This year, the Women’s Giving Circle is celebrating ten years of service to the people of Wheeling. The organization began in 2010 when the three female board members of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley recognized a gap in resources directed toward women and children in the Ohio Valley. The three invited women from their personal networks to a wine and cheese event to gauge interest. 

All 17 women who attended wanted to be a part of what would ultimately become known as the Women’s Giving Circle. From that 17, the organization has grown over the years to have as many as 140 members. Currently, 120 local women belong to the group and work toward carrying out its mission. 

“Our mission statement is ‘Women Empowering Women Through Philanthropy,’” said founding member, Kristine Molnar. “By this we mean two things:  helping women through our gifts, and also establishing a foundation for future women to become philanthropic through being part of our process.”

The Women’s Giving Circle operates by directing pooled funds to existing non-profit organizations through competitive grants. Members over the age of 40 are asked to make an annual contribution of $500 or more, and members under 40 contribute $250 or more. 

Half of the annual contributions are immediately made available for the year’s grant cycle, while the other half is directed to Women’s Giving Circle endowment fund. That fund currently holds over $333 thousand dollars for future gifts.

All of the support provided by the group is directed toward programs specifically serving young women or children. Since 2010, the group has awarded over $355 thousand to non-profits across the Upper Ohio Valley. 

For the 2020 grant cycle, the Women’s Giving Circle was able to award $43,285 to eight local organizations. One of those organizations, Crittenton Services, was overwhelmed with gratitude to receive a grant.

“The Women’s Giving Circle is a true partner to women in our community, and for that we are immensely grateful,” said Jenna Richardson, Public Communications Coordinator for Crittenton Services.

Richardson continued, “Through the grants Crittenton has received from the Women’s Giving Circle, we have been able to send the young ladies in our transitional living program to driver’s education training. This may seem small, but to our girls striving to reach independence it is a stepping stone to a better life.” 

A new project this year for the Women’s Giving Circle was a contribution to the January 2020 edition of Wheeling Heritage’s Show of Hands, which featured all female-owned businesses. The groups contribution of $5,000, along with the other sponsorships and in-person donations collected, allowed the winner, Corey Kidd of Bakery 49, to take home the largest prize to date. 

Of the historic Show of Hands, Molnar said, “Women moved women to success and support.  [It was] pretty exciting.”

Like most similar organizations, the Women’s Giving Circle has been affected by COVID-19, most recently by having to cancel any plans to hold an in-person celebration for the tenth anniversary. Instead, the group commissioned a commemorative video (bottom of the page) to present to its members. 

“The video showcases founding and current Women’s Giving Circle members as they reflect on the past 10 years and how our organization has impacted not only their lives but the countless lives of women and girls in the community,” said current president Suzanne Rohrig Gaiser. “It was truly a powerful presentation.”

Since funds are comprised solely of membership dues, the Women’s Giving Circle does not anticipate any reduction in the amount of money that will be available for the next grant cycle. However, the group does expect to see some requests for funding related to the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in the area. 

But while the current outlook remains uncertain, the Women’s Giving Circle is optimistic for the future of the organization. The group continues to add new members on a regular basis. 

“I’ve been a professional woman for many years and believe that there are untapped treasures that each of us have to share,” said Molnar. “We’ve been able to open the door for members to become champions and leaders within our organization.” 

Gaiser said she loves being a part of an organization that makes supporting women and girls its main mission. 

“Assisting these women and girls in achieving goals and experiences they may not otherwise have realized has been a great honor, and I am extremely proud of the work we have done,” she said. “I also have a better appreciation and sense of gratitude for the many organizations that pour their time and hearts into our community as they create opportunities for women and young girls.”

If you are interested in joining the Women’s Giving Circle, please contact Susie Nelson at the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley. 

• Wheeling native Jennifer Materkoski is a graduate of West Liberty University and Kent State University, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Before beginning her current role as director of communications and employee engagement for a global business process outsourcing firm, Jennifer worked in local media and non-profit communications. She is a current board member of Generation Wheeling, also chairing the organization’s Work Committee. She lives in Wheeling with her husband, Rich, and her three children: Mason, Mercer and Miller.

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