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Seeds of Strength brings women together to help bolster local nonprofits—and each other. 

By Madison Matous, Photo by Courtney Runn

Barbara Hallmark, Barbara Pearce and Karen Cole

In 2009, a group of women discussed the idea of combining their charitable efforts to make a real and lasting impact in their community. What was born from the conversation was Seeds of Strength, an organization that brings women together to create a community that has a common goal: to support local nonprofits that serve the needs of the city of Georgetown, Texas.

Included in that initial group of women was Barbara Pearce. Pearce had recently retired from a nonprofit, where she had served as executive director for 10 years, and put that experience to use in helping start Seeds of Strength.

“It was really a way to encourage philanthropy and bring women together,” Pearce says of the founding mission behind the organization. “It was really about getting people involved to understand what was going on in Georgetown, [understanding]the needs of the community, in a sense.”

The women decided to create an organization based on a giving-circle structure in which members contribute to a common fund that goes to one nonprofit or multiple nonprofits of the group’s choosing. In its first year, Seeds of Strength founders had the ambitious goal to recruit 100 women to sign up. Each member, their thinking went, would contribute $1,000 to the common fund, meaning the group would raise $100,000.

The organization didn’t quite reach that goal, but that didn’t slow the women down. To date, Seeds of Strength has given $973,000 to 27 nonprofits. This year, leaders expect to hit $1 million in donations.

Here’s how the giving-circle structure works: Members give $1,000 a year, either as individuals or as a group of as many as four people. Nonprofits apply for a grant through Seeds of Strength and go through a vetting process, after which the nalists make it to voting night, when they tell the members about their nonprofit’s mission and how they would use the money from the grant. Members then vote, individually or as a group, depending on how they made their donation, for the top three picks. Later that night, the top nonprofits are awarded funding.

In 2017, grant recipients included The Georgetown Project, Ride on Center for Kids, Literacy Council of Williamson County, Hope Alliance, Habitat for Humanity of Williamson County, Girlstart, Backpack Buddies and AGE of Central Texas.

“What I love about Seeds of Strength,” says Cindy Locke, chair of the organization, “is the collective impact that my money has with other members’ money, so we can give $25,000, and it’s real money.”

Pearce expands on Locke’s sentiments, citing how a $25,000 grant from Seeds of Strength enabled The NEST Empowerment Center—a branch of The Georgetown Project and an after-school program serving homeless and at-risk kids—to pay a counselor to come in and visit with the students three times a week.

“You know, I couldn’t give $25,000,” Pearce says, “but to be a part of a grant like that is really exciting.”

Along with the rewarding feelings tied to giving back, the women of the organization have also created a new sense of community, one consisting of others who share their passion for philanthropy. Both Pearce and Locke speak of the friendships they’ve made with women they likely would not have met had it not been for Seeds of Strength.

“I looked around the room and realized that I only knew three or four of those women before I got involved with Seeds of Strength,” Locke says. “And, I mean, these are really impressive women who are either in the midst of great careers or had great careers and want to continue to be engaged [in the community]. I’ve made some amazing friends. In addition to the good [the group is]doing in the community, what it has done for me personally is just help me learn about the lives of so many women who have this common philanthropic interest.”

Seeds of Strength hosts several events throughout the year that promote recruitment, fellowship and education. Bringing awareness to the needs of the Georgetown area is a large part of the group’s mission, and Pearce says at most every event, the group takes time to highlight a nonprofit that was given a grant in the past year, sharing how that organization used the funds to improve and better help the people it serves.

Pearce notes learning about the impact their contributions have made in the community is what keeps members coming back and spreading the word to their friends. This empowering realization is what has helped Seeds of Strength grow, Pearce says. Throughout the years, Seeds of Strength has grown from 53 members in its first year to 231 members in 2017.

Being a founding member, Pearce says she has loved watching the organization grow with each new year.

“It was fun [from the beginning],” she says, “but you start something and you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out…and to turn it over to other women who are equally as talented and strong leaders, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of what you did.”

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