Georgetown women taking the lead in local philanthropy

Seeds of Strength meeting

One of the fastest growing communities in the country may also have one of the fastest growing philanthropic populations. In September, Seeds of Strength, a local women’s giving circle, hopes to add to it 250 members, but as it hits enters its 10th year, it’s playing an increasing role in shaping the future of Georgetown by educating more residents about the needs of the community.

When Seeds of Strength was formed in 2009, the population of Georgetown was around 47,000 with 9.5 percent of residents living in poverty. That first year, Seeds of Strength issued grants totaling $55,000. As a giving circle, Seeds of Strength collects $250 to $1,000 from each of its members, then pools the money and seeks grant applications from local charities. It then gives grants to those that receive the most votes from its members.

In 2017, the most recent Census update, the population reached 70,685 people – a 49 percent increase that makes it one of the fastest growing communities in the country. But the poverty rate has actually gone down to 7.1 percent, which is half that of Austin and the entire state of Texas. This year, Seeds of Strength issued grants totaling $172,000, which helped it reach a milestone of $1.1 million in grants to 74 charitable projects since it was founded.

Cindy Locke, the current president of Seeds of Strength, says it’s not just the money that matters. “One of the things we have attempted to do beyond granting gifts to nonprofits is to help raise awareness and educate our community members about the needs out there,” she said. Since each member of the giving circle gets to review grant applicants and vote on which receive the funds, they come to understand each nonprofit’s mission and examine them with a more critical eye.

Grace Pyka, a member of Seeds of Strength, says this is important because, as it is in Austin, neighborhoods are often divided by socioeconomic class. As a native of Georgetown, Pyka remembers a time when the people of different income levels were more visible. “When I was growing up, all of the first graders were in the same school, too. So kids from across all incomes were in the same class,” she said. “Now there are three high schools and more schools, and I don’t think kids are seeing the same mix of incomes that I saw.”

Pyka says it was being a member of Seeds of Strength that opened her eyes to the needs in Georgetown, even as a native. “For example, the grant to Backpack Buddies helps them send food home to school kids over the weekend, and I have to say, it never occurred to me what happened to those kids over the weekend. So it’s really cool to see how these nonprofit serve those areas.”

Marissa Austin, executive director of one of the 2018 grant recipients, CASA of Williamson County, agrees. “I really respect what they do and what they stand for,” she said. So much so, that she became a member herself last year. Locke, the current president, says Seeds of Strength doesn’t have specific causes they give to, but its members often select projects that serve children and families. In 2018 it also awarded a $25,000 to The Georgetown Project to support life-skills and job-training classes for 125 students in Georgetown ISD, and $10,000 to GirlStart to increase STEM engagement for 150 girls.

“Those numbers are important but what you have to step back and realize is that those are real lives we’re talking about,” said Locke, “not just statistics.”

PHOTO: Seeds of Strength members get one vote each to decide which of the charity applicants receive the grants.
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on August 26, 2018.
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