Catholic Women’s Giving Circle reaping a bountiful harvest

In only a year, the Catholic Women in Action Women’s Giving Circle has proven to be a giving tour de force.

With 162 female members, the group has given more than $285,000 to local nonprofits. 

“I am overwhelmed by what you have accomplished in such a short amount of time,” said Cory Howat, executive director of the Catholic Foundation – host of the giving circle – at a Mass and celebration April 5. “People of all faiths and walks of life can be generous. But, I believe, what has made your giving circle so much more successful is your shared faith.”
For the 2017 year, the women awarded $147,000 to 10 organizations voted on by members. The recipient organizations received their checks at the April 5 Mass, with the “One Mind” brass band in tow, at St. John the Baptist “gold-steeple” church in New Orleans. 
Thoughtful process

Annual Giving Circle awardees are selected thoughtfully. First, a 15-member steering committee, headed by the Giving Circle co-chairs Stacy Pellerin and Darlene Robert, selected organizations with concentrations in three program areas:  vulnerable women, at-risk youth and families. In 2017, Giving Circle members considered 44 archdiocesan ministries that offered life-giving ministries in these three areas and then narrowed the list to 10. 
Members then gleaned details from presentations by leaders of each of the top 10 nonprofits at a “Sip and Learn” event held at Schoen Funeral Home. A vote then was taken on which would receive the top-, middle- or lower-tier awards.
In 2017, Woman’s New Life Center, Covenant House and St. Michael Special School received the top award of $22,500 each; Hotel Hope, Sisters Servants of Mary, Boys Hope Girls Hope and Café Hope received $18,000 each; and Bishop Perry Center, Catholic Charities Adoption Services and Gianna Center of the Gulf South each received $2,500.
Of the 10, the Bishop Perry Center, Café Hope, Catholic Charities Adoption Services, the Gianna Center of the Gulf South and St. Michael Special School were new award recipients. 
Josephine Everly, COO and director of gift planning for the Catholic Foundation Archdiocese of New Orleans, said she believes a bus tour taken last October by members to various headquarters of the 2016 award recipients opened eyes to how these nonprofits “helped the neediest in the community,” and affected the decision to award money to five organizations for the second consecutive year.
“Typically, donors only interact with an organization at fundraising events (held off-site) or through annual reports and other communications,” Everly said. “The bus tours provided the opportunity for the women to touch and feel the impact of their donations. When they were surveyed, giving circle members affirmed this by choosing the bus tours as the most impactful of the experiences the Foundation provided. On the tours, they met a human trafficking victim at Covenant House, visited the beautiful chapel of the Sisters Servants of Mary House in Gentilly (and were serenaded by the sisters and received handmade rosaries), saw the rooms where the girls of Girls Hope house live, and visited the soon-to-be-opened Chalet Hope and planned site of the Phyllis Taylor Hotel Hope (the former St. Matthias convent).”     
Hotel Hope was one of the second-time, nonprofit award recipients. It officially opened its doors in the former St. Matthias parish on Feb. 13.
“It not only helps us financially, but it really helps with the support of the community and the awareness that people have of families that are homeless,” said Presentation Sister Mary Lou Specha, Hotel Hope executive director. “Family homelessness is an invisible population. … In a month’s time we had more than 45 calls (from families facing homelessness). The Women in Action’s Giving Circle understands the complexities of family life, and how difficult it would be to take care of children without a house. We have been so blessed.” 
Model of compassion, justice

The Catholic Women in Action’s Giving Circle uses St. Joan of Arc as its role model.
“We embrace and try to emulate her unconquerable courage, infinite compassion, the virtue of the simple and the wisdom of the just,” said Robert. “She bravely told her examiners, ‘Act and God will act; work and he will work.’ These virtues have guided our Giving Circle. Through collective giving, collaboration, shared faith and holy guidance, our giving circle has selected 10 outstanding organizations.”
Everly looks at each Giving Circle member as single grain of rice that, when combined, becomes a bowl of rice that feeds many.
The Giving Circle’s model of philanthropy has gained interested from other dioceses, Everly said. In January, she worked with the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, to develop a similar circle of giving.
“We have now grown to 162 members, and I know that we will continue to grow and have a great impact on our archdiocese,” Stacy Pellerin said. “Through your faith and prayers, may God continue to guide us to our mission of promoting giving that empowers women, compels action, and glorifies God.”
To join the Catholic Women in Action, go to, call 527-5788 or email

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