Sep. 8—NORWALK — Patti Wilde and Robin Bleile are counting on the combined power of 100 area women to raise $40,000 each year to directly help area residents through local charities.
100 Women Making a Difference will hold its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at Norwalk Arts Center, 22 E. Main St., Norwalk.
"It's awesome. There's no overhead and all money goes directly to the charity," Wilde said. "Let's see where we can make a difference in our community."
She said non-profits in Norwalk, New London, Greenwich, North Fairfield, Willard, Monroeville, Milan and Wakeman are all eligible for the program.
She first learned about the program from Sheri Thomas, the founder of Sheri's Coffee House in Norwalk. Thomas now lives in Hilton Head, S.C., and is a member of a 100 Women program there.
"I brought the idea back and talked to my Bible group and everybody thought it was a good idea," Wilde said.
Then COVID hit and plans were stalled. Wilde and Bleile decided recently it was finally time to get started spreading the message of local women combining their power for local charities.
"It's been sitting on my mind and we just needed to get the timing right," Wilde said. "It's God's timing, for sure."
The program is simple. Women pledge to meet four times a year and bring a $100 check to each meeting. Each member can nominate a charity and then three charities are randomly drawn from the nomination slips. The person nominating each chosen charity has up to five minutes to explain what the charity does for the local community and how they would use the money.
Members then vote for one of the three charities and the women make their $100 checks out to the charity with the most votes — a $10,000 boost for that organization. A charity can only receive the group's donation once each year.
"It sounds too good to be true, but it is," Bleile said. "You get together for one hour four times a year and make such a big difference."
Wilde and Bleile attended a 100 Women meeting in Lorain County to help plan their own chapter. In addition to raising money to help local people, they said, the meetings give women a chance to meet other women interested in helping their communities and raise visibility for different charities.
The nominated charities are truly chosen by the luck of the draw, Wilde and Bleile said. The nominating member can explain her group's importance to all women in the five-minute introduction and then members can ask questions. One of the blessing of the program is the chance to learn about different charitable organizations in the area, Bleile said.
"At first, I didn't know if we had enough charities," Bleile said, but realized there are many organizations that would qualify for nomination. A charity must be registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3 charity or be affiliated with a registered charity. The women explained that would include independent charities and school and church groups in the area. The charity must use the entire donation locally.
Wilde and Bleile said women are already signing up so they don't know how many will show up on Oct. 13.
"We're not limited to 100," Wilde said. "If we get more than 100, that's awesome. But if we get only 60, that's $6,000 for a charity.
"I'm most excited to gather women together and have an opportunity to make a difference in our community. I think it's exciting to see what a group of women can do compared to just one."
"You get 100 women together and it'll be awfully powerful," Bleile said.
"Loud, but powerful," Wilde added with a laugh.
Bleile said she hopes to meet new women who want to help and learn about new opportunities in the community.
"I'm looking forward to seeing all the different non-profits out there that we can help," she said, "along with getting to meet a lot of new women in the area and seeing how we can support each other and learn from each other.
"If we get to 150 women, we could even do $10,000 and $5,000," Bleile added. "It will all make a difference."
"Getting to know other women who care — that's an added benefit," Wilde said. "It'll be great just listening and getting to know people, meet people from different communities."
One of the hurdles to getting the project going was finding a place that would hold 100 women. When the Norwalk Arts Center board heard about the program, members stepped forward to offer the NAC space on Main Street as a site.
"We completely support this effort," said Dina Lukasko, president of NAC. "As a non-profit, we understand the need for community support. And we love to collaborate with anyone who wants to help our friends and neighbors.
"Our space is truly a community space and we welcome the chance to host women who want to work together to help non-profits," she said. "This program is a win-win for everybody."
Dates for 2022 will be Feb. 9, April 13, July 13 and Oct. 12, all Wednesdays. If members can't attend a meeting, they must still contribute their pledge of $100 to the chosen charity.
Women can join on the group's website — 100womenmakingadifference.org — or by printing out a commitment form, which requires name, address and e-mail address, and mailing it to 100 Women Making a Difference, 153 Norwood Ave., Norwalk, Ohio 44857. The form can also be scanned and e-mailed to 100womenmakingadifference@ gmail.com
This is just the latest volunteer effort for both Wilde and Bleile as they have worked with many groups over the years. Bleile is one of the organizers for Norwalk Area Food Bank and Wilde also volunteers there.
About 25 years ago, the women started a Thanksgiving Day dinner program with their husbands, Skip Wilde and Dave Bleile. With the help of many volunteer cooks and delivery people, they feed several hundred people every Thanksgiving Day.