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Member Highlights

Ellen Shiery joined AAWGT in 2017 and has been actively involved in the organization since that time. She was attracted by the Giving Circle’s support through the years of Anne Arundel County CASA, where she was a volunteer and, later, a board member. “If CASA is not funded, AAC children who are under court protection in foster care due to abuse and neglect, simply do NOT have advocates.”

In 2022, Ellen became a Lifetime Member of AAWGT which creates a way for a member’s contribution to keep giving through endowed funds. AAWGT currently has 19 Lifetime Members. “I plan on being a member forever, so why wouldn’t I join in this category? It just makes sense.”

“Never have I had such an opportunity to be part of a group that is as passionate or actively engaged in productive local community nonprofit and philanthropic work. Membership has been for me a welcoming, warm, and important way to get to know the community and build meaningful friendships. And there are so many opportunities for mentorship, learning, and participating—without having to over-commit yourself.” Ellen has served as assistant treasurer and is now AAWGT’s treasurer. “I enjoy participating and having the opportunity to engage with the Steering Committee, getting a high-level picture of the organization. I am grateful to all the women who have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, so much time and energy to expanding the Giving Circle and helping find so many ways to positively impact the community.”

Ellen grew up in Greenwood, Delaware (pop. 500), went to Wesley College and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. She made the transition to the finance field early in her career, and is currently a Certified Financial Planner (TM). She has a 15-year track record as a wealth management advisor for Merrill Lynch and is part of an advisory practice that serves nonprofits, foundations, endowments, and the philanthropic individuals and families who support them. “My personal, professional, and philanthropic work is entwined.”

Ellen lives in Edgewater Beach with her husband Andrew, with whom she enjoys boating. “We have two six-month-old rescue kittens known by us as the ‘chaos kitties.’ I am an aspiring embroiderer and an amateur genealogist, tracking my own family’s past since at least the early 1800s in Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.”

Cassandra Moore joined AAWGT in July 2016, having been invited to one of its events by long-time member Judy Coughlin. Cassandra is the director of enrollment and admissions at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC). During her long career, she has gained experience at every level of college admissions.

“I joined and will continue to participate because AAWGT’s mission is in line with my family-based core value of service. I love AAWGT’s mission of women pooling their resources to make a greater impact on improving the lives of women, children, and families, and importantly, doing so in this county. I wanted to learn more about needs in this county and what organizations were stepping up to the plate to meet those needs.” Cassandra noted that this information is helpful in how she and her colleagues at AACC engage with prospective students and families in each community. She mentioned that her “spirit animal” is the octopus, “because admissions professionals’ tentacles touch so many aspects of the student experience.”

In terms of AAWGT activities, Cassandra focuses on two areas: the Grants Committee, where she’s participated as a reviewer for many years, and the Education Committee, of which she’s currently assistant chair. “I like the fact that AAWGT members are always asking how we can do better for our members and community, and are not resting on our laurels.”

“Born and raised in Arkansas, I describe myself as a Southerner with agricultural roots, from a family of farmers, teachers, preachers, and librarians. My parents were educators who loved intelligent people who were great conversationalists. They prized being informed and viewed education as the pathway to opportunity. One of their favorite sayings was, “looks will fade, but dumb is forever.” Cassandra and her brother felt nurtured and fully supported by them throughout their lives. “They never diminished our dreams.”

Cassandra married a military officer who is now retired and teaching in Anne Arundel County public schools. She is the proud mother of two young adults. Her son works as a pricing specialist at MRC Global and her daughter is an educator, recently named Howard County Public School’s Teacher of the Year.

Cassandra loves reading, traveling, visiting museums and independent bookstores (of which she’s a strong supporter), movies, the theater, and spending time with family. Her “guilty pleasure” is candles and her favorite book is Isabella Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. “It really is a depiction of my family’s history.”

