Philanthropy, In and Out of the Ebell

by Laura Foti Cohen

Some give back because they were brought up volunteering and don’t know any other way. Others learned as adults the joy of contributing to their local communities. But regardless of when or how they got the fever, Ebell members are making a difference all over Los Angeles. Our ranks boast the heads of charitable endeavors – including our own philanthropies – and many more who work with passion and for no pay to improve lives.

Dr. Harriette Williams is Scholarship Chair for the Ebell (see page 17), a position for which she is well-suited given her years of dedication to education through career and philanthropic activities. Her 40-year career with the Los Angeles Unified School District spanned jobs at all levels. On the philanthropic front, she’s been a member of Links, an international service organization, for 28 years and a member of Delta Sigma Theta since her college days.

“Unlike some sororities, the African-American fraternities and sororities are in a National Pan-Hellenic Council of their own and we are all lifetime members. I’ve been a Delta since 1949. It’s a philanthropic group: We had a multimillion-dollar Head Start project, a life development center focused on seniors and their medical needs, and a Delta reading clinic.”

But those are just the foundation for Harriette. She has been involved with the Lullabye Guild of LA, an organization that advocates for the adoption of African-American children. She belongs to two foundations, one through Links and one through Delta. She is the scholarship chair at her church, where she has helped build an endowment in the past 10 years “from contributions of church members for children who come through the church.” She is an appointee of one of the Los Angeles Supervisors to the L.A. Council Commission for Children and Families, which has oversight of the county’s tobacco tax money for children in foster care. And she serves on the First 5 California Commission. The Ebell’s own scholarship program benefits immeasurably from Hariette’s vast experience with and dedication to educational causes.

The theme of the Ebell’s Rest Cottage Association, “women helping women,” resonates strongly for the group’s new head, Shan Sutherland, herself the recipient of an Ebell scholarship in the 1980s. “It made a huge difference in my life,” she says. “Then three or four years ago there was an article in the LA Times about an Ebell scholar. I wrote a check and got a call from Kay Lachter. So I have deep ties to the organization.” (See page 18.)

Shan wasn’t always a volunteer. “I worked in finance and really didn’t understand philanthropy until my clients taught me. I was probably more of a recipient over the years. It’s a big change in mindset. I just didn’t know how to align my personal goals and beliefs with something that would help the community.

“Lately I’ve been thinking about what I want to do and who I want to be in 30 years and philanthropy is a big part. It’s important to me because it’s soul food. If you feel like something’s missing in your life, this is where you’ll find it.”

Daryl Trainor Twerdahl, the Executive Director of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas. “Volunteering is just part of what we did,” she says. “Everybody had to help everybody.” Her parents raised scholarship money through the Rotary, among other philanthropic activities.

Another family member inspired her most enduring charitable affiliation: “I got involved with Meals on Wheels because my grandfather, who was 92, had someone at home to prepare meals and saved him from going into assisted living. It was a real life lesson for me about in the big picture how little it takes to keep someone where they want to be. People want to be in their own homes and sometimes all it takes is the support for them to get meals.”

Daryl volunteered at St. Vincent Meals on Wheels for 13 years. “Then, nine years ago, Sister Alice Marie Quinn, a Daughter of Charity, talked to me about raising funds. I agreed to help her a couple of days a week.”

Fundraising led to the building of a new kitchen seven years ago, allowing the organization to grow quickly. “We formed our own foundation and I became the head of that three or four years ago.” St. Vincent Meals on Wheels now serves 4700 meals a day.

Alyce Morris Winston moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in the late 1960s with her son, Jeffrey, who had been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age four. “I came here because I expected there would be all kinds of schools accepting the multiply disabled,” Alice relates. “But there weren’t. I started a group with other mothers who had some of the same problems I had with Jeffrey, plus some other problems.

“After a while, a friend advised me to start a foundation. I didn’t know how to do that, but he gave me the papers forming the foundation one year for Christmas – what a gift. He told me I’d figure out how to get funding.”

She did. On May 12th, the Jeffrey Foundation celebrates its 39th anniversary with an event at Lladro in Beverly Hills. The organization caters to special-needs children and has expanded its services to those who are not disabled. It operates infant, toddler and preschool programs, as well as after-school programs for grades K-12 at its Washington Blvd. center. During vacations from school, the Jeffrey Foundation offers field trips and other day programs, and is always looking for volunteers to help out with chaperoning and scholarships for needy families.

“We’ve never been totally funded,” Alyce says. “These days we’re struggling, but we’ll pick up the pieces.” Currently the operation serves 91 children, but has a capacity of 124.

“Jeffrey passed away in 1980 at age 16. He was with us from 1972 when the foundation was formed until 1980. Now of course it’s in his memory. Everyone expected I would stop when he died, but I felt there was such a need in the community for this and now more than ever. I really love it.”

Gillian Wagner, the President of Hope-Net, is relatively new to volunteering, but has certainly jumped in with both feet. “What brought me into Hope-Net seven years ago was that I couldn’t believe in my zip code the number of people living below the poverty line. When you cross Western it’s so immediate. This isn’t happening in Africa; it’s happening right here and I don’t see it getting better.”

Hope-Net is an interfaith organization of churches, a synagogue and an Islamic center established to eliminate hunger and homelessness in Los Angeles. The houses of worship serve as the locations for volunteers and food pick-up. Gill explains, “The technical government term for the people we serve is ‘food insecure.’ They’re living at or below the poverty line.” Last year Hope-Net served a total of 360,000 bags of food.

The sagging economy has hurt not only those served by Hope-Net, but the charity itself. “This year,” Gillian says, “we haven’t hit our [FEMA] grant yet and we’re running on a wing and a prayer. The board’s main focus is thinking of new ways of raising money and getting people to know about Hope-Net.”

Anne Winkles is an actress and works as a behavioral therapist with autistic children through California Psychcare. “I work two cases and am helping them develop their tutoring program. We also train the parents on the targets we’re working on for their children to live independently,” she says.

Anne’s volunteer activities mirror her professional work. She is involved with School on Wheels, a tutoring service working with homeless children, and the West Coast Ensemble, a small theater group. She’ll be working this month on a fundraiser for their upcoming performance of Gypsy.

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