When the Women’s Fund was formed in El Dorado County in 2007, many people assumed that its mission would be to provide financial support only for programs targeted at women and girls. Not so.
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In fact, the vision of the trio of women who initiated the local Women’s Fund is much broader. Katie Peek, Madeleine Tammi and Stephanie Kress knew that women are generous with their time as volunteers, and also generous with their money when they see a need. As members of the board of directors of the El Dorado Community Foundation, they also knew the power of organized philanthropic giving to strengthen communities.
To minimize administrative costs and provide the maximum amount of charitable funds, Women’s Fund El Dorado was established as a fund within the El Dorado Community Foundation. The foundation provides financial, legal and administrative services.
One of the goals of Women’s Fund El Dorado is to develop generations of women philanthropists, women whose combined power of giving over the years establishes an economic base to support changing needs throughout El Dorado County.
Women’s Fund El Dorado was created just as the country was entering a severe recession.
Throughout the recession, membership grew and in 2013 it topped 300. Anyone is welcome to become a member — women, men, children, businesses and former residents.
One of the reasons the Women’s Fund has retained and attracted members is that each member votes on how the funds are allocated through grants to nonprofits serving community needs. Each year, members are informed about the difference their donations make in the lives of the recipients. It is an enterprising and participatory approach to philanthropy, and one that creates a spirited membership.
At the Annual Membership Celebration held on Oct. 3 at the Smith Flat House, 210 members and guests gathered to enjoy the company of fellow philanthropists and hear firsthand about the impacts of their donations. Vice Chair Cathy Bean announced that in its first seven years, the Women’s Fund provided $250,000 in grants and created an endowment of $240,000.
Impacts on the courts
Judge Suzanne Kingsbury was the featured guest speaker for the evening. She was introduced by El Dorado County Superior Court Commissioner Dylan Sullivan. Sullivan hears all family law, dependency, unlawful detainers, traffic and restraining order cases in South Lake Tahoe, and all cases filed by the County Department of Child Support Services in Placerville. In addition, she presides over a drug court for parents with drug and alcohol problems working to reunify with their children.
Sullivan said that from her experience when children have early intervention, they do better. The courts benefit from the support of local service nonprofits, such as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Hands4Hope. “When families are in crisis, the community comes together to help,” she said. “Without CASA I don’t think I could do my job. The relationship between a child involved in the court system and the CASA volunteer is consistent over time.”
Sullivan said that Judge Kingsbury was elected to the El Dorado County Superior Court in 1996, the first woman to be elected to the bench. Kingsbury has been presiding judge for 14 years. In addition to her responsibilities as presiding judge, she serves on the criminal bench at South Lake Tahoe. Currently, she is hearing a triple murder case involving a possible serial killer with a possible death penalty. Sullivan described Judge Kingsbury’s judicial demeanor as “grace under fire.”
Judge Kingsbury brought to life the types of cases she hears with an illustration of one mother and her daughter. The mother had a history of mental illness and drug abuse. Earlier in her life, she lost custody of her children. A teenage daughter continued to live with her mother, but the Department of Social Services was pursuing the termination of parental rights. Judge Kingsbury continued the case as she appointed a CASA volunteer for the daughter. At the next hearing, the CASA volunteer, on behalf of the daughter, requested that the mother be given one more chance. The daughter told the judge that if this final try didn’t work out, she would be at peace.
This time it worked. The mother voluntarily went through a drug dependency program and received mental health counseling. She was able to acknowledge her problems. The mother is currently enrolled at the community college, and continuing to attend support counseling. The daughter used her experience in the court system to write her senior project. She plans to join the military and wants to become a lawyer.
Judge Kingsbury encouraged the Women’s Fund members to become even more proactive. Look at what is missing and create the funding, she urged. From her years on the bench, Judge Kingsbury sees a need for advocates to help adults navigate the court system and manage their lives.
The courts demand so many things: court appearances, drug testing, probation, social services and others depending on the situation. Often, the people in the court system have never been on a schedule, do not have a car, never learned to set priorities. “They’re doomed to failure,” she said.
Judge Kingsbury’s focus on criminal justice prevention is to help people stay out of the court system. The support provided by the Women’s Fund El Dorado, the El Dorado Community Foundation, the nonprofit social service organizations and volunteers is what makes it possible.
Philanthropists at heart
In the Zappettini family, community giving is inherited. Paul Zappettini, who is vice president of the El Dorado Community Foundation, gives credit to his mother, Milly, for instilling the importance of philanthropy in himself and his five sisters. She established the Zappettini Family Fund with the El Dorado Community Foundation to address the needs of underprivileged youth, including access to arts and culture. Every year, the family gets together to decide how best to help children through their fund.
Paul is an attorney, specializing in personal injury law. He volunteers with the El Dorado County Superior Court Teen Court program. He is founder and advisor of the Kiwanis middle school program, Builder’s Club. Zappettini served 10 years as president of the Sugarloaf Station Foundation, which supports a performing and visual arts camp for children through the El Dorado County Office of Education. Paul’s wife, Erin Dealey, is a teacher, drama coach and children’s author. Daughter Gianna is studying Social Welfare at UC Berkeley with an emphasis in education.
The Zappettini Family Fund has led to three Zappettini families becoming members of the El Dorado Community Foundation Legacy Society. Legacy gifts are assets from an estate that are converted to an endowment to support the community in the future.
“My mother is my inspiration,” said Zappettini. “The Women’s Fund is a bright beacon in our community, and each of you should be proud of its accomplishments and the future impacts that your grants will have.”
For more information about Women’s Fund El Dorado, visit eldoradocf.org/connect/wfed, or call 530-622-5621.