Appalachian Women’s Fund appoints first executive director
For the first time, the Appalachian Women’s Fund is surmounting the steep incline that is the fundraising year with a leader at the helm.
Parker Stevens has been named the first executive director for Appalachian Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization in Boone whose goal is creating a community where all women and girls reach their full potential.
A Boone native and a 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Stevens became AWF’s first paid employee on Oct. 1.
“It’s been really exciting so far to connect with a network of female philanthropists who dedicate their time, talent and money to making a positive change in our community,” Stevens said. “It’s really powerful to see all these people come together, raising awareness about issues in our community you might not think about.”
Those issues include homelessness, domestic violence and the ability to meet basic needs, such as paying one’s heating bills. The organizations to which AWF makes contributions include the Hospitality House of Boone and OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter), as well as organizations outside of Watauga County, such as A New Day for Avery County and ASHE (A Safe Home for Everyone). It also helps fund the ACCESS program at Appalachian State University, which provides financial aid to low-income, first-generation college students.
In 2011, AWF awarded $68,000 to 12 agencies that serve women or provide programs that assist them. Since its inception in 2007, AWF has raised and distributed more than $250,000. The feat was accomplished solely through volunteer efforts of the 100 members of the group.
“It’s pretty incredible that they’ve done what they’ve done with just volunteers,” Stevens said.
Cathy Williamson, a founding member, said she is very proud of what AWF has accomplished as a volunteer organization, but in order to “take on the next level of validity,” it was necessary to create a leadership position.
“We have grown to a point, which is a fabulous achievement, that it has outgrown our skill levels and the amount of time and energy we can put into it,” she said. “Hiring an executive director is a very public way of saying that we are established and we are not going anyway.”
Because private donors have underwritten Stevens’ part-time position, no funds will be used to cover administrative costs or overhead. Williamson said that sets AWF apart from other non-profits, many of which use donations to cover salaries.
“Not one penny of any donations goes to Parker’s salary,” she said. “All of your donations will go straight to grants. It goes straight to women and girls in need.”
Williamson said she thinks Stevens is a good fit for AWF because she was born and raised in the High Country and is familiar with the rural poverty that affects the area. She also said Stevens, who has worked the past two years as the director of membership for environmental nonprofit Appalachian Voices, has a great skill set for the job.
“She really does bring a lot to the table — youth, energy and an appreciation of nonprofit work,” Williamson said.
She believes Stevens’ hiring will solidify the organization.
“I think it’s going to give us one face and name, in Parker, that will elevate the women’s fund in playing in the big leagues with other nonprofits,” she said. “I see her bringing us a new audience and raising the awareness even more.”
Currently, Stevens is meeting with organizations that receive AWF funding, planning events and fundraisers and redesigning the AWF website. Her plans include building partnerships with businesses, growing the organization and finding more ways to activate its members.
“We have this great network of members, and a lot of them would like to get more involved,” she said. “We’re thinking about how to engage these folks and utilize their passions and talents and interests to benefit the organization.”
The first event taking place under Stevens’ leadership is the Appalachian Women’s Fund fifth annual Holiday Luncheon on Dec. 6. The event takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Crave in Boone. AWF members and friends will formally recognize Stevens as the new executive director and learn about future plans for the organization. The cost of the meal is $15. There will also be a gift drive, for which attendees can bring items to be distributed to women in need.
For more information on the Appalachian Women’s Fund, visit http://www.appalachianwomensfund.org or call (828) 264-4002.