Originally published in The Times Union, Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Founding 500 - 500 women who contribute $500 each - is a work in progress dedicated to helping females attain independence and self-determination.

This new group is part of the Women's Fund of the Capital Region, formed through the collaboration of three organizations: The Community Foundation of the Capital Region, United Way of Northeastern New York and the United Way of Schenectady County. The three organizations chose women leaders from different sectors in the community to be on the steering committee for the Founding 500.

"The platform is economic self-sufficiency for women and empowerment for girls," said Leslie Cheu, executive director of the Troy Savings Bank Charitable Foundation and a member of the steering committee of 12 women.

Only 7 percent of all fundraising nationwide goes to women and girls, according to Kristen Frederick, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for the Capital Region.

"Without money, women have very little choice, very few options," she said. "They face multiple barriers. They may lack education, may have family issues, may not have affordable transportation. They need support.

"We want to make systemic changes, not apply Band-Aids," said Frederick.

The fund was launched this year. It now has 100 women donors on board.

A new Women's Fund grant-making program will be announced at an Oct. 19 symposium. Grants will be announced in March, which is Women's History Month.

"Grants will range from $5,000 to $50,000," said Cheu. A not-for-profit must be the lead applicant. "We are not addressing a single cause, but are trying to get to the root of the problem," she said.

Applicants are being encouraged to form partnerships with academic, business and faith communities, which could hire the women after they have received training, said Cheu.

The logo of the organization shows a woman jumping up and clicking her heels. The pins were designed by Michael Dunn, a silversmith in Petersburg. "We feel if we can make a small change, we can build on it," said Frederick.

Speaking of small change, she said, "Donations of less than $500 are welcome too."