide themselves where to donate their money, thereby making it “more donor friendly. We’re looking to attract a new market, those women who were not necessarily giving to UJA-Federation because they see it as their grandparents’ institution. The foundation attracts these women because it is independent and we have several women members who are under the age of 40. … This is an exciting venture because it has the potential of becoming a resource center for women. “Lois Conway, the other finance committee co-chair, said the women are learning a great deal about investing and they decide how to get the best and safest return on their money.
“We’re not stock pickers, we try to evaluate the performance of others,” she said, referring to the money managers with whom the foundation works. “The foundation allows us to participate in all aspects of philanthropic activity — fund raising, investments and grant making.”
Wittels added that this is crucial because “at the turn of the century, inherited wealth will be more in the hands of women than men.”