Power of The Purse | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Power of The Purse

Like most 22-year-olds, Jamie Holcomb doesn't have a lot of money. But that doesn't stop her from considering herself a modern-day philanthropist. Holcomb, who works at a non-profit, donates both money and time to the Women's Fund of Jackson.

Holcomb is part of a new generation—dedicated to furthering the status of women in Mississippi through even the smallest donations. "What's important for young women to do is establish a pattern of giving," she says. "You usually only think of women over 60 who give thousands of dollars as philanthropists, but I'm 22. I don't make much money, but it's important for me to establish this pattern now."

Julie Skipper, a 26-year-old lawyer and Mississippi native, also works with the Women's Fund. Together with 30-year-old Lori Genous, Skipper is chairing the Women's Fund's "Change by Design" event on Nov. 10 at the Mississippi School of Architecture downtown. Skipper graduated from Millsaps College years ago and immediately left Mississippi.

"I had to get out," she recalls now. "I went to Nashville for law school, but Mississippi kept pulling me back."

Though Skipper acknowledges many problems that Mississippi women still face—economic and political discrimination, especially—she ultimately decided that it was up to her to come back and begin working to change the state that had grabbed her heart. She first heard of the Women's Fund while at a meeting of women lawyers in February 2005. Optimistic about the program's work with grants and other programs that facilitate positive change for women in Mississippi, Skipper called the Women's Fund and began working immediately with the group. She now co-chairs the Young Women's Membership committee.

Since its inception in 2001, the Women's Fund has raised $502,981 for women's programs, including the University Medical Center's Center of Excellence in Women's Health and the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The group has awarded grants to Catholic Charities, the Girl Scouts and Dress for Success, a program that provides lower-income women with business suits to help them get professional jobs.

The Fund began after founders noticed that most grants are awarded to programs that do not directly benefit women. Of the nearly $35 billion given through foundation and corporate funding to charities in 2001, less than 6 percent went to programs that specifically serve the needs of women and girls. Around 75 percent of those serving on foundation boards are men.

Skipper says that teaching younger women how to donate both time and money will put women in more integral policy-making positions. "As young women, we are now becoming more empowered. We're able to research positions where we can begin to make real policy changes," Skipper says.

Skipper, Genous and Holcomb all have student loans to pay back, but balancing those payments with donations to groups that affect women is worth it, they all say. Genous and Skipper agree that making the state a healthier place for women not only makes their immediate communities healthier, but also the nation.

Because of these convictions, the three women are hoping to utilize the Nov. 10 event to empower more young women. In what Holcomb calls a "grass-roots movement," they're sending out hundreds of invitations to friends who would never think of themselves as donors to get them involved with the Women's Fund.

Genous, a Tougaloo graduate, says, "I have friends from Tougaloo who do their own work, but they never think about getting involved in something big like this, so I'm sending them invitations so they know."

They're hosting the event downtown, too, to put an even stronger emphasis on the "new Jackson"—a Jackson of revitalization and the "power of the purse," they say together, giggling.

Skipper adds, "Women just need to realize that it's not only the wallet that can control this state, but the purse, too."

The Women's Fund sponsors a membership drive, "Change by Design," Nov. 10, at 5:30 p.m. in the Mississippi School of Architecture downtown, 509 E. Capitol St. Call 601-982-9777

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