When the second of Brenda Farrell’s four children left for college in 2013, Farrell struggled with how best to fill the void. She had left her job as a new product/project buyer for Andersen Windows when her youngest child was 3, realizing that a full-time career and the busy schedules of middle school children had become unmanageable. And now, nine years later, Farrell found herself once again moving into an all-too-familiar life stage. “When I got down to two kids at home, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with my time?’ ” Farrell says.
As is so often the case, fate intervened. During a trip with her husband to California, a newspaper article presented an idea that caught Farrell’s attention—a group of 500 women had combined their resources to benefit local charities. Farrell, who had been involved in volunteer organizations and was struck by the enormity of the need, was already thinking of ways she could replicate the California idea to benefit those in her own backyard.
In January 2014, Farrell sent out emails to 75 friends and contacts, sharing her idea for a new charitable organization—Will of Women (WOW)—which would bring women together for a bi-annual social gathering while collecting dues to benefit deserving organizations across the Twin Cities. Each woman would share the idea with her friends, providing an ever-widening circle of friendship and giving. To Farrell’s surprise, others were eager to join in. “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” Farrell says. “People said, ‘Look what we can be a part of. Count me in.” And quickly 200 Minnesota women were on board.
The excitement was tempered by the need to apply for nonprofit status, write bylaws, establish procedural processes and form a board of directors. “There are a group of women, especially in Mahtomedi and Dellwood, who, like me, are at home,” says Farrell. “These are smart, talented women, so it was very easy to get a board put together. Without [these women], this could not have been accomplished in such a short time.”
Membership involves attending events in April and October, member dues (100 percent of which are donated), and submitting nominations. “It gives members the opportunity to help organizations near and dear to their hearts,” Farrell says. After members nominate the charity of their choice, three organizations are randomly selected, with those organizations making five- to seven-minute presentations. The winner receives 80 percent of the funds and returns to share with the group how the money affected those individuals served. Each one of the runners-up receives 10 percent.
St. Andrews Community Resource Center was the first recipient of a WOW award in April 2014. The center provides emergency shelter assistance, a free community meal every Thursday at 6 p.m., job placement assistance, back-to-school needs, and homelessness prevention. “People think of homelessness as a city problem and are finally becoming aware of homelessness in the suburbs,” says executive director Liz Schreier. “We serve individuals in Mahtomedi, White Bear Lake, Oakdale, Maplewood, North St. Paul and Stillwater.”
The center received more than $17,000, the bulk of which was used for homelessness prevention and rental assistance. “It really made an impact on what we do; what a difference WOW is making. I would like to see it replicated all over the country,” Schreier says.
The slogan for WOW has proved the key to their success: Together we can make a difference. For Farrell, it helped ease her into a new phase of life. “I feel like I’m using my time, talent and treasures for the greater good,” she says. “It gives me a task that I can feel is my own.”