In 1999, Carolyn Yurkovich, a Peters Resident, decided it was time to give something back to the community. Her child was grown and it was the typical “empty nester” syndrome. She gathered a few women, presented her idea and a decision was made to put together an organization to help women and children in need. Peters Twp Business and Professional Women’s Organization was chartered, After one year they decided to leave the BPW and form their own group, because they wanted to obtain more local funding and to be unbiased politically. And so WOMEN, an all volunteer organization, was formed. Now WOMEN had money from their dues, to work with on a local level. Before this, the majority of dues was used on the state, national and international levels. WOMEN of Southwestern PA, Inc. (Women Organized to Mentor, Empower and Network) is not a part of any national organization since that would involve sending money to fund another organization in another city.
Pictured below are some of the founding members of WOMEN.
First Row: Carol Gehrig, Carolyn Yurkovich, Anne Leco and Joni Podrasky
Second Row: Amy Baumgarten, Carol Lippencott, Elizabeth (Betty) Koriwchak, Michelle Leco and Pricilla Mikec
Third Row: Roberta Colombari, Penny Thomas, and Charlette Orient.
Over the years the group has grown to a maximum of 50 members with a mixture of working and retired women with an incredible “get it done” philosophy. Our Mission Statement – “We support each other by gathering socially, working on philanthropic projects, and networking with the hope that friendships based on trust and mutual respect will develop.”
Knowing they would have to come up with some type of fund raiser to be able to help these women and children in need, Art in the Round became that vehicle, starting in 1999. Art in the Round, at the historical Washington County Courthouse was an increasingly successful opportunity for local artists to display and sell their artwork in one of the most beautiful, historical buildings in Washington County. While at the same time, supporters enjoyed an evening of food, wine and music, helping WOMEN to raise funds for their philanthropic missions. This continued and flourished for 9 years.
In 2008, as with a lot of things, it was time for a change. What better way to entice people out of their homes on a cold winter evening but a six-course, sit-down dinner with local, well-known chefs serving their signature dishes with selected wines to enhance the menu. An evening of basket raffles, paddle auctions and other fundraisers create a fun-filled evening. Symphony of Food – Chefs’ Showcase Dinner at Bella Sera Event Venue on the last Friday in January was conceived and over the past ten years has consistently been a sellout – 360 attendees. Corporate table sponsorships have provided an opportunity for companies to show appreciation to their employees. Over the years, WOMEN has returned approximately $500,000 to the community in Washington, Allegheny, Greene, Fayette counties to help women and children in need.
Shortly after the event a “call for grants’ is published in local papers. The Philanthropy Committee of WOMEN reviews the requests and awards the grants. The monies disbursed are for non-government projects within the 50l(c)(3) organizations meeting WOMEN’s criteria. Grants are awarded in June to those who meet WOMEN’s agenda fulfilling our mission. In November, the year’s awardees are invited to the annual Grant Recipients dinner. At this dinner, stories are shared as to how the monies were spent and at the same time networking for their organization’s needs. The stories are overwhelming and heart-warming, energizing WOMEN for the next year’s Symphony of Food.
Monthly, we determine if there is an immediate need by someone in the community who could use a helping hand and give them a donation. There is also a $300 emergency fund to help out in these types of situations. Every year WOMEN contributes $1,000 to the Jefferson Awards program, which was created in 1972 by Jackie Kennedy to honor volunteers for their contributions through public and community service. In these ways, WOMEN of Southwestern PA have been giving back to the community, as the founding members set out to do.