Who We Are-Donor Edition

In today’s blog entry, we’re featuring some of the creative and deeply meaningful acts of support A2Empowerment has received. Our co-founder and friend Anne Cheung recently sat down for a Zoom conversation with the Whiting family: Lori, Pete, and their daughters Hannah and Abbey. The whole family is an inspiring example of selflessness. From hosting our annual fundraiser to offering dog-walking services for our raffle, Lori and Pete have taught their daughters, Hannah and Abbey, the importance of giving.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity by Eugénie Olson

Photo of the Whiting family from the Family Photo Session they won at the A2Empowerment Family BBQ raffle, courtesy of Man Ching Cheung

Anne: What inspires you to support A2Empowerment?

Lori: The mission of A2Empowerment and the fact that it’s connected to young, school-aged girls is particularly important. As a mother of two girls, to be able to do something that specifically empowers girls and women is meaningful. My girls are about to go into the world, and they live in a country where their gender will no longer hold them back. It has really changed for their generation, but that’s not true everywhere, including, specifically, in Cameroon. If that weren’t true for Hannah and Abbey, then I would want them to have some kind of leg up.

Also, I have a personal connection with you, but it’s more than that. A2Empowerment has become a big community for us over the past twelve years. It brings all of us at different levels of involvement into the organization together. I love that I’m doing things I would be doing anyway with your friends while supporting a good cause.

The story of how A2Empowerment came to be is cool and also makes us want to support it. I always think back to how these two young women, who didn’t have a lot of money and were just starting out, got a bonus check and chose to use it to start a scholarship program to help other young women. If they can do that hard thing, then the least that we can do is contribute to help them make sure it works, so they get bigger and can have more impact.

Another important thing for me about A2Empowerment is that it’s really efficient. I know how the organization is run and that the overhead is low. At the fundraisers, we hear about the tangible results, like the cost to send a girl to school and how many girls A2Empowerment supports. I recognize it is rare to see such direct impact and tangible results. It makes it that much easier to want to be involved, because I know the results and impact of my donation to A2Empowerment, as opposed to not always knowing where the money goes at some of the big nonprofits that seem amorphous.

Pete: It gives us a chance to fundamentally change the trajectory of these young women’s lives. The students are obviously motivated, driven, and want to participate, so it’s a chance to truly make a difference in their lives at a very critical juncture. As the parents of two daughters of relatively similar ages to A2Empowerment scholarship recipients, to be able to help their peer group means a lot to us. In addition, we live in a homogeneous community, so I think it’s important to expose Hannah and Abbey to this work so they have a better understanding of what life is like outside of our community.

Also, the fact that A2Empowerment is a lean organization, and it’s partnering with the right people on the ground, like the Peace Corps and vetted educators, gives us confidence in contributing. If we donate $1,000 to A2Empowerment, as opposed to some other organizations, we know that supports over twelve scholarships. That’s twelve lives you’ve fundamentally changed. The numbers obviously show the wide impact that A2Empowerment has, but each one of those is a single person whose life you helped change.

Anne: You have given so much to the organization in so many creative ways. What are some nontraditional ideas for potential donors to consider?

Lori: The donation of stock was really easy and it’s incredibly tax-efficient. It has a double tax benefit because we didn’t pay capital gains tax and, just like any donation, it’s tax-deductible.

Other easy examples are AmazonSmile and company matching gift programs. With AmazonSmile, for the same price, a small percentage of every Amazon purchase goes to my charity of choice. It’s so easy that I forgot I was contributing in that way until you reminded me. I’d always encourage donors to check to see if their company has a matching gift program, since it’s easy and doubles the impact of donations.

Hosting the Family BBQ or participating in the Cause + Event 5K race are things that we do for A2Empowerment that we would want to do anyway. They’re legitimately fun for me, and we get to leverage them into being a fundraiser. In the case of the BBQ, I want to have people here to swim, drink, eat, and play games, so it’s an easy thing to combine something fun like that with something that also benefits the charity. Because it’s hard to find time to see everyone, hosting the BBQ with friends and family is a great excuse to get everyone together. We distribute the work, so everyone contributes their small part while making it easier to host.

