Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
Traci Smullen, a member of the Lake Club Women's Giving Circle, was impressed as a stream of women came through the doors to attend Wine, Women & Jewels on April 27 at the Grande Clubhouse.
She did, however, hear many of the 115 women who attended ask the same question.
"What is this event benefitting?"
Three years after the formation at the Lake Club Women's Giving Circle, everyone is about to get an answer.
The Lake Club Women's Giving Circle, which formed under the umbrella of the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund and the Manatee Community Foundation, was required to build an endowment fund that would be distributed by the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund. Lake Club members commit $1,000 over a five-year period.
Once that fund reaches the required level, the Lake Club Women's Giving Circle is free to start a second fund which it can distribute itself. The club is free to host fundraisers as well, as it did with its first, Wine, Women & Jewels.
"The first couple of years, it was just getting together as a group, getting to know each other," said Barbara Najmy, a local Realtor who is the group's founder. "Now we can decide where our passions lie."
Najmy said the club will meet in October, after many of its members who are snowbirds return, to discuss where they will go from here, how many fundraisers they will host annually and which causes will benefit.
Wine, Women & Jewels raised $6,300.
The key word in all this is passion. A Giving Circle is not a new concept, springing up in various regions around the United States before ever becoming a force in Lakewood Ranch. It has been proven effective.
Why? Just ask Smullen.
"We're kind of like the coolest club in the neighborhood," she said.
The women who live in the Lake Club certainly have plenty of other clubs to occupy their time and interests. Being in the Lake Club itself, they certainly have the means to follow their desires.
And what do they do? They join a club which has a main purpose of giving back. Giving back in most cases to people they don't even know.
Giving back has become cool. Giving back has become fun.
Palm Aire's Barb McSweeney, who is not a member of the club but whose bmj (Barb McSweeney Jewelry) was featured at Wine, Women & Jewels, said she loved the vibe of the event.
"They were so much fun, bright and bubby," said McSweeney, who donated 25% of her sales that night ($905) to the club.
Smullen said anyone who has interest in the group will feel the same.
"This is a really unique group of women," Smullen said. "The group is totally diverse in experience, and I think we have the potential to be very powerful in the giving department. Our first event came together nicely."
Najmy was swamped with work and her other causes when asked to start a women's Giving Circle three years ago. She really didn't have the time, but she saw the potential.
"There was no goal," she said of starting the group. "But I did think we could grow to 50-plus women (they have 31 members now). I just remember I was so busy. Then, right off the bat, we had 20 of us come to the first gathering at my house. I realized how philanthropic we all are. It was a natural to start this here. Actually, it's been very easy.
"We've been taking baby steps, but now it is incredibly exciting."
It probably will become even more exciting when the group presents its first lump sum grant, probably in late 2017 or early 2018.
"There might have been a question, what is this?" Smullen said.
Now they know.
If you are a woman living in the Lakewood Ranch area and you are asking 'What is this?' Call the Lakewood Ranch Community Fund at 556-5442 to find out about the eight women's Giving Circles currently formed.
You, too, can become a member of the coolest club in town.