After reading the book, "Half the Sky," Maddi Dunlap, of Williamsport, was inspired to help others.
She decided to get a group of friends together for the purpose of making a group donation to a charity of their choice. The group, dubbed WAWHO - We Are Women Helping Others - meet monthly to donate far more money and food than any individual member could do on their own.
When the group began two years ago, Dunlap said they had a food drive once a year in December. Then, they decided to do it four times a year. But the trouble was, members couldn't remember which month they were supposed to bring food, so they decided to do it monthly, and donate the food to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. During a recent meeting, the group discussed the 50 pounds they donated during the prior month and the 75 pounds they estimated they donated in December.
Members of the WAWHO — We Are Women Helping Others — “giving circle” group pose with some of the donated items they received during a monthly meeting. The group meets once a month to combine forces in giving so that they can give far more money or food than any individual member could do on their own. From left are Maddi Dunlap, Williamsport; Kathleen Radspinner, Hughesville; Sue Dinsmore, Cogan Station; Holly Patton Shull, Montoursville; Louisa Stone, Williamsport; Penny Estes, Williamsport; Diana Solomon, South Williamsport; Erin Roush, Williamsport; Helen Gair, Williamsport; and Tara Jordan, Montoursville.
Besides Dunlap, members of the group include Kathleen Radspinner, Hughesville; Sue Dinsmore, Cogan Station; Holly Patton Shull, Montoursville; Louisa Stone, Williamsport; Penny Estes, Williamsport; Diana Solomon, South Williamsport; Erin Roush, Williamsport; Helen Gair, Williamsport; Tara Jordan, Montoursville; Edie Shull, Williamsport; Terry Schneider, Williamsport; Sharon Estep, Mountain Top; Kay Shirk, State College; Candace Dunn, Connecticut; Liz Estes, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; Rina Santamarco, Muncy; and Rebecca Elkins, Nevada.
Dunlap said the women each donate $10 a month and bring non-perishable food and spare change to meetings. In the two years since the group began, Dunlap said the women have donated $4,000 to various charities. They also have helped sponsor three women through the Women for Women International organization that helps women in war-torn countries learn job skills.
Each month, the group decides how and where the money will be spent.
We are like millions of other women - we are concerned about issues like the oppression of women, hunger, lack of clean water, lack of education opportunities for children (especially girls), etc. We are concerned, we care and we want to help to solve these problems.
But we are ordinary folks - we have busy lives juggling jobs and families and money is tight in these hard economic times. We don't have the time or the money to go to another country and start a school or help a village to get clean water. We wanted to help, but how?
That is how We Are Women Helping Others - WAWHO - was born. It is a simple concept - we are a group of women who meet once a month. We each bring a modest $10 to the meeting and we decide on a charity to support with our combined dollars. We use reputable websites that we have read about in books such as "Half the Sky" and we check their ratings on such websites at Charity Navigator.
Together we are able to make a donation far beyond what any of us could afford on our own. The regular meetings have kept us committed to doing something every month - even busy December. And knowing we are helping others has forged an unbreakable bond between us "sisters."
We know that our little group is not going to change the world on its own. But it strikes us that there must be millions of others like us - people who don't have a lot of time or money but would like to do something if only they knew where to start.
What if there were chapters of WAWHO everywhere? What if all over the country and the world, groups of women were to get together to pool their resources to give regularly to charity? What couldn't we all accomplish together?
We, the ordinary, could do something truly extraordinary. We really could. It wouldn't take a lot of time or money from any one of us but together we would be amazing.
So this is our challenge: contact your girlfriends and set up a meeting.
Maybe you already have a group that gets together regularly for drinks or dinner or coffee. Why not make it a social meeting with meaning?
It's so easy - just find a website like GlobalGiving or Women for Women International and change a life today.
Like us, you'll wonder why you didn't think of this before.
For more information about WAWHO and about setting up your own chapter or group, contact Maddi Dunlap at mad email@example.com.
Sometimes they sponsor local organizations, sometimes that money is spent on international nonprofit groups and other times the money goes to a cause the women are passionate about supporting.
