West Marin Fund Supports WMSS Female Staff Members

by Marcia Barinaga, West Marin Fund

When West Marin Fund received a gift from an anonymous male donor to fund female leadership, the result was a women and girls’ empowerment program that challenged West Marin nonprofits to stretch in new ways. The grants—a total of $111,500 to 12 West Marin nonprofits–have funded innovative projects aimed at professional and personal growth for women, girls and non-binary youth that the nonprofits would not have been able to undertake otherwise. The results in many cases have proven transformative for the whole organization.

Maria and her daughter Viri

West Marin Senior Services (WMSS) used its $8,000 grant to support career training for several female staff members, including Maria Medina, who had just begun working as a caregiver at Stockstill House when WMSS applied for the grant. A single mother of two, Medina had lived in Point Reyes Station since she graduated from high school. When her kids were young, she worked at Papermill Creek Children’s Corner, and later as a cashier at the West Marin Pharmacy. After a few months of working at WMSS, thanks to the grant she was offered the chance to take a course to become an RCFE (Residential Care Facility for the Elderly) administrator. The course work—60 hours of classroom work over three weekends, and 20 hours of on-line work before the exam—was difficult and unlike anything she had done before, she says, but she applied herself and passed the exam on her first try.

“I saw her really blossom, being given an opportunity with the expectation that she would succeed,” says Amena Hajjar, Communications Coordinator at WMSS.

Being appointed as an administrator at Stockstill House changed Medina’s life and that of her 14 year old daughter Viri, and her 9 year old son Geo. “Before, I was living paycheck to paycheck to pay for bills, rent, and food,” she says. With her new position and salary, “I can afford to take my kids places, shopping, or to a movie.” Seeing her mother go back to school inspired Viri to improve her grades, and Viri was named Student of the Month for January at West Marin School.

Medina was not the only WMSS staff member to receive a boost from an educational opportunity. WMSS used grant funds to support English as a Second Language programs for two Spanish-speaking caregivers, while administrator Natalia Meyerson completed a three-day course in Senior Living Activity Training. “We have always sponsored staff education,” says WMSS Executive Director Skip Schwartz. “But you are working very close to the bone in a nonprofit. It is difficult to make the space for people to actually take advantage of the education.” The grant provided the support needed to make that space, he added, such as childcare to free the women to do the coursework.

Creative Expression

The remainder of the WMSS grant went to realize another female staff-member’s dream: Communications Coordinator Hajjar envisioned an art gallery for seniors in the WMSS office space. The grant enabled Hajjar to fund a track system for hanging art exhibits, the labor needed to hang and publicize the shows, and to hold openings. For the first show, in January 2019, Hajjar chose a client of WMSS, 91-year-old local artist Helen Webber. “Her art deals with generations of women in her life and in the world,” says Hajjar. Seventy-five people attended the opening, and Webber’s daughter spoke “about her mother’s unconditional love, and about mentorship from mother to daughter,” says Hajjar.

A recent show, entitled “Aging: Everyone’s Doing It,” featured artwork of many seniors who have never exhibited before.

“It dovetailed beautifully with the grant.” Hajjar has hung a new show every 6 to 8 weeks, and the gallery is fully booked for 2020.

The full article from West Marin Fund is available here