From a single idea, 1,000 Metro East women unite for local charities

By DENNIS GRUBAUGH — Denise Arendell found out pretty quickly how many caring women live in the 618 area code.

Arendell, an Edwardsville resident and a financial advisor in Fairview Heights, was intrigued earlier this spring when a friend mentioned a national program in which women are asked to support charitable organizations in a massive, coordinated effort.

She began reading more about the program, known as “Women Who Care.”

“I found myself up to 3 or 4 in the morning doing research,” she said. There are chapters around the nation, but none was in Southern Illinois.

She gathered a few friends to talk it over and as a group they agreed to see what kind of interest there might be in starting a local chapter representing the 618 area code.

“I launched it on a Friday afternoon on Facebook,” Arendell said. “Within an hour I got a phone call from Madison County Circuit Judge Sarah Smith Raschen, who told me she’d been wanting to do this for over a year. I kept getting messages. By that night we had a hundred women. I went to bed, got up and we had 200 women wanting to join. Another day it was 300, and then 400.”

By the end of the month of June, the Facebook group had more than 1,000 members, all people wanting to join a group that relatively few in Southern Illinois had ever heard about. And this, before a single contribution was made.

That was the official birth of “100+ Women Who Care from the 618,” a group that might provide a new guidepost for charitable giving in a wide region of the state.

Co-director Sarah Rankin, a community college professor, attributes the huge Facebook response to the simplicity of the idea.

“So many women today have a strong desire to help the non-profits in their communities, but feel they lack the time it takes to make a significant difference,” Rankin said. “This concept requires little time but makes a huge impact.”

The group has held several information meetings in recent weeks, but its first formal charitable-giving gathering will be July 25 at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville.

The concept is quite simple. Women will be asked to pledge $100 four times per year. During one-hour meetings each quarter, members will nominate local charities. Three members, chosen at random, will have five minutes to pitch a charity dear to them. Members will privately vote for one of the three charities, and the one with the most votes will be announced and become that quarter’s recipient charity.

The women will then write a $100 check directly to the recipient charity, and 100+ WWC618 will deliver the stack of checks to the recipient charity.

If only 100 women show up at the inaugural meeting, the recipient charity would receive $10,000.

Each of the charities is being vetted in advance to make sure they are a 501 (c) (3) organization as defined in federal law and that each has been actively working on charitable efforts for at least a year.

Most charities suggested so far are charities well known in Metro East. A few, though, are small enough that a $10,000 donation would be “life changing,” Arendell said.

“Collectively, we can make an impact. We’ve estimated about 150 nonprofits are in the 618.”

Any charity within the 618 area code is eligible to be considered. Some charities might be based outside the area but serve people inside the area.

Political charities will be excluded, as will religious charities that do not assist people outside of a denomination, as well as charities that only benefit a single person.

The board is taking many considerations into mind when it comes to vetting charities in hopes of finding ones that a wide cross section of women will support. The recipient charities are required to agree to not solicit the donors, add them to a database or sell their information.

“We are allowing in our bylaws for the board to make an ultimate decision,” Arendell said. “It’s not been an easy thing to put together, but you do have to think through all these scenarios.”

Some women have been asking questions about charities that put some donations toward salaries, but everyone who votes can take such things into consideration when casting a ballot, she said.

So how about men? Are they going to have an involvement? Perhaps not with this group, but Arendell said they might well be inspired to start one of their own. There are other existing groups for a wide range of causes. Ones like Men Who Give a Damn, Millennials Who Care, Teachers Who Care, etc. It would only take someone caring enough to start a local chapter.

“That’s the beauty of it. We have guidance of other chapters before us, but we can create it in our own way,” she said.

Concepts vary from group to group, with just small nuances. The 618 Women’s group, for instance, has chosen to not have a Q&A on charity nominees simply because there is so little time at an hourlong meeting.

She envisions other groups stemming off from the 618 campaign and would gladly work with any of them.

“Bylaws are tailored for our own use, but I absolutely would hand off our bylaws (to other groups trying to start),” she said, adding that she liberally borrowed from the bylaws of other groups just to get started.

The board is made up of a good cross section of people, including a judge and an attorney, but Arendell stressed the group is open to all caring women.

The steering committee is made up of Arendell, who is the founder and co-director; Sarah Rankin, co-director; and Steering Committee Members Sandy Knee, Christa Guilbeault, Sarah Smith Raschen, Ann Gorman, Barbara Joiner, Michelle Enloe and Nekisha Omotola.

“Our focus is to keep it simple and make a big impact. I can see from the women that are interested that this is going to be a pretty powerful thing,” Arendell said.

Women are asked to participate in a lot of things, on boards or committees or in fundraising, but this group gives them an option to participate on a level that complements their busy schedules.

“I think it’s the concept of simplicity and such minimal time involved. It’s a great solution,” Arendell said.

The group stresses that no money is changing hands. Only checks.

618 Women is not itself a charitable organization, so any expenses have to be paid up front.

Because of that restriction, any help underwriting expenses is appreciated. McKenzie Breihan with BOS Bank of Springfield in Glen Carbon is the first corporate sponsor and donated to the group’s administrative needs. The bank donated $500 to cover some of the initial administrative costs. She hopes that triggers other businesses to donate to some of the charitable causes.

“Once the businesses in our community see the amazing work these 100+ women are doing, we anticipate their matching gifts will astronomically raise our quarterly impact awards. It’s happened in other areas across the country and we have really special community focused people here,” says Arendell.

The group would like to move quarterly meetings around the region and hopes to get some space donated along the way.

In her research, Arendell determined there were no Women Who Care chapter in Southern Illinois. There are two in Missouri and Chicago has several.

“Nothing was on this side of the river, and by the showing of interest in membership it was long overdue,” she said.

“We know it’s easy to join a Facebook group,” Rankin said. “Now is when we are asking women to officially join by completing a membership commitment form.”

To request a commitment form, become a member, and attend the July 25 Impact Award Meeting, contact wwcfrom618@gmail.com or ask to join the Facebook group 100+ Women Who Care from the 618.

PHOTO: Some of the Steering Committee members of the “100+ Women Who Care from the 618,” from left: Christa Guilbeault, Michelle Enloe, Denise Arendell, Sarah Rankin, Sophia Rankin (an emerging leader) and Barbara Joiner.

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