Nyree Oliver only spoke for about five minutes, but that was more than enough time to leave a lasting impression on a room full of people at Tavistock Country Club.
This was last June during the first annual meeting for Impact100 South Jersey, a women’s collective giving group that seeks to donate $100,000 a year to a worthwhile nonprofit in the area. Oliver was representing Hopeworks Camden, one of three finalists for the inaugural grant.
She talked about her traumatic childhood of abuse and poverty and how she overcame it with help from Hopeworks, an organization that teaches youth the technical skills they need to thrive in the workplace, while also providing a nurturing environment to heal from the suffering they’ve endured.
Oliver is now an employee at Cooper University Hospital as well as Hopeworks, a full-time student and an aspiring entrepreneur. Her success story was a key factor in Hopeworks receiving the first grant from Impact100 South Jersey.
“That was a pretty compelling moment,” says Dan Rhoton, the executive director of Hopeworks. “Each nonprofit gets a chance to speak or pitch to the group, and we decided it would be silly to put a staff member up there when our organization works with youth. We wanted to show them what we do.
“She was amazing. Of course we’re excited we got the grant and of course it’s transformative, no question. But the most exciting moment for me was watching our young woman get up there, share her story and be in a room full of powerful women who all supported her.”
The idea of women banding together to support each other and make a difference in their community is how Impact100 South Jersey got off the ground. The Community Foundation of South Jersey hosted an event in 2017 featuring several well-known women philanthropists, and a handful of attendees were inspired to give back. They were later introduced to the Impact100 model—which started in Cincinnati and has branches across the country, including Philadelphia and North Jersey.
The goal of every Impact100 is to bring together 100 female members who each contribute $1,000 per year. They then vote to select one nonprofit to benefit from the entire $100,000 grant.
“I think it’s a great concept because it encourages and allows women to leverage their own personal philanthropic dollars,” says Nancy Weber, a longtime Haddonfield resident and one of the founding members of Impact100 South Jersey.
Eventually, two or three nonprofits from each focus area are chosen for a site visit and further evaluation.
Cherry Hill resident Irene Giman, a financial planner at RTD Financial Advisors, was an original member and a volunteer for a grant review committee last year. This year she has added responsibility, as not only is she part of the Leadership Council but is also heading one of the review committees.
“For me, it’s been really interesting learning about the grant process, looking at the projects that these organizations are seeking funding for and being stewards of our members’ money,” she says. “They’re trusting us to review everything and make a [worthy] selection. It’s a real responsibility but very interesting and there are so many wonderful people involved.”
Ultimately, one finalist from each focus area is selected and appears at the annual meeting in June, which will be held at The Community House in Moorestown this year. After the presentations, a secret vote is held by the members to decide which nonprofit receives the grant.
“The annual meeting is a big deal,” Ruffin says. “It’s very moving to hear the presentations. We were told by other Impacts that it’s the most emotional night of the year for the members. We believed them but we did not expect the degree to which it was highly emotional.”
Several guests who were present last year were so affected that they decided that night to become members of Impact100 South Jersey for the second year, and many of the original members have also recommitted to the cause.
Weber, the chair of the membership committee, saw a sizable increase in interested women throughout the year and was constantly meeting people for coffee to discuss the group’s mission. She also led several gatherings throughout the area this past fall for prospective members, and the result is that at least 155 women have signed on as members.
That means that one nonprofit will receive the full $100,000 grant this year, and the additional money will be dispersed between the other two finalists.
“We surpassed our goal and doubled our number, so it’s really great,” Weber says. “The region is really embracing the idea of collective giving and this shows the nonprofit community that we are and will continue to be a significant funding source for them.
“We have women executives, women who own their own companies, stay-at-home moms, social workers, attorneys, bankers, physicians. It’s a wide range of occupations and ages as well. We are very encouraged by the response of women in South Jersey.”
Weber has been inspired by other community leaders to be active in several charitable groups. She hopes her decision to become heavily involved with Impact100 South Jersey will be noticed by future generations.
“I spoke to my 13-year-old granddaughter about this and explained what collective giving means,” she says. “I just hope at the end of the day I’m a good role model for my children and grandchildren.”
Giman drew that kind of inspiration from her own mother, who was charitably inclined. She finds it rewarding to see what women can accomplish when they work together.
“I’m very proud of what we do,” she says. “When people contribute their time and money like this, I think it’s wonderful. It’s not surprising, though. I think that’s what women do.”
Hopeworks, which outgrew its original location, recently moved into a new space in Camden, and Rhoton says it would not have been possible without the grant from Impact100. The organization is now able to serve twice as many young people.
He would recommend other non-profits apply for the grant without hesitation. Applications for this year are currently available at Impact100SJ.org, and proposals are due on Feb. 15. Following the review period, finalists will be announced on May 29 and the annual meeting will be held on June 12.
“It’s a valuable process win or lose,” Rhoton says. “Of course the money is helpful, but getting feedback from a group of really smart, really talented women who are changing the world—that’s never going to end badly. … We always encourage folks to just go for it.”
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 11 (February 2019).
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