According to Dunlap, the group has sponsored women through Women for Women International; bought animals through Heifer International; donated funds to Camfed, Panzi Foundation, Japan tsunami relief fund, Fistula Foundation, Afghan Institute of Learning and Edna Hospital, Save the Children, St. Joseph's Children Hospital, Doctors Without Borders, SmileTrain, The World Is Our Neighbor, Where isthelove.org, World Vision; and local organizations such as the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, YWCA Liberty House, ACES North America, a local childhood cancer and juvenile diabetes fund, Family Promise and Hurricane Sandy relief.
"Friends and family members of those who join send money even though they don't come to the meetings," Dunlap said of the growing membership.
The meetings offer the women sisterhood, along with laughter, love and wine.
"It's a social event and we become good friends," said Estes, who hosted a recent meeting at her home.
Estes told the group about her recent experience delivering the donated food to the food bank.
"From the second they weighed it and took it off the scale, it went out the door to a family from Jersey Shore who came in looking for food," she said.
Estes told the group about the increased need for food during the holiday season and colder months, so the group decided to donate the spare change to the food bank, which Dunlap said usually is a few hundred dollars a year.
Stone told the group about the Shepherd of the Streets and how that organization needs travel-sized toiletries and donations of blankets and towels.
"People are giving to Sandy relief and forgetting about the local need," Stone said, putting in a plea for the ladies to chose a local cause. "The bins [at Shepherd of the Streets] are empty for people here."
Stone also told the women about the Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, which accepts materials from contractors, supplies, manufacturers, retailers and individuals and resells them.
During the meeting, Dunlap read thank you letters from organizations they have supported, including World Vision, where the women bought a bicycle last year for a little girl to ride to school. Estep, who resides in Mountain Top, sent Dunlap an email saying she was glad to be a part of the sisterhood and was making donations in the names of her friends for Christmas.
"Merry Christmas to a special friend. There is no more generous gift than a donation to a group that helps families in need locally and throughout the world," Dunlap read from Estep's email.
"It always blows me away to hear how much we've done," Stone said.
Dunlap also read an update from a sister in Rwanda they support, and passed around a photo of her.
"Your support makes a deep impact in these women through Women for Women International," Dunlap said. "This gives them access to knowledge and resources and helps them provide for their families."
"We just don't have a clue," Estes said about the hardships these women face. "We can be the voices of these women."
"It helps them to know that people across the world are thinking about them," Dunlap said.
The group also discussed issues they would like to research to support, including International Rescue Committee, the crisis in Africa's Sahel region and Save the Children.
Patton Shull told the group that after she read "Half the Sky," she was concerned about the human trafficking figures mentioned by authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
"More women are shipped into brothels now than there were people in slavery in the 1800s," she said, referring to the 600,000 to 800,000 women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation, according to the authors. "Talk about the victimization of women."
Patton Shull got emotional as she described the horrific ways these women are drugged and treated. She made a plea to the group to research and support this issue.
Radspinner also wanted the women to research the Barefood College in India, an organization she discovered after watching a documentary on WVIA.
The organization teaches rural people, especially women, how to use solar power.
"It was amazing watching these women," Radspinner said as Estes pulled up a clip of the documentary on her iPad so the other ladies could watch.
"An adult woman was being treated like a child. She had to ask permission to go to school," Radspinner said. "We really take that for granted."
Jordan, the newest member of the group who was attending her first meeting, asked the women how they decide which groups to support.
"There are so many things to give to ... too many ideas," she said. "This year, for Christmas, I'm giving my brothers and sisters a donation in their name to a cause."
Radspinner said she likes to support groups that give a skill to women.
A musician, Radspinner led the women into another room where she sat down at the piano to play a song she wrote about the group with the women.
Some held hands and sang along as Radspinner got to the chorus, "I wanna sing a happy song before I go."
"This is a sad world, so much hatred," Radspinner sang. "Say there be peace and make it so. Say let there be love and peace."
Dunlap said her WAWHO group isn't looking for new members, but to inspire people to start their own group and support whatever ignites their passion.
"If we can inspire just a few people to do just the little we do, it will be so worth it," Dunlap said.