Open Accessibility Menu

Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

  • Category: Blog, News, Pulse
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Dwain Hebda
Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

New Group Harnesses Women in Giving 

Sarah Edwards is looking for a few good women — more than a few, actually.

Edwards, Executive Director of the Baxter Health Foundation, is beating the drum for a new philanthropic group, Women in Philanthropy, which seeks to empower women to make their voices heard on what’s needed most in the Baxter Health suite of medical services, amplified by their collective pocketbooks. 

“This group is something we’ve begun to give philanthropically minded women in our community a means to join together to bring a big impact on women’s health needs here,” Edwards said. “We’re doing it in a way that offers them an opportunity with little to no time commitment because we are all busy. A lot of women are working or mothers or own businesses, so this is designed to allow them a way to be a part of something bigger and still balance everything they need to do in their daily lives.”

Edwards recruited a five-member committee to form the nucleus of the club and begin the process of growing the membership. The committee members, comprised of Judy Loving, Jan Schmeski, Jodi Strother, Donna Musara and Shelly Hill, represent a mix of ages, backgrounds and experiences, bound by a common love of community.

“That hospital has just always been, for so many years, important to my family,” said Schmeski, a financial adviser and former member of the foundation board. “Before I lived here, I had one brother down here. Then shortly after I moved, several other family members followed. My parents have been treated there. My husband’s mother has been treated there. Grandchildren have been born there. So it’s always been important to me to support the local health care services.”

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because my goal in giving is to help change and evolve the community that I am a part of,” said Musara, an organic farmer and owner of a local artist’s collective. “I want to make a difference, but I am not as interested in preserving the status quo of an organization or an institution. I want to help create new solutions to current problems and be more entrepreneurial with my giving and help create a generational change in the area.”

Edwards explained this is the second go around for the Women in Philanthropy group. A previous version a decade ago proved the concept of bringing women together to donate to the health care causes they collectively felt most passionate about. The organization was short-lived but very successful — in just two years it raised $30,000 — prompting Edwards to broach the idea of bringing it back.

“Jan (Shmeski) and Judy (Loving), were both part of Women in Philanthropy when it first existed, and I wanted their insight and historical knowledge on how it was created, what went well and how can we make this something sustainable,” Edwards said. “I brought in the other three women from our community who I saw as very strong and influential to help make this successful.”

“The hospital is very important to me,” said Loving, a retired banker, longtime board member and donor of some 20 years. “I know that it saves lives every day, and it has saved the life of some people who are very significant to me at various times, who had heart issues or pulmonary issues. Where life-saving specific skills, compassion and thought were needed, they were there, they were quick and they were wonderful. It changed my way of thinking about local health care.” 

The new version of the group is designed to allow women of all ages, backgrounds and financial means to participate. Members pay a $500 annual fee and get a voice in how the accumulated funds are donated, based on a list of needs supplied by the hospital. Preference is given to those requests supporting women’s health care. 

“I hate to say small, because to some people $500 is not small, but most people could do $500, especially if they get their place of business to sponsor half,” said Hill, a local banker. “Best of all, it doesn’t take too many people to start a total that can really make a difference in meeting a need of the hospital. That gives a woman a bigger voice than donating $500 by itself.” 

A secondary benefit of the club’s collective giving mentality is that it gives younger women more confidence in their potential to effect change, something men have enjoyed for years. 

“Women have pretty much been locked out of large donorships. That’s mostly been an arena for men,” said Musara. “That’s a powerful position to be in, and through Women in Philanthropy, members can not only do that, but they get a say and a vote in the final decision of where that money goes. That’s very empowering. 

“You just tend to think of philanthropy as being more of a man’s world, or at least that’s what you hear about more often,” Hill said. “Those ‘big impact donations’ always seem to have men attached to them more so than women. I know for myself and a lot of young women I talk to, we love the idea of being able to learn from some prestigious women in the community and be mentored by some of these women as well.” 

Recruitment for members is going full force as the foundation seeks to welcome as many women as possible who are interested in establishing a pattern of giving that is multiplied by their friends, coworkers and neighbors. Edwards said they plan on having a formal membership drive event in the fall and hopes to have assembled enough members by year’s end to vote on the group’s first major donation. 

“I see this growing into something organic because a lot of women know other women who might have a heart for giving,” Edwards said. “We also have a goal of making this something that reaches new people in our community. We have an incredible donor base already with our foundation, but a lot of people have moved here over the last couple of years who may not know about us. 

“If they haven’t had a situation where they needed to use the hospital, but they are still philanthropically inclined, we want this to be their opportunity to do something in the community they now call home.”   

This feature appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Pulse Magazine. To view the entire issue, visit