Education is the way out of poverty – Oak Ridger

A funny thing happened on the way to writing a generic piece about Women and Philanthropy. I encountered Terry Morgan of the Womensfund of East Tennessee (WFET).

“Women’s funds were popping up all over the country, and the East Tennessee Foundation decided our region needed one,” says Morgan, executive director of the Womensfund.

Born in the East Tennessee Foundation a decade ago, the Womensfund received its own 501(c)3 status in 2015. The East Tennessee Foundation is a public charity and community foundation created by and for the people of East Tennessee.

Womensfund serves all 25 counties that the East Tennessee Foundation serves, including Anderson, Roane, Loudon, Morgan, Scott, McMinn and all counties east to the Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina state lines.

Womensfund has a basic, but profound, premise: Education will get people out of poverty, and, if you can change the lives of women, you can change communities.

“After conducting a series of focus groups in all 25 counties, WFET found that a major barrier to postsecondary education in the region is a cultural and familial attitude discouraging women and girls from furthering their education beyond high school,” says the organization’s website.

Womensfund is trying to change the narrative around postsecondary education for women, whether it is getting a certificate from a technical school, taking classes at a community college or attending a four-year college — or beyond.

Why does it matter? According to the WFET brochure, almost one in six women live in poverty in Tennessee. Half of Tennessee households depend on a female bread winner and working women in Tennessee are twice as likely as men to have a low-income job.

In addition to working to get women out of poverty, Womensfund does not shy away from other tough advocacy issues: It is concerned with domestic violence and human trafficking, as well as adverse childhood experiences. The Fund has, therefore, closely followed bills passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this past year.

Recently approved legislation includes several WFET advocacy issues: Domestic violence awareness, streamlining rape kit processing, domestic violence awareness education for cosmetologists and barbers, increased in-service training about human trafficking for teachers, preventing human trafficking, the creation of lifetime orders of protection for victims of certain felonies and a bill that ensures access to behavioral and mental health service through telehealth services.

Another bill strongly supported by WFET that passed this past legislative session has the potential to support women entering and staying in the workforce: it is a pilot program for Tennessee Promise students who need emergency support.

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University says that even though support for women and girls’ organizations reached $7.1 billion in 2017, that represents only 1.6% of overall charitable giving.

The Institute further contends that numerous reports indicate that women have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. Women comprise the majority of essential workers, and they have accepted caregiving responsibilities for children and other relatives.

“Women have also experienced higher rates of job loss, poverty, and domestic abuse, while their access to important services like reproductive healthcare has been greatly diminished,” the report says.

In the vernacular, it’s as if women, especially poor women, can’t get a break. Reliable reports also tell us that professional women have had to give up promising careers to care for others during the pandemic.

“COVID set us back a year,” Morgan says. “We pivoted to webinars, but had to postpone important in-person work. But, we’re back”

Morgan says that the best way to get involved with WFET is to serve on committees, volunteer in the office (which is in downtown Knoxville)and help raise funds.

We can always help raise funds from our own bank accounts, of course. Womensfund has a fascinating website at womensfundetn.org.

“We believe that when you invest in a woman, you invest in a family, a community and, ultimately, a region. By helping women and girls, we create stronger communities for all of us,” says the WFET brochure.

Martha Moore Hobson was an early certified financial planner in the region and founding partner of Hobson Yoder Financial Group. Although retired, she is an active volunteer in the Oak Ridge community.