- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 15, 2009


Deborah Gandy’s passion for community service goes deep into her early childhood. Ms. Gandy would follow her mother, Juanita Groomes, as she volunteered through the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Greensboro, N.C.

“My mom was a remarkable woman,” Ms. Gandy said as she recalled some of her fondest memories. “She was the most unselfish, kind individual, and she strongly believed in giving back.”

Ms. Gandy, 54, has carried the fire of civic service through her life as she has continued in her mother’s footsteps, serving others. She is chairwoman of the board of directors of the Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

“I think its important to give back,” she said. “There are so many ways to volunteer, and to be able to give back that which has been given to me is a blessing.”

The Washington Area Women’s Foundation (WAWF) was established to “foster a powerful wave of philanthropy to improve the lives of women and girls,” according to its Web site. The foundation funds other nonprofit agencies that have direct initiatives to help women in the D.C. area.

“The foundation partners with individuals, corporations and government collaboratively as an effort to raise funds necessary to do the work,” Ms. Gandy said.

WAWF says it is the only public foundation dedicated to increasing opportunities and resources for women and girls in the area.

The foundation is partnered with 116 nonprofit groups that help impoverished women and girls.

Ana Lopez is executive director of Community Bridges, one of the many nonprofits that work with WAWF. Community Bridges seeks to empower girls from diverse backgrounds who, according to Ms. Lopez, will become “exceptional students and positive leaders.”

“We provide a safe space for girls where they can be themselves,” Ms. Lopez said, adding that WAWF “provides us with a combination of things, which makes the partnership so unique.”

Programs such as Stepping Stones, Giving Circles, Rainmakers and the Washington 100 are examples of WAWF’s grant recipients.

“People learn to come together and learn about philanthropy,” Ms. Gandy said.

Stepping Stones “promotes economic security and financial independence” for low-income, woman-headed families. According to Ms. Gandy, programs that are set up and funded by the foundation are to develop “economic empowerment and financial independence for women.”

The nonprofits that partner with WAWF go through a four- to five-month application process for grants.

“We go through very diligently in understanding how [the nonprofits] intend to accomplish their goal,” Ms. Gandy said. “They have to provide feedback and tell us what they’ve accomplished. We want these organizations to be viable parts of the community. It’s not just about writing the check.”

Another organization WAWF seeds is Manna Inc., which helps low- and moderate-income families move toward homeownership.

According to the Rev. Jim Dickerson, founder and chairman of Manna Inc., it has built and sold more than 1,000 homes in the past 27 years. The majority of recipients have been woman-headed households.

“The Washington Area Women’s Foundation helps us invest in these women who are very courageous and want to better their lives,” Mr. Dickerson said. “They are committed to goals and understand it’s a long-term process. They are tremendous.”

Ms. Gandy served on the WAWF board as vice chairwoman and treasurer before becoming the chairwoman in June 2007. She also served on the board’s development committee and was vital in bringing new donors to the foundation.

“Once I heard the mission and knew what the organization was about, I knew I wanted to help,” Ms. Gandy said. “When you are able to help a woman become self-sufficient, you build a strong family, community and economic environment.”

Ms. Gandy is a 1977 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has many accomplishments under her belt.

Before coming to the women’s foundation, she had 30 years of professional experience in financial services. She worked for Signet Bank, which is now Wachovia, for a decade; was senior vice president at U.S. Trust; and currently is the director at Citi Private Bank, a division of Citicorp North America.

She also has served on the board of Goodwill Industries of Greater Washington and worked on many other philanthropic projects over 20 years.

WAWF will hold its annual Leadership Luncheon Tuesday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 1000 H St. NW. As usual, a large turnout is expected.

“We pack the room every year,” Ms. Gandy said. “I’ve had staffers at the hotel ask how to get involved.”

The luncheon will feature mother-daughter award-winning journalists Cokie and Rebecca Roberts as guest speakers. The fundraiser also sill be an opportunity to spread the message of WAWF.

“We want to reach as many women as we possibly can,” said Ms. Gandy, who wants “our program and its capabilities to be known.”

Ms. Gandys philanthropic work reaches beyond the boardroom and directly into the lives of women and children here.

“It’s an obligation to find a way to give back,” she said. “I hope that when I leave this life I can say I made a difference in some small way.”

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