Judi Lyons brought back more than a suntan from her 2009 trip to the Virgin Islands. She had an idea for a fun way to support nonprofit organizations in her community. Started by a friend living on St. Thomas, the Charity Girls of the Virgin Islands is a group of 24 women who meet monthly for dinner and discussion about the needs of their community. Monthly, they each pay $50 to dine at a member’s home. The dinners are donated by the hostess and the money is pooled for grantmaking. At the end of each year, the Charity Girls grant $14,000 to causes of their choice in the Virgin Islands.
Judi loved the idea and gathered friends from Newbury, Boxford and North Andover whom she thought may be interested in starting a similar fund. Most were looking for a way to become involved and invested in their community beyond the schools and thought the Charity Girls was a terrific model. Judi proposed that the women divide into groups of two. Each pair would host one dinner per year at one person’s home. If the hosts wanted, they could invite a favorite local charity to attend and present to the group. She also invited Essex County Community Foundation to the initial planning meeting to describe how ECCF would manage the fund.
Modeled after a traditional giving circle, the Charity Girls Fund allows members to raise money each year, decide on the use of those funds and make grants to charities of their choice. The Charity Girls of Northeast Massachusetts Fund was established at ECCF in October 2009 and the first dinner held in November. For $50 a month, each member will enjoy a tax deductible dinner with friends and be able to be philanthropists in their community.
Judi reports, “We have had such fun at our dinners getting reacquainted with old friends and meeting new ones. ECCF made this easy to start and manage ... all we have to do is cook for our friends. And our evenings will result in support for programs in our community.”