The Circle of Giving

The Women’s Giving Circle continues to widen, expanding its philanthropic reach to assist women and girls in the Upper Ohio Valley.

Since its formation two and one-half years ago, membership in the Women’s Giving Circle has increased six-fold, resulting in more funds being available for grants to projects that benefit women and girls in need. The circle is organized and operated through the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, with headquarters in Wheeling.

When the Women’s Giving Circle was established in October 2010, the group consisted of 17 area women, organizers recalled. Currently, the circle includes 104 members, said Susie Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation.

Kris Molnar of Wheeling serves as chair of the circle’s board. Executive committee members include Sue Seibert Farnsworth, Joan Stamp, Elsie Reyes, Lea Ridenhour, Sherry Hearne, Nancy Gwynn and Elsie Reyes, all of Wheeling, and Tulane Mensore of New Martinsville.

“We would not exist without the Community Foundation,” said Farnsworth, who also is chair of the foundation board. “Susie (Nelson) provides the administrative support.”

Explaining how the circle is funded, Nelson said each woman gives a minimum of $500 a year. “To grow and inspire new philanthropists,” she said, the group has established a special rate of $250 a year for women under age 40.

Half of the members’ annual contribution is placed in an endowment and the other half of the money is awarded in grants to organizations that submit proposals, Farnsworth explained. Currently, the endowment has holdings in the range of $50,000, she added.

Grants are awarded to projects and programs designed to fulfill “the unmet needs of women and girls in the region,” Nelson said. The grants are limited to efforts within the “footprint” of the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley: Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties in West Virginia and Belmont and Jefferson counties in Ohio, she said.

In 2012, the circle awarded two grants: $10,000 to Youth Services System for transitional housing for young adults who have aged out of the foster care system and $9,600 to the YWCA Wheeling to provide transitional housing for women who have been released from prison.

The 2011 grants went to these groups: Girl Scouts of Wetzel County, $1,000 for “A Dress to a Girl from a Girl Scout”; Girl Scouts of Brooke and Ohio counties, $3,100 for the Young Ladies Leadership Academy; Wetzel County Cancer Coalition, $2,000 for specialized garments for breast cancer patients and YWCA Wheeling, $1,800 for the Dress for Success program and $2,000 for life skills classes for women.

With the grant, Girl Scouts in Wetzel County used pillowcases to fashion girls’ dresses that were given to girls in need in their community, Ridenhour explained. In the process, participants acquired sewing skills and practiced voluntarism, she said. Stamp agreed, saying that the Scouts “learned to help others in need, learned about philanthropy and learned to sew.”

The full membership of the circle meets four times a year, Nelson said. The spring meeting is designated as an educational session, open to prospective members to learn about the organization. This meeting will be held at Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, 1330 National Road, Wheeling, at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 22.

“Anyone is welcome to join or to come and hear the presentation,” Stamp said. At present, the circle includes members from Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel, Belmont and Jefferson counties.

In the summer, the circle holds a picnic to which members can invite a spouse or guest. The deadline for grant applications is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3. At the October meeting, circle members vote on grant proposals.

The circle’s membership committee prepares letters and brochures to attract new participants. Hearne is chair of the “big and busy” grants committee. Stamp is in charge of making recommendations to the full board. Deborah Hassig handles grants research, while Cheryl Jones is in charge of grant evaluation.

In March, the grant research team met with representatives of about 20 agencies to explain the criteria for grants and to learn (from the agencies) of needs to be addressed. “An exchange of information in both ways” occurred at this session, Stamp said.

Similar circles exist in other parts of the country and provide inspiration for the local endeavor. The idea for the Wheeling initiative came from Gail Mendelson who told Farnsworth about the Women’s Giving Alli-ance in Jacksonville, Fla.

Projects that members would like to see established in the region include a program from the Sisters of St. Joseph called “Summer in a Sack” and a nationwide project known as “Girls on the Run,” an after-school initiative that combines empowering messages and a running program for middle school girls, Nelson said. Stamp said the circle is trying to find a nonprofit organization to sponsor these projects.

The Women’s Giving Circle has received statewide recognition for its work. The circle received a Spirit of Philanthropy Award in the category of critical impact from West Virginia Grantmakers last October.

For more information, call Nelson at 304-242-3144 or email at director The foundation’s website is