Don't be fooled into thinking that 100 Women Who Care Ottawa maxes out at one hundred.
The growing popularity of this grassroots group has pushed its membership beyond the three-digit mark as increasingly more women become aware of this simple yet impactful way to give.
It was standing room only at the Milestones restaurant at Lansdowne Park on Monday night as women of all ages and stages of their careers gathered for an uplifting night of philanthropy. The one-hour meeting, preceded by a social hour, saw some 140 members donate more than $10,000, and counting, in support of Kids Up Front Ottawa, Options Bytown and St. Joe's Women's Centre.
The Ottawa chapter of 100 WWCO has dished out in excess of $200,000 to 69 local non-profit organizations since the group was founded in the spring of 2014.
The concept is straightforward: each member donates $100 at each quarterly meeting, giving an annual total of $400.
The members choose three different charities for each meeting. Representatives from the respective charities deliver a five-minute pitch to the room. Often, the charities are small and not particularly well known, so the event is a chance for the fundraising folks to boost awareness and educate the public on what their group is all about.
After learning more about each charity, members make their donation, either to one of the causes or more.
At the group's September gathering, it raised its highest total to date: $13,300.
"That's absolutely free money for these organizations," 100 Women Who Care Ottawa chair and co-founder Juliann Castell, president of JFC Consulting, pointed out.
Castell is joined on the executive committee by retired nursing executive Linda Hunter, Ottawa Board of Trade interim president and CEO Sueling Ching, co-founder Laura Monette, Diane Johnson, Louise Morin and Kimberley Wilson. They're all volunteers with 100 WWCO.
The committee behind 100 Women Who Care Ottawa has become a well-oiled machine. It has improved its website, done some rebranding, and keeps its meetings running smoothly and constructively. Organizers gave away some 14 donated door prizes on Monday, throughout the night.
The group is full of community-minded women, from the Ottawa Community Foundation's retired chief executive, Barbara McInnes, now chair of TELUS' Ottawa Community Board, to long-time mental health advocate and Upstream Ottawa volunteer Sylvia Cuhaci, to iSisters and Habitat for Humanity volunteer Cathy Lewis, just to name a few.
Also spotted were members of the Women's Business Network of Ottawa, including consultant Deborah Bard, the new chair of the WBN's Businesswoman of the Year Awards.
One of the charities featured Monday night was Kids Up Front Ottawa, a non-profit that works with partner agencies to collect donated event tickets in order to redistribute the opportunities to children and youth who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to go. It can be anything from a music concert to a hockey game. Since its launch in Ottawa in 2017, the group has seen more than 10,000 experiences donated, with cumulative ticket values of more than $400,000. It's a small organization, run by two employees and a volunteer board of directors.
The women also heard about Options Bytown, a supportive housing organization that helps to prevent and end homelessness. One client told the room how Options Bytown is one of the reasons she’s been able to stay sober for the past four years. “I’d be lost without Options Bytown,” she said at the podium.
Also showcased that night was St. Joe’s Women Centre. Its day program provides a supportive and safe environment for homeless or disadvantaged women and their children. It sees anywhere from 30 to 60 women and children a day. The centre serves a hot breakfast, nutritional lunches, and afternoon snacks, and also helps women access resources and services that are available to them. "Our women come from all walks of life," said Jennifer Clark. "We have single and young mothers, women who are homeless, living on the streets, facing addictions, mental illness, and abuse."
First-time attendees included Katherine Cooligan, regional managing partner of Canada’s largest law firm, BLG. She liked what she saw that night and was planning to join.
As the name suggests, it's a caring group of people, she told OBJ.social. “You can see it with everybody here. Everybody wants to be here because they want to make a difference."
She compared her $100 donation to the cost of going to a charity gala, where tables can run as high as $5,000. "It's not a huge financial contribution," she said of 100 Women Who Care.