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The gift that keeps giving

Wanting to make an impact on worthy, local non profits, the Catholic Women in Action – a division of the Catholic Foundation – created a Women’s Giving Circle.

In its first year, the circle has exceeded all expectations. More than 130 women have joined, pledging $1,100 each annually (if they are age 36 and older) or $550 each if they are age 35 and younger.

“We are astounded by the response of local women,” said Josephine Everly, director of major gifts for the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, of the founding members.

The Catholic Women in Action Giving Circle launched its founding April 5 with a Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie celebrated by Msgr. Andrew Taormina. A luncheon at Metairie Country Club followed with guest speaker and political strategist Mary Matalin, who joined the circle.

Nonprofits will benefit
Darlene Robert and Stacy Pellerin co-chair the circle and said the amazing part of the new group has been the number of philanthropic women who banded together, in a very short period of time, because of their desire to make a positive impact in the community.

“What is so exciting about the Giving Circle is that it is a new project where we are pooling the money as a group to benefit others,” Robert said. “The beauty of it is that a larger group of people will make a bigger impact.” Robert and Pellerin head a steering committee of approximately 20 women, who decided on the initial categories of organizations to whom they would award grants from their seed money. The circle chose to concentrate on nonprofits that help women and youth in the 16- to 25-year-old age group.  

At the inaugural luncheon, Robert said members were given suggestions of several organizations to consider for grants. Members also had the opportunity to add names of nonprofits they would like to see benefit from their donations.

In total, more than 30 groups were suggested, all aligned with the corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting prisoners, burying the dead, giving alms to the poor – that the Catholic faith embraces.

After the luncheon, members then voted by email on their top three choices.

Selection meeting April 27
The seven to 10 nonprofits with the largest number of votes will be invited to give formal presentations on their organizations to group members on April 27 at Willwoods Community, 3900 Howard Ave., in New Orleans.

A week later, Women’s Giving Circle members and these nonprofits will reunite for a Mass at St. Mary’s Assumption Church, 2030 Constance St., New Orleans, followed by a celebration of the impact of Catholic Women in Action and an awarding of grants at a presentation ceremony across the street at St. Alphonsus.

“In 2016, we anticipate funding seven to 10 organizations in the range of $10,000 to $15,000,” Everly said.  “These are one-year awards.”    

Pellerin said she got involved to help local non profits, especially Catholic nonprofits. She, like Robert, recognizes the greater good they could do with so many women pooling their resources, instead of individually donating a little of their own money to several organizations.

“Imagine how we can impact a nonprofit with a $15,000 grant,” Pellerin said.

But, giving is only one vein of the circle. Pellerin sees the circle as having a three-fold purpose – education; bringing like-minded women together with the same morals and values; and gaining knowledge of the incredible work that local nonprofits do.

Pellerin is particularly looking forward to learning about organizations with which she is currently not familiar. She knows other giving circle members are, too.

To become more invested in their causes, the circle plans a day of service at some of the organizations it will fund and will visit grantees, in the fall, to witness the impact of their donations.

“Embracing the Catholic belief that stewardship is about committing time, talent and treasure,” is how Everly put it.

Two dinners with speakers are also planned “to deepen our members’ knowledge about needs in the archdiocese,” Everly added.

Relatively new concept
Catholic women giving circles seem to be a relatively new charity faction. When researching if there were others, the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of New Orleans found one other such circle – the St. Martha Giving Circle of the Catholic Foundation of Columbus, Ohio, which was founded in 2014, Everly said. This circle awarded $24,000 in April 2015.

With 138 women already in the local Women in Action giving circle and counting, this year’s grants will top $138,000. (Of each $1,100 donation, $100 will go toward the group’s annual get-togethers, including a luncheon, cocktail event and breakfast.)

Women who join the Catholic Women in Action Giving Circle can be involved as much or as little as they desire, as far as events go.

The Catholic Foundation’s Catholic Women in Action’s Giving Circle is open to women of all ages. For details, email or call Melissa Gurdian Exnicios at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 527-5788 or visit the Catholic Foundation website at

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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