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NEWS FEATURE: New charity trend: women helping women

c. 1998 Religion News Service PHILADELPHIA _”Women now have a significant amount of money and they are creating opportunities for other women who are somewhat left behind,” says Sister Mary Scullion. The crusading nun’s “somewhat” was a tactful way of describing situations that are desperate. Scullion made her remarks at the recent groundbreaking for a […]

c. 1998 Religion News Service

PHILADELPHIA _”Women now have a significant amount of money and they are creating opportunities for other women who are somewhat left behind,” says Sister Mary Scullion.

The crusading nun’s “somewhat” was a tactful way of describing situations that are desperate. Scullion made her remarks at the recent groundbreaking for a project that will turn some abandoned Philadelphia rowhouses into 75 low-rent apartments for homeless women with children.

The nun raised $4 million for the project in just a few months _ all from women, signaling a new trend in charitable giving.

“The common thread in all of this,” said Joan Dawson-McCollum, co-founder with Scullion of the group, Project H.O.M.E., “is the belief in the potential of other women.”

The Philadelphia project offers clues about where a lot of philanthropic money will be headed in the future, and also about whom it will be coming from.

Over the past two decades there has been much discussion about the feminization of poverty. Single women with children slide down the income scale farthest and fastest. What hasn’t been noted is the growing feminization of wealth, a phenomenon demonstrated by the donations Scullion rounded up.

The largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in U.S. history is going to occur over the next 30 years, according to experts. Some say as much as $10 trillion will move from the elderly, who invested in homes and stock in the 1960s, to their children, the baby boomers.

“Women live on the average seven years longer than men, so you figure it out,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in Madison, Wis.

More women than ever before have the resources to give _ from salary now, as well as inheritance. The number of women who make at least $75,000 a year annually has more than quadrupled since 1967, according to the Census Bureau. The percentage of women who are chief executive officers at foundations has risen to 43 percent from 26 percent in 1982.

The lead gift for the Philadelphia project _ $1.5 million _ came from Rena Rowan, a Polish immigrant who came to the city after World War II. She was a single mother of four with no money who made a fortune as a fashion designer and co-founder of the Jones Apparel Group. (The project is called Rowan Homes.)

The Philadelphia-based Connelly Foundation, run by three sisters, matched Rowan’s $1.5 million. Then the Independence Foundation, whose president and board chairman are both women, gave $500,000, and the Sisters of Mercy, the order to which Scullion belongs, pledged the final $500,000.

There are few hard statistics on how women give, since giving is most often tracked by household rather than individual, but studies by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and by charity scholars suggest women’s giving tends to be to causes associated with the well-being of children.

The specter of homeless children inspired a special sense of urgency in these women donors.

“Women and children without homes, children on the street. It’s a disaster,” said Judge Phyllis Beck, chairman of the board of the Independence Foundation. “It’s totally unacceptable.”

Traditionally, men give to conserve, women give to change, says Ann E. Kaplan, research director of the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, which publishes Giving USA.

Scullion’s goal in Philadelphia is to bring about change by providing permanent housing and jobs for mothers, and a safe, supportive place for their children. The $4 million, which helped obtain an additional $9.7 million of public money, will eventually turn abandoned rowhouses on two blocks in North Philadelphia into three- and four-bedroom apartments for homeless women with children. The women can rent _ with rent set at no more than 30 percent of their income _ or lease to buy.

Scullion proudly shows plans for the community center where the women at Rowan Homes will get adult education, after-school childcare help, medical care and counseling.

Scullion lives two blocks away from the dilapidated houses that will become Rowan Homes; she shares an impressive stone former rectory with 24 men recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.

One woman who sees Rowan Homes as the answer to her prayers is Kellyce Artis, 29. She has twin boys, 11, another son, 9, and daughters 7 and 8. The family now lives in one room, sleeping in two bunks and a trundle bed. The room, with kitchenette, is one of 26 tiny but clean and pleasant mini-apartments in a place that also happens to be called Rowan House. Rehabilitating the stately 19th century brick building was Rena Rowan’s first big project for Philadelphia’s homeless families.

Artis had been living in places she said were falling apart; she considered herself “almost on the street.”

After eight months at Rowan House, she’s working for her high school degree and certification as a nursing assistant while her children go to school and then to the after-school program Rowan House provides. She and her children lived with her parents until her mother got sick, her father owed taxes, and they lost the house.

“I’d been sort of protected by my parents, sheltered,” Artis says. “Where I was able to afford after that, I had big trouble with landlords. And they weren’t safe places for my children.”

The women on the other end of the spectrum _ the donors to the future Rowan Homes _ have succeeded spectacularly, but still easily sympathize with women like Artis.

“The people who support Project H.O.M.E. really believe that we’re all vulnerable and there isn’t a tremendous difference between the woman sitting on the vent and ourselves,” Dawson-McCollum said.

All of their supporters on this project, Scullion says, “have felt discrimination in different ways. But they claimed their opportunities and leveled the playing field.” Emily Connelly Riley, executive vice president of the Connelly foundation, which has supported Project H.O.M.E. for the past 10 years, stresses that she supports Scullion because she delivers.

“She has astounded a lot of people with her business acumen,” Riley said. “People overlook that when they say, `Oh, isn’t she an angel of mercy?”’

The $128 million assets of the Independence Foundation are largely controlled by president Susan Sherman, a nurse, and chairman of the board Judge Beck, who entered law school when her fourth child was 2.

Sherman says of Scullion, “They call her the Mother Teresa of Philadelphia,” but she laughs at the idea. At 45, Scullion is hearty and healthy, a long-distance runner, with a marked Philly accent; she does not much resemble the saintly and deceased heroine of Calcutta.

The $500,000 contribution from the Sisters of Mercy, mid-Atlantic branch, is the most traditional of the four gifts, and the one causing the most sacrifice for the givers who, like Scullion, have taken a vow of poverty.

But the Rowan Homes project is a good match for the sisters’ historic mission _ in the 19th century the founder of the order opened the first House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland, to shelter women who came from the country to the city, and teach them trades so they could be self-sufficient.

“We decided to put some of the resources we gained from donations directed to us to the service of our ministries,” said Sister Christine McCann, president of the Regional Community of Merion. The resources were not given away lightly, because much of that money is meant for the nuns’ retirement. McCann oversees a community of 440 with an average age of 59.

“We’re very fortunate to know such women,” Scullion said. “I don’t know how people become sensitized, or what motivates them to use their resources to create opportunities for others, but I do think that women, at least these women anyway, have a special quality of a listening heart.”


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