Ms. Foundation Meets on Martha’s Vineyard

The Ms. Foundation, the nation's leading organization devoted to securing rights, equality and justice for women, hosted an event in West Tisbury last Wednesday. — Photo by Bella Bennett

Founded 40 years ago by Gloria Steinem, the Ms. Foundation has grown and evolved to become the nation’s leading organization for women. By sponsoring over 100 projects nationwide, the Ms. Foundation takes on a multitude of issues concerning women’s rights, health, and safety. Two months ago, Teresa Younger became the foundation’s president and CEO.

On Wednesday, August 6, Susan and Sherman Goldstein of West Tisbury hosted a cocktail reception to bring together the Vineyard’s feminist and women’s rights concerned community. This well attended event also served as what Teresa Younger called a “soft kick-off” for her listening tour. Younger described the event as a time for “meeting people and building relationships. We’re doing about 40 cities in nine months.”

Many noteworthy people attended the event, including the Ms. Foundation’s former CEO and President Sara Gould, current board chair Heather Arnet, and vice chair and longtime member Susan Dickler. Host committee members, included Carol Gilligan, Sig VanRaan, David Shumway, Mike Campbell, Marilyn Ford, Regan Maund, Katie Grover, Jeanette Demeestere, Nancy and Milt Washington, Sandra Grymes, Nili Goldstein Morgan, and Robin Leeds.

Coming to Martha’s Vineyard may have been a somewhat spontaneous choice for the ladies at the Ms. Foundation. As Younger described, “Our board chair, Heather Arnet, is actually on the Vineyard for vacation this week, so when [Heather Arnet and Susan Dickler, a summer resident] were talking, they said, ‘There are a lot of wonderful feminists on the Vineyard, and we never really get them together, so why don’t we have you come out and you can meet people, and then next year we’ll come back again.’”

In a brief introduction, Susan Dickler shared her thoughts on bringing the Ms. Foundation to Martha’s Vineyard, “It’s great to see such support of women and girls here. We don’t very often get a chance to officially recognize that there is a lot of passion and caring for women and girls in this community, and that is one of the reasons that I thought it would be a great to bring Teresa Younger here.”

As the audience enjoyed catered appetizers and drinks, Heather Arnet made a heartfelt speech about her commitment to the organization before formally introducing Teresa Younger.  “For me it feels like such a critical time to have an organization like this. I can’t remember a time in my lifetime when I felt that civil rights, women’s rights, were so under attack in different ways, and so I think that the relevancy and the urgency of an organization that’s working to mobilize the collective power of women to work for equality and justice for all is so important — and incredibly important right at this moment.”

Ms. Arnet went on to describe Ms. Younger’s previous work in the field, noting, “Teresa Younger comes to us having been the executive director of the state commissioner for women of Connecticut. Before that she was executive director of ACLU Connecticut, and she was the board chair of the Girl Scouts, so you can see and hear that her commitment to these issues is lifelong.”

In an impassioned speech, with a follow-up question and answer period, Ms. Younger described the organization’s work. “The Ms. Foundation has, for just over 40 years now, been funding grassroots organizations. People say, ‘well, what does that really look like?’ It looks like, we raise money so that we can give money away to where it matters on the ground, so that organizations are able to do the work that they need to do. Then we take it one step further, because we bring those organizations together in convenings so they’re able to talk to each other about what’s working, what’s not working. We all know that networking and supporting are critical and they’re able to do that through the Ms. Foundation.”

“From its get-go [the Ms. Foundation] has been about how women define a problem and the solution to that problem, and then how we fund them effectively to do that, and then carry that model forwards and create partnerships across the country to create movements. I think that is what makes the Ms. Foundation a different kind of foundation.”

Melissa Hackney of West Tisbury, board chairman of  the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard, asked Ms. Younger to specify what types of grantees the foundation funds. “Health, safety, and economic justice,” Ms. Younger said. “We do require that they have an advocacy component because we’re building a movement, and a movement isn’t just direct service, its how you engage people to take action.”

The event was a great kickoff to the listening tour, and we can expect to see Teresa Younger and the Ms. Foundation back on the Island next summer. Until then, visit the Ms. Foundation’s website forwomen.orgfor further information on the orginization’s current projects, monthly newsletters and more.