Carrying on the legacy
To the members of the Women's Gift Alliance, celebrating Women's History Month means honoring the influential figures that made a difference both nationally and in Kootenai County. From front left to front right: Treasurer Jody Harris, Vice President Melissa DeMotte, Secretary Donna Stambaugh, Founder Janice Baldwin, President Jovanna Tanzey and Communication Director Annette Durkin. (Madison Hardy/Press)
For the members of the Coeur d'Alene Soroptimists, educating women and empowering them is the goal. From left: Treasurer Barb Bradley, President Riannon Zender and immediate past-president Jennifer Chandler. (MADISON HARDY/Press)
Staff Writer | March 23, 2021 1:08 AM
Many American influential figures are recognized during Women's History Month.
Continuing their legacy are several female-led groups in Kootenai County like the Women's Gift Alliance, 3Cs, and Coeur d'Alene Soroptimists who serve the community through philanthropic service and charitable giving.
Janice Baldwin, the founder of the Women's Gift Alliance, was inspired by the idea that women from all different backgrounds could work together to make an impact.
Through the nonprofit, each member contributes $1,050 — $500 into a collective giving fund, $250 into an endowment fund, $250 as an individual gift designation, and $50 for administration. Every year, the group chooses one organization based on its plan for the grant, and the community needs it combats.
"They need to respond to an urgent or critical need," WGA Communication Director Annette Durkin said. "Or, they need to seek to solve a community problem with a unique approach, or create a bold new venture."
Since the first giving year in 2005, the group has allocated over $1 million back to Kootenai County organizations like the Kroc Center, Kootenai County Fire & Rescue, St. Vincent de Paul of Coeur d'Alene, the Lakeland Literacy Project, Museum of North Idaho, and the Children's Village. Just in 2020, despite all the challenges of COVID-19, the WGA donated a combined $100,000 to eight different grant applications.
"You learn about all those organizations and then see that you want to do more somewhere, and then volunteer there," Treasurer Jody Harris said. "I know quite a few people who now volunteer at organizations that they hadn't known about before."
Part of the WGA's mission is to educate women to become more philanthropically aware and involved within the community, Jovanna Tanzey, president of the WGA, explained. Cultivating a community of female activists that are engaged in the heartbeat of Kootenai County. In this way, Baldwin felt it was honoring the work of women who were instrumental in changing history for the better.
"I think just honoring the vision and work of women who have gone before us. Taking a leadership role in the community, as so many women of history have done before," Durkin said. "Being leaders in the community for a force of good."
One of those women that locally made a difference was Ellen Walden, founder of the Kootenai County 3Cs.
It started as a social group, now President Rhonda Newton said, with Walden wanting to do more for the people in her community. Longtime benefactors of the Kootenai Health Foundation and North Idaho area, Ellen Walden and her husband, A.K., are honored through the hospital's Walden House for adult patients. Based on the foundations of supporting Cancer & Community Charities, the 3Cs has developed into an all-female powerhouse for philanthropic giving.
"She was passionate about raising money and helping cancer charities," Newton said. "It was frustrating for her that they were raising all this money for national cancer charities, and there weren't a lot of local impacts."
So, Walden created her own. Today, the 3Cs have donated over $2.3 million back to the community and have dipped their hands into dozens of charities. From supporting the local food banks to the Kootenai Health Foundation, On-Site for Seniors, to Safe Passage, the 3Cs have substantially impacted the growing Kootenai County need. In fact, Newton pointed out that in 2019 the nonprofit contributed over $100,000 to 32 different charities.
During COVID-19, 43 3Cs members and friends answered Kootenai Health's call for fabric face masks and started the Face Mask Donation Project. Not only providing the covers to local hospitals, the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management, and front line workers, the 3Cs sew masks for private citizens who donated $10.
“We were able to raise over $2,200 selling face masks and then donated over 2,500 to hospitals, medical staff, and doctors offices,” she said. “All the money raised during the project we gave back to the food bank who helped a lot of families this year.”
Created by an influential woman in Coeur d'Alene's history, the 3Cs try to follow those footsteps and contribute through their actions. Acknowledging Women's History Month acts as a source of empowerment, Newton said.
"There are a lot of women out there that have paved the way for women to make a change in the world," she said. "I think it does empower us to do the same thing."
Empowering women, especially women's education, is the Coeur d'Alene Soroptimists' overarching scope, past president Jennifer Chandler said.
As part of their international curriculum, the Coeur d'Alene Soroptimists host several programs like the "Live Your Dream" awards that provide a financial scholarship for women pursuing higher education. Often, Coeur d'Alene Soroptimist President Riannon Zender said, those women are the head of the household, single mothers, or women going back to school. This past year, Zender said the group awarded three scholarships, one for $1,000 and two for $750. Another program, "Dream It, Be It," connects girls in secondary schools with role models, career education, and resources.
"Idaho's 49th in education, and that in itself is hard to stomach," Chandler said. "Because not only does education and exposure allow for economic stability in families, but it's also one of the things that helps reduce domestic abuse, mental health struggles and helps physical health."
Reflecting on Women's History Month, the women felt it was important to talk about important female figures in the community and country. In a way, they see it as a reminder of how women's rights and abilities have developed over the centuries.
"Young girls that are growing up in today's world are very fortunate that they are being given opportunities equal to men, and that's not been the case forever," Zender said.
Still, Chandler noted that the efforts of women, and all other marginalized groups, should be recognized all the time — not one month a year.
"There are thousands of women who did incredible things all across the world for years, and years, and years, and years that we don't ever hear about or see in history books," she said, "I think it's really important to expose people to those women."