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Wood River Women’s Foundation Plants a Tree for the Future
Monday, August 7, 2017


Kathy Edwards was a founding member of the Washington Women’s Foundation when it started in Seattle 22 years ago.

But she has a fond place in her heart for the Wood River Women’s Foundation, of which she is also a member.

“While the women of Seattle are generous with their donations, this little Wood River Women’ Foundation has had a far greater impact,” said Edwards, a part-time resident who has been coming to Sun Valley since she was 4.

The 300-plus Wood River Women’s Foundation members demonstrated their intention to have an even greater impact heading into the future as they celebrated the beginnings of an endowment fund this past week at their annual meeting at the Trail Creek Pavilion.

An endowment fund will assure the sustainability of the foundation as it continues its mission of bringing significant, positive change to the community, said President Joanne Wetherell. The principle balance will be set aside in perpetuity while a portion of the fund’s annual investment performance will be utilized to cover the foundation’s operating expenses.

Currently, operational expenses exceed the administrative fees collected from the memberships. Even though there are no paid staff members.

Wetherell quoted Warren Buffett: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago,”

“We’re planting that tree,” she added.

One of the members gifted the organization with $25,000 to start the endowment fund, and it has already grown to $265,000, Wetherell told the members. The goal is $500,000, she added, as she invited members to become part of the Endowment Founder’s Circle.

The Wood River Women’s Foundation was started 12 years ago by Jo Murray and Barbara Thrasher, who thought the Washington Women’s Foundation an idea worth copying. It is one of 50 organizations in which women pool donations to give to various causes.

Those organizations have 13,000 women all told.

The Wood River Women’s Foundation started its luncheon this week with 307 members and gained a handful of others by the time the event was over.

“The number changes daily so we have to keep the tally in pencil,” Wetherell quipped.

So far the Wood River Women’s Foundation has given out more than $2 million, including $246,000 this past year. Each member donates $1,000 a year into a pool of donations. The women then vote on which projects to give the money to after vetting each application.

The group has caught the attention of similar organizations in the state, said Karen Bilowith, president and CEO of the Idaho Community Foundation, which provides $6 million a year in grants and scholarships in all 44 Idaho counties.

“People say, ‘What are they doing in the Wood River Valley? Why are they so successful?’ ” she said.

Bilowith noted that women are more likely to give than men. They give more than men. And they’re more likely to give in every category, including health, youth and religion. 

Peggy Grove is the new president, following in the tennis shoes of Wetherell, a national tennis champion.

Wetherell won’t be twiddling her thumbs though. The Wood River Women’s Foundation recently created a Founder’s Circle to continue to reap the knowledge of its past leaders.

Other new board members include impact team co-chair Sandra Flattery, a longtime volunteer at Swiftsure; impact team co-chair Heather Horton; at-large board member Sandy McCullough, a former Congressional press secretary, and finance chair Sylvia Miller, who founded a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that teaches English to adult immigrants.

More than 60 women served on grants committees, which awarded six $25,000 grants this year, as well as others totaling as much as $22,565.

Those receiving grants were The Advocates, The Senior Connection, Blaine County Education Foundation, The Hunger Coalition, Lava Lake Institute for Science and Conservation, Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center, Wood River Community YMCA, Wood River Land Trust, Girls on the Run, Hailey Ice, KDPI Radio, Kiwanis Club and Rotarun Ski area.

The grants funded everything form a summer program to keep youngsters engaged in learning to Rotarun’s snowmaking project.

“We’re voting on projects, not organizations,” noted Grants Co-Chair Lynne Heidel, who co-chaired the Grants Committee with Gina Wolcott.

Julie Patterson told the women how the money they gave Carey’s Little Wood Library last year covered about half the cost of materials to build a new library. About 150 people attended its open house.

“The library opened today and it’s because of you,” she added. “Two years ago, our library seemed but a dream. You helped that dream come true.”

Kristy Heitzman told how donations to Blaine County Education Foundation’s Can-Do fund had helped robotics students attend a national competition and fund three elementary homework programs and a book club for advanced students at Wood River Middle School. It also provided 300 backpacks with school supplies for youngsters starting school. And it provided funds for students to build a food computer that monitors soil so they can harvest food in one month.

 The Hunger Coalition used this year’s grant to hire at-risk youth as interns for its Bloom Farm. The kids are learning to grow and sell vegetables, as well as how to prepare them.

The Sun Valley Summer Symphony School of Music bought instruments to loan to students with its grant.

“We have 500 kids in music and three orchestras in high school alone, which is an amazing number in such a small community,” noted Heidel. “And many began with this program.”

Kat Vanden Heuvel, director of the Sawtooth Botanical Garden called the meeting a beautiful celebration of what the organization has accomplished this year.

“I love the sense of community we’ve built,” she said.

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