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Valerie Bassett's Remarks from the Women's Leadership Breakfast

October 25, 2017

 

Welcome - and thank you for being here.

 

I want to start by thanking all of our sponsors for helping to make this morning’s breakfast possible:

  • Lead Sponsor:  Faith and Dick Morningstar

  • Gold Sponsors:  Artemis Financial Advisors LLC and Bristol County Savings Bank

  • Silver Sponsors: Sylvia Group and Taunton Federal Credit Union

  • LifeWork Project Sponsors:  

    • Lang, Xifaras and Bullard Law Office

    • and RDA Insurance

 

What does economic security mean to you? Some of you answered that in a Twitter campaign leading up to the breakfast.

“Not having to live paycheck to paycheck.”

“Universal child care”

“Knowing that when the unexpected happens, I will have money to handle it.”

 

My mother’s mother, Eva Mae Shore Lloyd, told my mother -- before she married -- to always have her own bank account. That meant economic security to her. And in fact, It was my Granny Lloyd’s savings from her teacher’s salary that sent my mother to college.

 

I experienced economic security growing up, but when I graduated from college and entered the workforce in a recession, I struggled to pay my rent and bills on my day care teacher salary, relying on my credit card regularly. I noticed that all the other teachers either relied on a husband’s salary or were living with their parents without paying rent in order to get by. The minimum wage salary was not enough to live on otherwise. I took an early childhood development class that allowed me to be a head teacher and my salary increased- but it still wasn’t a living wage.

 

I have come a long way economically from where I was as an early educator, but that experience was part of shaping my sense of economic security, insecurity and the injustices in our economic system.

 

The Women’s Fund started because of one donation by a woman who was able to get through law school with the help of her women friends, who provided child care, took turns cooking and other sharing of the necessary work.  

 

The Economic Blueprint for Women is today’s version of the same circle of friends helping another woman- only on a much bigger scale. We want to continue to help individual women - while also making larger social change so that child care and other necessary supports are there for all women to go to school and work fully and successfully.

 

A quick history to set the context for the Economic Blueprint for Women.

 

Our first grants were small grants to organizations that served girls and women. For many years we continued giving smaller grants to wonderful programs for girls.

 

In 2008, we took our first jump into women’s economic mobility, or climbing the economic ladder, when Bristol Community College asked us to seed funding for WISE- a one-year state-funded “welfare-to-work” program. When the state slashed the funding, we took on funding the program and began learning about how to help low-income women build economic strength.  

 

From WISE, we learned that one semester at BCC was not enough for women to make real progress towards a good career. And the goal of getting just any job would not lead to economic self-sufficiency.

We changed our goal: from just getting a job - to earning a living wage - enough for a women to support herself and her family. With that goal in mind, a collaboration of local leaders developed the LifeWork Project.  

 

Based on a model developed by EMPath, a national leader in economic mobility for women, the LifeWork Project is a successful program full of amazing and successful women!

 

I want to recognize the LifeWork participants who are here today for living this journey to economic strength. A special recognition to the first woman in the program to earn a living wage to support her family, Sara Borden!

 

From Sara and the other women in LifeWork we learned that they face many challenges that are bigger than the program can solve. Challenges that stop many women from progressing towards economic security.

 

We learned from the women who had to drop a class because there was no child care to take the evening class.

 

We learned from the woman who walked 5 miles a day around New Bedford and Dartmouth to take her son to child care, get to school and her two jobs.

 

We learned from women whose plans to continue their education were opposed by a partner who was financially abusive.

 

And we learned from women having to drop classes and reduce their work schedule because they had to take care of their own or a family member’s illness.

 

From their experiences, we decided to tackle these big problems with more tools and a bigger plan. And we knew we couldn’t do it by ourselves.

 

We invited community leaders to join Task Force on Pathways for Women to a Living Wage to help us map out what needs to change- both in terms of programs and public policy - to create better paths to opportunity for all women.

 

What is this Blueprint building?

