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More Than Service and Fellowship

August 27, 2015

Janet Burgoon Philanthropic Excellence Award Winner for Distinguished Community Partner.

The Woman’s Society Benevolence Committee has been giving back to those in need for decades. It started with a rummage sale in 1902 and has become stronger and, well, more benevolent than ever. Known in the early years as the “White Elephant Sale,” this annual fundraiser at first received a lot of attention from the men of Winnetka Congregational Church. “The men wanted to take the money, but the women rebelled,” says committee co-chair Carolyn Kenly. “The women told them that they’d done the work, so they would decide how the money would be used.”

The Woman’s Society Benevolence Committee is responsible for selecting—and then funding with money raised at the church’s annual sale—social service agencies that provide preventative, crisis, and recovery services to underserved people in the Chicagoland area. And for years, the North Shore Senior Center has been the fortunate recipient of the Committee’s generosity. “Our work is truly fulfilling, because we get to help organizations like the Senior Center where people are working every day to make a significant difference in people’s lives.

“It’s uplifting for us to help the agencies who work so hard to increase the quality of lives for people who can’t access the kind of services that are so readily available to others,” says Carolyn. “Yes, it’s very gratifying to be recognized for our work, but more than that it is an honor to help others.”

Like Winnetka Congregational Church, the Committee, too, is diverse. “We have between 15 and 20 amazing and brilliant women,” she says. “Some have Ph.D.’s, finance backgrounds, some are stay-at-home moms—everyone brings great thought and heart to all of our decisions.”

Selecting the agencies to receive funds requires hours of the committee’s time, something, Carolyn says, is easy to give. “Every year we interview the groups that put in applications. Last year, 44 out of 46 applicants received help from Winnetka Congregational Church. In the past, we’ve distributed funds to organizations including the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, and Connections for Abused Women & Their Children – just to name a few.”

The diversity of the groups that have benefited is a testament to the care and compassion each committee member puts into the decision-making process. In addition to evaluating an agency’s constituency, number of trained staff, and basic information, Carolyn and other committee members carefully consider a number of factors. “We study the applicants’ mission statements, what changes are planned for the future, challenges the organizations face, financial statements, and many other details that help us make our decisions,” adds Carolyn. “It takes a lot of time to go through the applications, but we all feel it’s such a privilege to be in a position that enables the church to help others.”