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WAWF helps girls, women in transition

They’re raising money to give grants that are used to establish and support programs that strengthen the lives, both socially and economically, for women and girls not just in the local area but throughout Kandiyohi County.

Willmarites Karin Gilbertson and Connie Spartz said they have a grant funding process that’s found online through the Willmar Area Women’s Fund. Grant applications are due in May, and the grants are given out in the fall.

The Willmar Area Women’s Fund (WAWF) was established in 2008 under the auspices of the Willmar Community Foundation. They decided that there was probably a need. Several area women identified the need to help women and girls who are in transition, and a steering committee was formed, Gilbertson said. “Right now we have endowment funds of around $260,000, and we have given out 14 different grants since 2008 for a total of about $38,000.” It’s been a real, viable program, and they’ve had lots of good feedback on it, she said.

WAWF raises this money through a special tea, other fundraisers and donations. “There is also a group called The Willmar Area Women’s Circle who donates a given amount of money every year that helps to sustain the group. Gilbertson said she’s only been a member of the steering committee for a year.

Spartz has been with the steering committee since it started in 2008 and has watched it grow. “I’ve been amazed at the support and the amount of time and effort given to the group by volunteers from all over the county, not just Willmar.”

Grants are also received from anybody within the county, she said, but it has to be an organization, not an individual. The grant has to meet the mission and it has to be supported by a 501(c)(3) organization.

The parent organization, called the Willmar Area Community Foundation, has a financial endowment of about $14 million, according to Gilbertson. “It’s a huge fund, and it operates in Kandiyohi County as part of the Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Spartz said. “Karin and I thought it was important to differentiate that the WAWF initiatives are solely for the support of the Willmar Area Women’s Fund. Donations acquired by the WAWF do not go to the parent organization; it stays with the Women’s Fund.” The Willmar Area Community Foundation has recently opened a Willmar office, and the executive director, Sara Carlson, works with the Community Foundation, which includes the Women’s Fund.

At a special fundraising tea, they’re honoring the late Elaine M. Adams, one of the founders, who gave a significant gift to start the organization, an amount that was matched by a Bremer Foundation grant.  They said she was very instrumental in the success of the group, and one thing she liked to do was wear a flower in her hair. They’ve expanded on that, Gilbertson said, and are going to have what they call fascinators available at the tea. “If you watched any of the English tea things or any of the Kate and William wedding you saw people wearing fascinators in their hair. They’re smaller than a hat – we are going to encourage people to wear them if they have one or want to make one.” It can be made very easily just by putting something on a comb or headband, she said, plus the Child Guides from the Willmar Public Schools will make some and have them available at the tea for a donation. “If you don’t have one or don’t come with one, you can leave with one if you want to.” Gilbertson said all the money from the fascinators will go to Child Guides, which is a great program for children.

Spartz said four women employed by the school and called Child Guides work with students who are referred by their teachers. These are students that are in need of developmental assets. “Research by the Search Institute has shown that children who do not have some of 40 statistically identified assets tend to fall behind in school, and often get into trouble, so the Child Guides’ specific purpose is to provide those 40 developmental assets to the children in most need,” said Spartz. It’s been tremendously effective, she said, noting they do so much work behind the scenes, and they don’t often take credit for what they are doing, but they are immensely effective in the school buildings. There’s one in each of the elementary schools, and one at the junior high. “Karin and I were in the field of education,” said Spartz, “so we’re both very aware of the magnificent job they do with children, and we’re very happy to have them supported by our initiative.” Spartz said that it was one of Gilbertson’s ideas to use the fascinators. “Then we decided to pull the Child Guides in, and they decided to have some of their students help make them.” Gilbertson said they’ll bring the ones they’ve already made, and they’ll be available for a donation.

Women and girls attending aren’t asked to wear a fascinator, but if they chose to, it would be fun. Spartz said some women like to come with a hat and gloves as they would for an authentic English Tea. “Some have done that in the past and enjoyed it immensely, but that’s entirely up to the women. They can dress up if they wish. People wear whatever they choose and just enjoy being together for conversation, comradery and the fellowship that is generated.”

The Women’s Fund Tea, the theme of which is “Sip, Sparkle and Shine,” and which is being held at the Willmar Conference Center, is on Thursday, Sept. 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The cost is $40 per ticket. There will be special teas, coffee, original morsels, crumpets, cakes and more palette pleasers.

The deadline for purchasing tickets is Sept. 10. They can be purchased at the local office at 1601 Highway 12 East, Suite 9 in the Appletree Square in Willmar; online by logging into or by sending a check to the Willmar Area Women’s Fund at P.O. Box 1291, Willmar, MN 56201. There will be no tickets sold at the door.

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