Let’s take a break, for a moment, from bemoaning the constant chaos in Washington and the escalating conflicts around the world. Let’s recognize good people doing good things for the local community. And while we’re at it, let’s celebrate the power of women to make a difference.

What if there were an organization right in our own backyard with one noble goal: To award grants to local non-profits benefitting women, children and families in need? There is: The Maine Women’s Giving Tree.

The Maine Women’s Giving Tree, the first of its kind in Maine, was the brainchild of Sandy Neiman and Judy Woodman. Sandy had a friend in Annapolis who belonged to a giving tree, and she shared the idea with her friend Judy. Together they decided that a giving tree provided a great chance to band together with like-minded women to give back to the community.

In 2009, they brought together a group of friends to introduce the concept. For the next two years, they gathered information about giving circles, became a donor-advised fund with The Maine Community Foundation, established a name and logo, wrote bylaws, recruited members, and learned the needs of the community. In addition, they raised the $25,000 required to begin awarding grants. In 2012, they awarded three $5,000 grants.

The idea has taken off, benefitting not just very worthy organizations in MidCoast Maine but also the women in the Maine Women’s Giving Tree. They have been able to put their considerable skills to work for good causes while getting to know the area and, a bonus, forming close friendships with other local women

The organization has expanded from less than 10 members in 2009 to more than seventy members in 2019. Maine Giving Tree has awarded $288,000 to date to benefit organizations serving women, children and families in need.

In 2019, Maine Women’s Giving Tree awarded $50,000 to 12 area non-profits, with grants ranging from $2,500 to $5,500. Here are but four examples: The Gathering Place received $3,500 to enhance programs at its Drop-in Day Shelter in Brunswick to meet the needs of an increasing number of individuals; Sweetser received $5,000 to assist uninsured and underinsured children and families receiving school-based therapy in Cumberland, Sagadahoc and Lincoln Counties; United Way of MidCoast Maine received $5,000 for the Diaper Project, which distributes free diapers to families in food pantries in Bath, Brunswick, and Wiscasset; and Midcoast Literacy received $3,000 to expand the Read Together Program serving children ages 6-14 who are performing below grade level.

The giving circle concept has also grown exponentially on the national front. A New York Times article (11/30/18) reported that the number of giving circles around the country increased from 500 in 2007 to 1,500 in 2017. Giving circles have awarded an astounding total of well over a billion dollars in grants since they began. There are a variety of giving circles (e.g. Black Benefactors DC, Dining for Women in NYC; and the Asian Women Given Circle), although each one has a specific focus and each one is volunteer-driven.

What a great concept! Building communities to serve the oommunity. Forging friendships based on something much deeper than sharing a meal or playing golf or tennis. Everybody wins.

For more information on how to get involved with the Maine Women’s Giving Tree, go to mainewomensgivingtree.org.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected].

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