 

It’s a blueprint for how to build a society that values and creates economic opportunity for women.

 

A blueprint for building a future in which women and families can count on public and affordable child care so they can work and go to school.

 

A future in which there are smooth and wide onramps to education and training that leads to a living wage.

 

A future in which women’s work is paid equitably and at a living wage and in which we don’t suffer regularly from sexual harassment and exploitation.

 

A future in which women are safe from violence, with healthy bodies and minds and control over our own bodies.

 

A future with strong supports to help women move out of poverty - like housing, legal services and support to save money.

 

A future in which all women see ourselves reflected in leadership and where we are mentored and supported to lead.

 

This vision is where the Economic Blueprint for Women will take us.

You can read more details on our website, but I want to give you an update on what’s happening in the early stages of action.

 

The need for free or affordable early education and child care emerged as a critical priority.

 

We are advocating with others for more funding at the state level and for this to be a local priority. This is an area we will definitely invest more in - especially to strengthen advocacy efforts.

 

To move forward equity in employment and benefits, we are supporting efforts to pass and implement paid family and medical leave in Massachusetts.

 

There’s been a lot of activity in the area of expanding living wage-focused education and training, including financial education.

 

We expanded the LifeWork Project from a 3-year pilot to a full five-year program and are committed to working with partners, in particular BCC, to sustain it going forward.

 

BCC and UMass Dartmouth began important work to help students who transfer from BCC to UMD succeed.

 

We worked with the Southeastern MA Building Trades Council to apply for a MassDOT grant to create a pre-apprenticeship program in the building trades with a focus on women.

 

And the Women’s Fund and the YWCA Southeastern MA are co-sponsoring a local session of MA Treasurer Goldberg’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Series. This free evening of workshops will come to Our Sisters’ School on Wednesday December 6.

 

And there was a fire lit under the group working on increasing women’s civic and political leadership. I can’t imagine why. This spring and summer, they organized a well-attended forum and a weekend workshop for women interested in running for office or working on campaigns.

 

We are about to make a first round of a few timely grants for Blueprint activities, which we will announce shortly.

 

Next, we will be working with the groups who developed the plan to solicit proposals for a next round of grants- aiming for early 2018.

 

We won’t be able to fund all the Blueprint activities at once. So we are asking other funders to help support these initiatives. And we will be raising more resources to invest in moving the Blueprint forward into reality, step by step - over time.

 

We are in it for the long haul, because this is change that takes time. It also takes you.

 

We need you to Build it Up

There is a place for you in this vision. We need your help.

 

We are aiming to raise $50,000 next year to implement more of the Blueprint. So we definitely need your continued financial help next year and more in the years to come.

 

You can start by voting with your wallet right now. There are donation envelopes on your tables. To make it a little more fun, the first donor from each table gets to take home the pumpkin on your table.

 

We need your expertise and ideas. If you are doing research in one of these areas or if you are working in an area of this plan that we should know about, let us know.

We need your activism and leadership. If you are an employer, what can you do to be more family friendly? Can you implement policies that address the reality of women working? Are you doing everything you can to prevent and address sexual harassment and assure pay equity? As an individual, you can be an advocate and join groups that are working for policy changes that improve conditions for hard-working women, such as Action for Women of Southeastern MA and Coalition for Social Justice. Maybe you will run for office, or support a woman’s campaign.

 

We need you at our table. Can you volunteer for a committee at the Women’s Fund? Do you want to be part of future planning? What are we missing? Help us learn.

 

Please consider where you fit in and do your part so that Southeastern MA is a model of women’s economic strength, not women’s poverty and limited opportunity.

 

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The Women’s Fund advances economic security for women and girls in Southeastern MA, promoting equity across race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender identity and country of origin.  We build partnerships and use our voice, advocacy, and grantmaking to foster a more just region.

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The Women's Fund is a Fund of the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts

135 Union Street| New Bedford, MA 02740 | 508-717-0283 | www.CFSEMA.org