By Dennis Grubach
Illinois Business Journal
Despite a difficult financial environment and against a raging virus, one local organization has shown it is possible to help people in need.
100+ Women Who Care from the 618, formed last year, has managed to raise more than $150,000 for nonprofits in the 618 area code.
“Even a pandemic can’t slow us down,” said founding member Denise Arendell of Edwardsville.
Long before current times entered their crisis phase, the 618 group was actively looking for ways to help charitable groups.
Arendell, a financial advisor in Fairview Heights, was intrigued early in 2019 when a friend mentioned a national program in which women are asked to support charitable organizations in a massive, coordinated effort.
She began reading up on the program, known as “Women Who Care.” There were no chapters in Southern Illinois.
She and friends agreed to start a local chapter representing the 618 area code, launching it on Facebook. By the end of the month of June 2019, the Facebook group had more than 1,000 members — before a single contribution was made.
That was the official birth of “100+ Women Who Care from the 618,” a group that has drawn interest from other people in other states about volunteer giving.
The premise calls for members to write a check for $100 four times a year to charities that are discussed and voted upon in advance. Each quarter an Impact Award is given to the charity, with smaller amounts to runner-up groups.
During their first meeting July 25, 2019, at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, some 300 women showed up to raise $31,650 for the Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville, which serves senior citizen needs.
At their October 2019 meeting, they raised $33,500 for Refuge, a Wood River organization that helps traumatized children.
At its third meeting, in January, the group was able to help Heartlinks Grief Center with $37,000. That agency, based in Belleville, provides a variety of services to children, adults, and families who are trying to cope with the serious illness or death of someone they love.
The quarterly awards approach was working smoothly — before COVID-19 entered. The April meeting had to be canceled.
“Coronavirus threw our plan,” Arendell said. “We didn’t have time to come up with another solution, so we made the difficult decision to cancel our meeting and encourage a voluntary donation to nonprofits of their choice.”
The steering committee was later astonished to find out that, even without a formal meeting, members donated more than $37,000 to various organizations.
“There were over 50 nonprofits,” Arendell said. One woman alone gave more than $5,000.
“We were flying by the seat of our pants,” she said of the uncertainty brought on by the virus and the effect on the economy. “We didn’t want to pressure women. We understood there were going to be job losses and health concerns.”
The steering committee is comprised of the same core group that formed it. And the volunteer commitment of the women has taken more time than any of them could have anticipated, but the effort is worth it.
“It’s also filled my heart in the greatest way imaginable,” Arendell said.
Steering member codirector Sarah Rankin quickly agreed: “It’s like a second job, but I don’t regret a second of time I’ve given to this organization.”
Rankin said COVID-19 has laid bare the needs of nonprofits, which were struggling before there was a virus. She said the Women from 618 are “filling a gap that is occurring now more than ever.”
The group’s latest meeting was held in July and was conducted via Zoom. About 85 women participated and the charity of choice is St. John’s Community Center, which has senior citizen daycare locations in Collinsville and Edwardsville. The amount raised is still being determined.
After 100+ Women’s first donation last year, Main Street Community Center was able to establish an endowment that will provide delivered meals to seniors who are not able to afford $3.50 a day under the normal cost of the program.
“And they named it after us – the ‘100+ Women Who Support Seniors Grant’,” Arendell said. “That one really got to us.”
Last year’s second award recipient, Refuge, was able to hire another therapist, which allowed the agency to eliminate some of its waitlist for children. Refuge provides counseling for children who are witnesses to trauma, be it domestic violence or other instances.
There are hundreds of nonprofits in the 618 area code and the final choices are personal ones.
“We see these women voting based on their heart and a need that might not even be in their community,” Rankin said.
Like many of the charities they are helping, the 100+ Women of 618 have been affected by the pandemic.
“Some women have dropped out, some have put their membership on hold, just to see how things go. Given the circumstances, we are completed open to that,” Arendell said.
The group is hoping corporate sponsors can help bridge the gap.
“We’d had a number of corporate sponsors lined up to pay for meeting locations and light appetizers, and we’re hoping, since we won’t be meeting for some time, that those corporate donors will instead help us increase the total amount we’re able to give.”
Among sponsors have been Scott Credit Union, Bank of Springfield, Dr. Kristin Jacobs from Oooh Lah Lah Spa and Bella Milano. At least one sizeable sponsor has remained anonymous.
Rankin said the group is not sure when it will be able to meet again in person, although the next quarterly Impact Award is set for Oct. 22.
“It’s safe to assume it will be another Zoom meeting. We’re ready for whatever that might look like. Despite these challenging and unprecedented times, the 100-plus Women of the 618 continue to support the mission of supporting our local nonprofits,” Arendell said.
A couple of changes have been made to the group’s format since its inception. One, is that the second and third choices for the Impact Award are now being given funds as well.
Steering committee decided to write checks to those organizations themselves.
“That way we are certain that everyone leaves the evening with something,” Arendell said.
Each impact recipient has to sit out two years before becoming eligible again for an award.
Other outside groups have shown interest in 618’s business model.
“We had two women from Texas who sat in our Zoom meeting this past quarter to watch it in action. They are wanting to set up a 100-Plus Women’s in Texas. People are watching.”
To connect to the group, look for its Facebook page, 100+ Women Who Care from the 618.