Girl (em)power(ment)

Dallas Women’s Foundation president Roslyn Dawson Thompson seeks to empower women

Dallas Women’s Foundation president Roslyn Dawson Thompson seeks to empower women, photos by Can Türkyilmaz

With enough funds to allow significant development, the Dallas Women’s Foundation backs organizations helping teenage parents, mothers in recovery and abused children

“We see women as the agents of social and economic change,” says Dallas Women’s Foundation president Roslyn Dawson Thompson.

“Our whole focus is that we are committed to the belief that when you invest in a woman, you benefit her family, you benefit the neighborhood, you benefit the community, and ultimately you benefit the world.”

The Dallas Women’s Foundation, which was founded in 1985, is a non-profit community foundation that grants more than $2.5 million annually to more than 1,000 programs that focus on women and women’s issues.

The Dallas Women’s Foundation, or DWF, has poured more than $16.5 million into the Dallas community, a large portion of which has gone directly to helping East Dallas organizations.

Of course, they couldn’t do it without donors who believe in their vision and approach. Add that to the research DWF puts into women’s issues, and you have a recipe for success.

“We have grown since inception to become the largest women’s fund in the world, which is an exciting statement to make,” Thompson says.

“There are 160 women’s funds worldwide, and we are the largest.”

Recently the foundation has been focusing on helping women in poverty to overcome barriers that are keeping them economically disadvantaged.

“We have funded organizations based on what our research shows as the most critical community needs,” she explains.

“We can take that gendered cut at addressing poverty, addressing educational inequities, addressing health care access, and many other issues that specifically surround women by taking a gendered approach.”

Allison Whitehead, executive director of Alley’s House

Allison Whitehead, executive director of Alley’s House

Alley’s House

During the fall 2012 grant cycle, Dallas Women’s Foundation granted $15,750 to Alley’s House in Old East Dallas.

Alley’s House offers physical and emotional support services while teaching teen moms parenting and other important life skills.

Because teen pregnancy is such a common factor in poverty, the support Alley’s House offers makes it an important partnership to DWF, says Thompson.

“It’s the concept that, if they can be appropriately supported, learn parenting skills and learn the life skills they need, they will have the ability to be self- sufficient,” she explains.

Allison Whitehead, executive director of the organization, says she founded the program in 1997 because she saw so many teen moms dropping out of school.

A large part of the Alley’s House program is the completion of 80 lessons in 80 weeks, which allows teen moms to earn their GED as well as receive mentoring.

“We are helping them invent their life and create choice,” Whitehead says. “They go from no choice to full choice, so it’s really cool to see the look on their faces when they have that ah-ha moment of power and choice, of ‘Wow, I can actually make this decision, and I can do it.’”

Alley’s House receives no federal funding, so grants like those from DWF are key.

“(The partnership with DWF) is a good alignment for us,” Whitehead says. “Empowerment, that is what we do, and their support has helped us in doing what we do better.”

SEE WHAT GIVES for volunteer opportunities at Alley’s House.

Nexus Recovery Center

Nexus Recovery Center director Becca Crowell

Nexus Recovery Center director Becca Crowell

During the fall 2012 grant cycle, DWF granted $30,000 to Nexus Recovery Center in East Dallas.

“Nexus is an awesome, awesome agency that we have funded for a good long time,” Thompson says.

Nexus, which was founded in 1971, is a recovery center specifically for women with alcohol and narcotic addictions.

In 1990, they became one of the few substance treatment agencies in the country that allows women to bring their children into treatment.

Nexus director Becca Crowell says they opened up their doors to families because they recognized childcare was a huge barrier between women and treatment.

“These women weren’t getting treatment before,” Crowell points out, “because no one else says, ‘Well, bring your kids along.’”

Now, many of their clients get treatment because of pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is the motivational factor,” she says. “It’s the ah-ha moment, and then they get healthy babies, which goes a long way.”

Crowell says many of their childcare providers also work with the kids on any emotional or developmental issues.

“It’s not just babysitting, and we’re proud of that.”

SEE WHAT GIVES for volunteer opportunities at the Nexus Recovery Center.

The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s chief of external affairs Ellen Magnis

The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s chief of external affairs Ellen Magnis

Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center

Also in 2012, DWF granted $20,000 to Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center in Old East Dallas.

The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center is one of the largest advocacy centers in the country, as well as one of the most respected, says the chief of external affairs Ellen Magnis.

Its purpose is to act as the coordinating body for child abuse cases that might end up in criminal court.

“We work with 26 different police agencies in Dallas County,” she says, “as well as Child Protective Services, as well as Children’s Medical Center and many other partners.”

In cases where there is suspicion of child abuse, the staff at DCAC conduct non-leading, non-suggestive forensic interviews with the children.

“[The staff] are also trained in the developmental style of children, so the child can tell his or her story in his or her language. They’re talking with someone who really knows how to talk with a child. And that way the child is only talking to one person, and they’re not having to talk to a police officer with a gun on his hip, and if the case does end up in the court system, the fewer people this child has talked with, the better.”

After that, the child begins therapy, which is where the Dallas Women’s Foundation grants have benefitted the Advocacy Center.

“Most of our clients are children who have been sexually abused, and our most common client is about a 9-or 10-year-old girl who has been sexually abused by someone she knows and trusts, so the healing process of that is significant.”

SEE WHAT GIVES for volunteer opportunities at Dallas Children’s Advocacy






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