Big Hearts = Big Impact
A Local Women’s Group Makes a Real Difference
Tracy Yost of Westport and Beth Kisielius of Wilton run a quarterly meeting for the charitable giving organization 100+ Women Who Care.
Photos by Stan Godlewski
There is a high level of energy at Pearl restaurant in Westport, as a large group of women gets settled into their seats.
The hosts Tracy Yost of Westport and Beth Kisielius of Wilton start with a warm welcome and a contagious enthusiasm. Members have come to expect this spirit of positivity and optimism. Most have attended the 100 Women Who Care (100 WWC) meetings before. They’re looking forward to a lively discussion that will also have an immediate positive impact on a lucky nonprofit organization in Fairfield County.
Yost begins by giving a brief history of the organization, which was founded in 2006 by Karen Dunigan, from Jackson, Michigan. At the time, Dunigan’s friend, a CEO for a local Center for Family Health, had been seeking donations for families in need, so she called 100 female friends and asked each of them for a $100 donation. The money was quickly raised, and the concept of 100 WWC was born. Today, there are 550 chapters worldwide.
Yost and Kisielius started the Fairfield County Chapter in 2015. After moving to Wilton 12 years ago Kisielius says that she’d been looking for a way to make a difference in the community. Yost had already been part of a chapter in Santa Cruz and wanted to start one in the area. Now they have 150 participants.
The meeting follows a tried-and-true model which starts with a summary report given by the awarded charity from the previous quarter. In this case it was Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders, and funds had been used for a Girls’ Empowerment program. Next, each of the three charities that had been selected for the evening takes a turn pitching its organization, and offering emotional and persuasive arguments about the benefits that the funds could bring. The women listen intently and take notes. They ask questions. Some of them use their phones to get online for more research. Then the chatter rises again as they begin marking votes on a small ballot that had been handed out at the beginning of the evening, Beth passes around a box to collect them.
From start to finish the meeting takes 60 minutes, with Yost and Kisielius using a timer and signs that they unapologetically hold up if someone talks for too long. That makes this organization efficient, effective, and attractive to many women who want to do something good but are strapped for time. One member, Liz Salguero, notes: “100 WWC appeals to me because it’s designed for women who are interested in doing philanthropic work without having to do all the research.” She adds, “This is working smarter, not harder.”
Nine participants are from Wilton, including Allison Jacobson, who represents First Candle, an organization that advocates for more education around Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). “It might also plant a seed with women to volunteer more in the future.” For Yost, the magic has become more than just the donation. She realized this when she ran into a woman who, through the organization, connected her daughter with The Adoption Hope Foundation, and the woman is now a grandmother.
Finally the recipient of the evening is announced: Tiny Miracles Foundation. This is an organization that offers financial assistance and support to the parents of preemies. The members are happy with the outcome yet reserved. They know it’s tough for the other charities that didn’t receive funds this evening. But Kisielius is quick to encourage them to try again, as she and Yost select three more charities for consideration at the September meeting. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation representative is one of those selected, and she’s thrilled to know she has a second chance to receive funds in the fall.
At the end of a post-meeting chat, Kisielius says, “Currently we bring in a total of about $8,000 each quarter, but we are capable of so much more.” When asked what “more” means, she is quick to say, “I want to get the word out. Then we’ll be able to get to more donations. I want a bigger meeting room.”
It may feel like the group is outgrowing its current meeting space, but there seems to be plenty of room in the hearts of these women who are making a difference, simply because they care.