The Women’s Foundation of Boston recently announced that it has awarded more than $2.17 million in grants funding to nonprofits that focus on serving women and girls. These include three organizations based in the Pioneer Valley that will receive a total of $583,000 over the next three years.

The Women’s Foundation of Boston was founded in 2017 with the intent to economically empower women and girls from under-resourced areas of Boston through grants to nonprofits with a focus on those individuals. In 2021, the foundation expanded its scope to provide grants to nonprofits in Boston and the Gateway Cities of Lowell, Lynn, Lawrence, New Bedford and Worcester. Since then, the foundation has expanded its reach farther, with 27% of the 2024 grant funding going to organizations exclusively serving Western Massachusetts.

The grants awarded by the foundation generally range from $10,000 to $100,000 per year for up to five years. Since its launch in 2017, the organization has awarded $8,300,000 to 38 nonprofits impacting women and girls in the state. Women’s Foundation of Boston Co-founder and CEO Christine Gordon said this has translated into more than 16,000 women and girls helped by the foundation.

Three nonprofit organizations awarded grants this year are based in Pioneer Valley and are first-time foundation grant recipients.

The foundation’s largest ever grant amount — $300,000 over three years — was awarded to Girls Inc. of the Valley. Executive Director Suzanne Parker said that the nonprofit’s mission is to inspire girls and gender-diverse youth, ages 8-18, to be “strong, smart and bold.”

She said that the “strong” goal includes health and fitness, the “smart” goal is embodied by academic success and “bold” can best be understood as leadership and living up to one’s full potential. This is accomplished through in-school, after-school and summer programs offered to students and their families at no cost.

The grant from the foundation will be used to expand the nonprofit’s STEM and college/career readiness activities for elementary and teen girls by staffing a makerspace and library/learning center at the Girls Inc. of the Valley’s downtown Holyoke location. Parker explained that a makerspace is an area where science, technology, engineering and math can be brought to life through “super-creative, hands-on, minds-on, active learning.” A makerspace can contain a 3D printer, a space for robotics or building items or a sewing space.

Of the library/learning center, Parker said, “Some kids need some support for their academics, both in-person and online.” Tutoring in the library/learning center will help address the “literacy gap,” which Parker said “is very real” in Holyoke. For teens, the center will focus on the college search process, scholarship applications and navigating financial aid.

Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts uses running as a method of inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident. The organization promotes intentional decision-making, embracing differences, compassionate leadership, and physical, emotional and spiritual health. Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts plans to use the three-year $150,000 grant it received from the foundation to expand in Chicopee, Westfield, Holyoke, Pittsfield and Springfield.

“We are thrilled to be receiving the grant from the Women’s Foundation of Boston. The funding will enable us to serve more girls in Western Mass., so that more teams are able to benefit from the life skills and social emotional lessons that GOTR offers,” said Alison Berman, council director for Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts.
Berman explained that the “profound” needs of young people have increased as the youth mental health crisis has intensified since the coronavirus pandemic began. “Participants are learning such valuable skills that they are using in their schools and communities, and improving their physical health,” she said.

Berman quoted a parent, who said Girls on the Run had been “transformative” for her daughter and the skills she has learned from the program “have helped her weather tough friendship situations, bullying and anxiety in general.” The parent said her daughter was able to express her feelings and be more confident.

Dress for Success Western Massachusetts helps women who are seeking employment by outfitting them with work-appropriate attire for interviews and the first weeks of employment. The organization offers a mentor program, collegiate-level workshops and a workforce readiness training program to help unemployed and underemployed women and non-binary people develop soft skills, such as employability, professional growth, self-sufficiency and economic empowerment.

The foundation awarded Dress for Success Western Massachusetts a three-year $133,000 to expand its workforce development services and establish a Women’s Career Center to offer help with resume writing, job search strategies, interview preparation, financial literacy and computer skills.

The Women’s Foundation of Boston COO Patti Satterthwaite said the thorough grant process begins in December, with letters of intent, applications and reviews by the committee. A total of 25 people are involved in the process. In May, the grant awardees are notified.

Gordon said the foundation itself applies for grants to cover operations costs so that all donations can be given to the nonprofits. Funding for nonprofits that solely serve women and girls is limited, she said, with just 1.4% of philanthropic funding going to these organizations. Gordon said that women and girls are “not prioritized,” but said, women reinvest 90% or their income back into their communities.

“When women and girls are economically empowered, it lifts up the whole community,” Gordon said. “All communities rise when women do better.”

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