ENCINITAS — A nonprofit that gives grants to organizations serving some of the region’s most vulnerable women and girls recently gave $30,000 in grants to four organizations.
Hand to Hand, a giving circle and women’s fund of the Coastal Community Foundation in Encinitas, awarded grants to the Boys & Girls Club of Vista, Girls Rising, Operation HOPE and Reading Legacies. Those four organizations were chosen from a total of 27 that applied for grants last year.
Since it was established 12 years ago, Hand to Hand has made 46 grants — totaling nearly $345,000 — to nonprofits in San Diego County.
Hand to Hand, which was originally called the Woman’s Fund, was created in 2008 by a small group of women who wanted to make a difference in the community for women and girls through their joint philanthropy.
“We came up with the idea what if we just each put in money,” said KJ Koljonen, one of the original founders of Hand to Hand. “We decided there was going to be a membership and we set our membership at $500.”
Koljonen said they started out with about six members and today they have almost 60 members. Each year every member writes a check for the membership fee and then the pot of money is then divvied up and given as grants to a few organizations they choose from a pool of applicants.
Their goal is to make an impact on the lives of women and girls in San Diego County by directing resources to programs that empower change and self-sufficiency.
The grants they give out are between $3,000 and $10,000 and are awarded to smaller organizations that have a budget of no more than $3 million.
“We decided that the big organizations usually have grant writers but it’s the little, tiny ones that don’t,” she said. “We would be helping these young upstarts that had really good ideas, passionate founders and a lot of volunteers, but they needed some money.”
Hand to Hand donates money to organizations that meet one of four focus areas — upstarts or organizations that focus on education and job training; programs that have women or girls reenter the workforce; mentoring programs; and organizations that focus on health and well-being.
Two of the grants awarded this year target at-risk girls. A grant to the Boys & Girls Club of Vista will support SMART Girls, a weekly program offered to enhance participants’ physical and emotional health. Girls Rising matches “Little Sisters” who are living in poverty, in single caregiver homes or foster care with a mentor or “Big Sister” who becomes a consistent and positive force in the girl’s life.
A grant to Reading Legacies’ Family Connections Program, will encourage literacy and help connect incarcerated mothers with their children. Volunteers facilitate age-appropriate book selection and film the women reading the books aloud as they would in person. The videos are sent to the children to enjoy.
Operation Hope — North County is an emergency homeless shelter for families with children and single women. A grant to the Steps of Independence program will provide counseling, mentoring and coaching to support women in breaking out of their current situation and finding a place to call home.
Charity Singleton, executive director of Operation HOPE-North County, said they rely heavily on money from individual donors and grants like Hand to Hand to keep up and running.
Singleton said in fact 77% of their funds come from those sources.
She said the shelter is run out of a ranch-style house that has 12 rooms. They can house 11 families and four single women.
“We provide a safe environment as they rebuild their lives and get into stable housing,” Singleton said, adding that because they are an emergency shelter, residents can stay there between 90 to 120 days.
Singleton said they drug test the residents and require them to attend mandatory classes that may apply to their situation, such as credit repair, parenting and job readiness classes.
“Those pieces that will help them get back on their feet and really have some stable ground when they leave here,” she said. “It’s pretty incredible what we can do in three to four months.”
Singleton said she admires the women of Hand to Hand and is so grateful for what they do.
“I’m really impressed and honored to have seen the women behind this organization and the genuine love and interest they have in what they are doing with their philanthropy,” Singleton said.
Koljonen said the women at Hand to Hand do what they do because there is a lot of need in the county and they want to help make a difference.
“The focus of our organization is we’re able to leverage a bunch of people that would otherwise give a couple hundred dollars here and a couple hundred dollars there,” Koljonen said. “But by focusing and putting our money together, it’s really a serious amount of money that can really help a non-profit. That’s the beauty of Hand to Hand and anybody can do it.”
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.