Pete: The idea of having a party where you ask everyone to donate a small amount to the charity is an easy way to help. The A2Empowerment raffle is a perfect example. There are so many items that most guests walk away winners.

Service prizes are valuable raffle prizes. Some examples are my dad’s law firm, which provides an estate planning session, and Hannah has offered dog-walking services. Most people attending the BBQ are from this area, so local businesses benefit from the advertising and business they receive by donating raffle prizes. One year I won a trial gym membership to a local facility and ended up joining after the free trial ended, and Lori joined a yoga studio after winning one of their gift cards.

Lori: We also have a lot of crafty prizes at the raffle. I’ve donated handmade tote bags, your friend Mia donated mermaid blankets, and your mom donated monogrammed towels. We enjoy making these crafts, and it’s an excuse to show off our handiwork while contributing in an easy way.

Pete: Another great example is the family photo session donated by [Anne’s spouse] Man Ching. It’s an example of a skill that someone donated as a raffle prize. He clearly has a passion for photography, and he was able to use that to make a huge impact. It not only raised money for the raffle, but my mom is still talking about the photos he took at her birthday party last year when we cashed in the prize.

Abbey: Yeah, my grandma is still talking about those photos and how much she loves them!

Anne: What has been the most memorable part of supporting A2Empowerment?

Lori: The Cause + Event race is awesome for a bunch of reasons. I love that it’s local and community- oriented. When you’re in the race, you look out there and see all the green A2Empowerment shirts, which is super-cool. I also notice people from the community, like friends from Hannah and Abbey’s school.

Hannah: I think the pre-race donut holes are the best! Seriously, it’s awesome when we’re decorating for the BBQ and put up the posters with the photos and stories of the scholarship recipients. We get to learn more about them and see where contributions are going. It’s super-interesting to see what’s going on and to know what’s happening with the money that’s being raised.

Abbey: We did a car wash at the BBQ one year and I thought that was really fun. It was a fun activity that raised money that went toward kids. I think about how I’m a kid and I’m grateful that I get to go to school for free.

Anne: The A2Empowerment community is made up of many members, including scholarship recipients, their parents and mentors, as well as volunteers and donors. What message would you like to send to the A2Empowerment community?

Abbey: If I could say something to the scholarship recipients, I would let them know that I am really glad you get to go to school and it’s great that everyone is excited to go to school. School bonds kids together because we all have it in common. We sometimes take school for granted here. When we didn’t have school last year because of the pandemic, I realized it’s better to be able to go to school.

Lori: If I were talking to the scholarship recipients, I would say it takes bravery to go to school like they do. As I understand it, if you’re a girl living in Cameroon, it’s hard to enroll in school for many reasons. They may have other priorities or even physically getting to school can be difficult. So I applaud them for making sure they can go to school and that they are making it a priority for themselves.

That’s another way this is satisfying for me. I know that money and opportunity is going to a girl who actively decided she wants to go to school. Just that decision in that environment is a courageous one, because it’s harder to do that than to not go.

I would say the same thing to the parents. Although it may be harder for them to let their kids go to school, because they then might have less help at home, for example, they are giving their kids an opportunity. It may be harder in the short term to have their daughter in school, but in long term it will benefit the students and the rest of the family.

Hannah: Building on what my mom said, they’ve been given this opportunity that not everyone is given, and it’s super-brave and interesting to do something that might be not be the usual. In the time of the coronavirus, nothing is normal. Something that we’ve always just done here, like school, has completely shifted and changed. It makes me look at how it feels to not have school, or for it to not be as easy to go to school. It puts a new perspective on something that used to seem so easy. It reminds me that it isn’t easy for a lot of people, so I want to support them.

Pete: I think the only thing to add is to remind the students that they’re part of a community now. They don’t have to do it alone. There’s a lot of power when you come together and support one another. Everyone has highs and lows with things that are going on at home and school, so I encourage them to rely on each other.

If you are a member of the A2Empowerment community who would like to be interviewed for our blog, please contact us at info@a2empowerment.org

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