Metrowest Women’s Fund Seeks to Lift Up Women & Girls
Rachel Sagan (R) and Rebecca Parkhill (L) founded the MetroWest Women’s Fund two years ago this month. Their goal, to lift up women and girls in their community. Photography by Elizabeth Laduca
By J.D. O’Gara
There was a women’s fund in Boston, the North and South Shores, and one in Western Mass.
Despite these regional funds supporting initiatives that empower women and girls in other areas of Massachusetts, there wasn’t one in the MetroWest – until two years ago, thanks to Rachel Sagan and Rebecca Parkhill. The two women co-founded and serve as co-executive directors of the MetroWest Women’s Fund.
“Rachel and I started the MetroWest Women’s Fund in March of 2019,” said Parkhill, an ordained Unitarian Universalist community minister, who, like Sagan, has extensive nonprofit experience. “It had long been a dream of Rachel’s to start a women’s fund in the MetroWest.”
Their goal was to make their community a place where women and girls are supported and get the services they need and deserve.
As their first project, the MetroWest Women’s Fund worked with Congregation Beth El, of Sudbury, to support a scholarship for a female immigrant who was a first-generation student attending Framingham State University.
“There was overwhelming support; we raised $11,000,” said Parkhill.
The first scholarship recipient was a young woman whose parents immigrated to the United States when she was 2.
“Her dream is to be an elementary school teacher, to give back to the community,” said Parkhill.
Since then, the MetroWest Women’s fund has supported three local women with scholarships.
The two executive directors term their fund as “locavore philanthropy.”
“It’s good for our community. These are our neighbors, the people we work with, that we go to school with,” said Parkhill.
Following this success, Rachel and Rebecca embarked on what they term “a listening tour” throughout the MetroWest.
“We met with directors and people who worked with nonprofits who served women and girls, elected representatives, and we got everyone together in a community forum,” said Parkhill.
The goal was to gain a better understanding of where women and girls in the community were not being served, and where they could step in.
“Part of our mission is to not just raise funds, but to raise awareness, to educate donors,” said Parkhill. “Out of all charitable giving only 1.6 percent goes to women and girls. (Women’s Philanthropy Institute). It’s really breathtakingly small.”
Parkhill and Sagan learned about the population of women incarcerated at
MCI Framingham, the state’s only women’s prison.
“We teamed with Womenade Boston to do a Zoom educational event with Suffolk County DA Rachel Rollins, and she spoke about the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system. We had 100 people sign up for that event,” said Parkhill.
At the end of the listening tour, three areas of focus for the MetroWest Women’s Fund were evident: Education, Girls: Our Next Generation, and Safety from Violence. Those focus areas were paramount in the fund’s inaugural grant program in 2020, made possible by Jewish Family Services of Framingham, the fund’s first fiscal partner. MWF raised all of the revenue for the grants.
“Last year, we received 14 grant proposals for a total of $130,000 for requests,” said Sagan.
Of that, six were awarded grants in 2020, including Domestic Violence Services Network, Dignity Matters, Family Promise MetroWest, Mass Bay Community College Foundation, MetroWest Legal Services, and the RIA House.
Grants went to help educate about domestic violence, providing advanced educational opportunity—as well as essential hygiene products – to homeless and low-income women, for legal services for low-income victims of domestic violence, and for a peer mentor for sex trade survivors.
The MetroWest Women’s Fund just received its 501c(3) status at the end of February 2020. The nonprofit also just partnered with the Center for Social Research at Framingham State to embark on a needs assessment of middle school girls from 37 MetroWest middle schools.
“We’re very excited. This is a partnership with the schools, and there’s very little data from professionals about middle school girls,” said Sagan.
“We’re going to share a report based on the survey’s aggregate data, to help the schools. What are the girls’ needs, and what are some of the gaps, and how can we help and work together to fill those gaps,” said Parkhill. “We want to lift them up. Our vision is to build something that will last – to build a serious, long lasting nonprofit that will serve women and girls.”
The MetroWest Women’s Fund area of philanthropy includes 33 MetroWest towns: Acton, Ashland, Boxborough, Carlisle, Concord, Dedham, Dover, Framingham, Harvard, Holliston, Hopkinton, Hudson, Lexington, Lincoln, Marlborough, Maynard, Medfield, Medway, Milford, Millis, Natick, Needham, Sherborn, Southborough, Stow, Sudbury, Walpole, Waltham, Wayland, Wellesley, Westborough, Weston and Westwood.
Find out more about the Metrowest Women’s Fund at https://www.metrowestwomensfund.com/, on Facebook, Twitter (@MWWomensFund), and Instagram (metrowestwomensfund/)