Women’s Fund

About the Women’s Fund

Since 1993, the Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois has been working to change the lives of women and girls in central Illinois. The original goal for the Women’s Fund was finding 1,000 women to each donate $1,000 to create a million-dollar endowment. While that fundraising model has evolved over time, the initial goal of creating a million-dollar endowment has remained the same. As we begin our 30th year, it is with great pleasure that we are able to announce the Women’s Fund endowment has now surpassed the $1 million balance!

The recent surge to $1 million is attributed to an extremely generous gift from a Founding Member of more than $300,000. This level of giving to the Women’s Fund establishes a legacy that will live on beyond all of us. With a million-dollar endowment, the Women’s Fund will grant more than $45,000 a year to deserving programs, in perpetuity. Through 2022, the Women’s Fund endowment has awarded 140+ grants totaling more than $475,000 to support programs focusing on women and girls.

Thank you to the 200+ Founding Members who have donated $1,000 or more over time, thank you to the dozens of sponsors of the annual Leader Luncheon, and thank you to the individuals who donated ANY amount. This milestone is possible because of you. The Women’s Fund will continue to bring women’s issues to the forefront in central Illinois as they continue building the endowment for an even larger collective impact.

Women’s Fund History

The Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois was founded in 1993 from an idea shared by Pat Barton, a CFCI Board Member at the time. Pat worked with Donna Haerr, then executive director, Deb Ritschel and Jay Goldberg to create the Fund as a way to inspire female philanthropy. “Power does come from money, and women do control much of the money in this country,” Haerr told the Journal Star when the establishment of the Women’s Fund was announced.

As women grow in influence and financial strength, so does their ability to give back. You can change the lives of women and children in central Illinois by contributing to the Women’s Fund endowment.

Why? Because when women prosper, communities thrive; and when communities thrive, the world becomes a better place for everyone. Surprisingly, less than five percent of charitable contributions go towards funding women’s programs.

Today, we are inviting you to a new level of giving – to elevate women and girls to the top of your philanthropic list and to invest in them with even greater commitment. The Women’s Fund welcomes gifts of any amount to help build the endowment. Once individuals contribute $1,000 or more over time, they are recognized as a Founding Member.


2023 Women to Women Leader Luncheon Awards

Left to right: 2023 Women to Women Leader Luncheon Award Winners. Left to right: Autumn Gray, Megha Garg, Hedy Elliott-Gardner, Nikki Romain, Alice Driscoll, Emily Jacob-Rudesill and Lorene King (Photos courtesy of Daryl Wilson Photography)

The Women’s Fund of the Community Foundation of Central Illinois (CFCI) honored six local
women and a young woman who is a high school senior at the Women to Women Leader Luncheon Awards held at the Par-A-Dice Hotel in East Peoria on May 10, 2023. A central Illinois tradition, the Leader Luncheon Awards began in 1978. During the past 45 years, nearly 300 women have been recognized with Leader Luncheon Awards which recognize local women who best exemplify excellence in their chosen professions and a commitment to the success of other women.

This year’s winners are as follows:
· Young Woman’s Service Award: Autumn Gray
· Emerging Leader Award: Megha Garg
· Education Award: Hedy Elliott-Gardner
· Arts Award: Nikki Romain
· Healthcare/Wellness Award: Alice Driscoll
· Business/Professions Award: Emily Jacob-Rudesill
· Community Service Award: Lorene King

The funds raised by the Women to Women Leader Luncheon will, in part, help grow the Women’s Fund endowment and provide grants to local programs and causes that strengthen families and communities by empowering women and girls.

For information about sponsorship opportunities, please contact Sarah Fletcher at sarah@communityfoundationci.org or call (309) 674-8730.


2023 Women’s Fund Success Grant Recipients

Organization NameProgram NameAmount Awarded
Center for Prevention of AbusePreventEd: Relationship Abuse$5,000
Hult Center for Healthy LivingEmpowering Young Girls Through Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Education$5,000
Dream Center PeoriaZoe House$5,000
Soulside Healing ArtsCommunity Doula Program$5,000
Loving Bottoms Diaper BankEmpowering Periods: Breaking the Cycle of Period Poverty$4,000
Living To Serve FoundationWomen’s Health Fairs$3,300
ART, Inc.EmpowHER Our Girls$3,000
CREW309CREW309 Member Expansion$2,500
Peoria Grow Your OwnTeachers for Tomorrow: Preparing Future Teachers for Success in the Classroom$2,500
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central IllinoisPilot Postpartum Recovery Kits$2,000
TOTAL $37,300

Women’s Fund Advisory Board

Erynn Dykstra – Chair
Mae Gilliland Wright – Vice Chair
Lindsey Kerr – Treasurer & Secretary
Michelle Nielsen Ott – Immediate Past Chair
Betsy Bladel
Ellen Corbin
Holly Edwin
Lynette Fernandes
Bernice Gordon-Young
Shelly Kerker
Andrea Parker
Kala Pierce
Michelle Sanders
Kathy Schaeffer
Anupama Uddavolu
Erin Winstead