- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) - Wishes granted. That’s what Prairie Godmothers are all about, said Melanie Calcarra, one of the founding Godmothers. They may not carry a wand or say “Bippity-boppity-boo,” but for the women of Barton County who need a hand, the magic is real.

“Basically, its about women helping women,” Calcarra told the Great Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1sebopx ). Since their kick-off last fall, 220 women have become Godmothers, responsible for raising 90 percent of the initial endowment of $100,000 in only three months. All ages and backgrounds are represented because the group has no minimum level of contribution. Already, that money is beginning to help empower local women, both through giving and receiving.

“The Prairie Godmother Funds provide grants to improve the health and well-being of Barton County women by addressing critical needs not met by other community resources,” said Regan Ochs, chairperson on the fundraising committee. “Women have become empowered in philanthropy.”

The group sees their giving as a hand up, not a hand out. The list of guidelines includes the stipulation that the grantee show evidence of a strong work ethic, and the request that each grant recipient perform an act of kindness as payment for the help provided when they were in need.

“We help keep women experiencing a brief crisis from slipping through the cracks,” said Christy Tustin, Golden Belt Community Foundation director.

Since April, the group has made 10 grants. Half were grants for needed car repairs that made it possible for women to hold onto jobs and continue attending college classes to better themselves. An emergency grant for a prescription helped one woman transition between health care plans while treating a chronic health heed without a lapse in treatment. And for another, the grant made it possible to get much needed dental work completed to eliminate pain.

Other grants allowed women to not only maintain their health and well-being, but to step ahead and reach a higher level of self-care. One grant made it possible to pay for fees associated with her substitute teaching license application after completing the qualifications. This will allow her to provide additional income for her family.

The group recently posted a story on the Prairie Godmothers Facebook page about a woman with a medical condition recently received assistance to finish paying the cost of a service dog. She had been paying for the dog out of her disability payments for more than 18 months. The grant paid the balance of her bill and allowed her to use her disability payments for her other living expenses.

Calcarra said at first, the applications began to come in slowly, but as word spreads, they are seeing an increase in interest. They’ve also received donations from organizations, and even some men who have made donations in honor or in memory of others.

Tustin manages the funds and created the means for distributing the help fast - magic wand fast - because for the kinds of requests the group receives, decisions need to be made faster than typical grants can act.

The Prairie Godmothers partner with a handful of Barton County agencies, including the Barton County Emergency Aid Council, the Family Crisis Center, Heart of Kansas Family Healthcare, Lasting Life Ministries, and the Barton County Health Department.

Applications are made through the partners, who are well versed in the grant guidelines, which help with the vetting process. The applications are uploaded to the Prairie Godmothers website through secure means, and members of the advisory board are notified via electronic means and can then access the application, enter into discussion and vote. This can all occur in a matter of days. Once a decision has been reached, vendors are notified, and Tustin pays the vendor directly.

At first, Calcara said, there was a learning curve, but the process continues to grow smoother as more applications are received and approved. Momentum is building, and along with it excitement. Ultimately, the group intends to grow the endowment fund to $1 million, at which point they will be able to cease fundraising because they will be self-supporting. In October, the group will hold a silent and live auction and brunch which they have high hopes for. Last year, the group raised $40 thousand in one hour, Tustin said. The brunch will be by invitation to Prairie Godmothers and their friends.

The list of ideas for ways to help continues to grow. From tuition to tires, from daycare to parenting classes, contemplating the possibilities produces a twinkle in eyes of Calcara, Ochs and Tustin.

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Information from: Great Bend (Kan.) Tribune, https://www.gbtribune.com

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