Women’s History Month: Area Foundation Boosts Girl Power Through Women & Girls Development Fund

By Blithe Wiley

SAN ANTONIO — When business consultant Celina Montoya joined the Steering Committee of the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Women & Girls Development Fund, she was surprised to discover that there didn’t seem to be a concerted community effort to boost young women and girls. 

Celina Montoya

“One of the first things we did when I joined the Committee was to conduct an assessment of who in the community was providing services specifically targeted to women and girls,” Montoya said. “What we found was – just like at the national level – there were not many local organizations supporting women and girls’ empowerment. We know that, for girls to develop into women in leadership roles, we have to invest in them.”

Founded in 2009, the Women & Girls Development Fund (WGDF) is a community outreach fund of the Area Foundation that promotes philanthropy and supports nonprofit organizations that serve women and girls in the San Antonio community.  It is one of three Area Foundation community outreach funds that promote philanthropy for under-represented and under-served communities – the other two being the San Antonio Area African American Community Fund and the Latino Foundation of San Antonio. 

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2022, the Area Foundation wanted to highlight the great work WGDF has done in our community. Its mission is to build a community of women who bring positive change through participation as leaders in their schools, jobs, in communities and eventually through philanthropy. Since its inception, the fund has awarded more than $200,000 in grants to worthwhile charitable organizations serving women and girls in the greater San Antonio area.

Montoya joined WGDF’s volunteer Steering Committee as co-chair in 2017. “We brought in a bit more structure to the program, which allowed us to attract more local leaders to serve on the Steering Committee,” she recalled. “Today, the women who make up the leadership of this Fund are absolutely dedicated to serving and empowering girls and women in our community.”

Montoya explained that it was important to the current leadership to create a scalable model for the Steering Committee to prevent burnout.

 “We have an executive committee that provides strategic oversight and goals, as well as a subcommittee that manages our annual grant application process,” she explained.  Other subcommittees include communications, governance and fundraising. An executive committee member leads and sits on each subcommittee.

The Steering Committee has developed a study of the assets and needs of Bexar County, established a Standard of Operations and Investing, created an annual grant process, recruited new members and developed a leadership pipeline. 

Some of the local organizations that WGDF has supported include Girls, Inc. of San Antonio, the YWCA San AntonioCommunities in Schools San AntonioVisitation House Ministries and Crosspoint, Inc.

In November 2021, WGDF awarded a $10,000 grant to Austin-based Girls Empowerment Network (GEN). This grant provides seed money to establish GEN’s Girl Connect program in San Antonio. This program partners with schools to meet the needs of high-risk girls ages eight to 18. Its overarching goal is to develop self-efficacy and spark internal belief that girls can be successful. 

Andrea Figueroa

“The Girl Connect program is our flagship school partnership program,” said Chloé LaPorte, GEN’s Program Director. “We have established Girl Connect programs in the Austin, Houston and Dallas areas, but this grant enables us to launch a presence in San Antonio and Bexar County.”

Andrea Figueroa, Executive Director of nonprofit organization Empower House (formerly Martinez Street Women’s Center) and member of the WGDF Steering Committee for the past four years, noted that establishing the Girl Connect program in San Antonio is a milestone for WGDF. 

“Being able to bring such a well-established women and girls-focused organization to San Antonio is extremely meaningful,” Figueroa observed. “We never have enough resources like this for women and girls in our community.”

Montoya noted that the past two years of dealing with the pandemic have forced many community groups to face financial struggle – WGDF being no different. But now at least things seem be looking up.

“We are realizing a swift recovery and increased enthusiasm for this work,” said Montoya. Therefore, we have accepted a challenge to raise $10,000 this year, which will be matched by an investment of an additional $10,000 by the Area Foundation. This will allow the WGDF to double its impact this year.” 

As an incentive for current fundraising efforts, WGDF is highlighting its 365-donor level. Donors who give $1 per day will have the opportunity to be a part of WGDF’s grantmaking process and celebrate selected nonprofits during the 2022 grant recipient reception. Whether it’s a one-time or a recurring donation, the process is easy and quick – just click here.

Looking ahead, Figueroa and Montoya agree that WGDF will grow its profile as a community leader investing in programs focused on women and girls in San Antonio. 

“In time, we hope WGDF will be considered the premiere investment opportunity for new and experienced philanthropists in San Antonio and will play a role in developing leaders in philanthropy,” Montoya explained.

For that to happen, the fund needs its own support system – whether people want to donate or volunteer their time by joining the Steering Committee, the door is open.

“We welcome and encourage individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of women and girls in our community to reach out to us and get involved. The work we do in this area is so important and so very rewarding,” Montoya said.

Blithe Wiley is a contributor to the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Storytelling Ambassador network.