Darcy Scott has an established business providing expertise in government affairs and event management to large organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers Big Sisters, etc., and their constituents coming to Capitol Hill for meetings or Lobby Day. She also performs the role of government affairs staff person for many other small groups. After living in the DC area for almost 30 years, Darcy and her husband retreated to their weekend home on Broadwater Creek during Covid where they continued to run their businesses from home.

the pandemic subsided, Darcy wanted to make connections in what was now to be her permanent home and met a previous AAWGT president at a social event. She knew about the giving circle and was “happy to hear about one thriving so close to my home in Churchton.” She joined shortly thereafter in spring, 2023. She is impressed with the wide range of women in AAWGT as well as the variety of programming and volunteer opportunities offered.

Darcy has taken advantage of the new member receptions and enjoyed meeting other AAWGT members with common work and life experiences. She’s also enjoyed learning about and voting for the grants awarded this spring. Growing membership to the level that giving can expand to more entities impacting children and families is her hope for AAWGT’s future.

Darcy and her husband, Mark Smith, live on the water in Cape Anne, a charming community in Churchton. Not long after relocating here permanently, Darcy convinced her parents to move to a home across the street and quickly got them into community activities. She and her father volunteer weekly to pick up unsold produce from a local farmer’s market and deliver to a nearby food pantry. Her two adult children live and work in DC and are frequent visitors.

Deborah Chin joined AAWGT in December 2020, having heard about it through her employer and Martha Schwieters, a long-time AAWGT member. With an extensive career in nonprofit management, Deborah is the development associate for LETS GO Boys and Girls. The charity creates economic success for underrepresented and marginalized communities by empowering youth through STEM education and workforce development.

Deborah initially joined AAWGT’s Membership Committee and started the morning Getting Together coffees. She also created a tool for membership growth through networking. She currently serves on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee.

“One of the biggest benefits I’ve received from AAWGT is the networking—the sharing of ideas. The vast diversity of thought and experience of the women has been so valuable. It’s also touched me personally, as I received amazing support during my father’s recent decline. The doors it opens for people I can call friends has been phenomenal.”

Nonprofits help that happen. “I think one of the great things about nonprofits, which I’ve been working for since I was a teenager, is that they give people an opportunity to gain skills and experience at a much quicker pace than is possible in for-profits. I like to say I’m a conduit rather than an influencer or some other label. If you need something and don’t know where to go, I likely know someone who can help. But I’m also a doer.”

“I come from a family that believes in philanthropy. When my mother’s family emigrated to the U.S. from war-ravaged China, they brought children from the community, eventually adopting them into our family,” Deborah shared. Prior to her current position in LETS GO, Deborah served as the SVP, Strategic Development and CAO at The ERISA Industry Committee. She earned her Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential in 2008 and is an American Society of Association Executives Diversity Executive Leadership Program alumni.

For fun, Deborah loves to cook, try new restaurants, play board games with friends and volunteer in different organizations. She also does a lot of pro bono consulting for various associations and charities.

Jessica moved to Annapolis with her young family in 2021 after living in downtown Washington, DC, and splitting their time at their home in West River, MD. She had a 10+ year career in counter terrorism as a consultant supporting a variety of government agencies. As she settled into her new environment here, Jessica began searching for a way to get involved in the nonprofit community. With information gleaned from the Internet and the encouragement of a neighbor, Jessica joined AAWGT in 2021. The focus on women, children and families was critical. The giving circle concept was especially appealing – to be part of a group effort with the flexibility for members to participate according to their various time commitments and skill sets. Understandably important with two toddlers at home!

Jessica’s willingness to share her skills, passions and interests is evident as she describes her desire for further involvement in AAWGT activities. She has enjoyed the education programs about community need and looks forward to being involved with the grant process next year. Jessica mentioned her support for more in-person meetings and feels those connections create a lot of energy. She is enthusiastic about ways to encourage diversity and suggests a “champion” for each zip code in the county to recruit and expand membership.

Jessica grew up in Laurel, MD, where her family had an art gallery and frame shop. She was part of the operation from an early age and gained the skills to manage interactions with customers. An early college English course included a visit to a rehabilitation center in Baltimore that made quite an impact. It gave her an increased understanding and compassion for others that she has built upon with a degree in international studies and throughout her career and in her community service.

Jessica and her husband, Michael, live in Arundel on the Bay with their daughters, Sadie (3-1/2) and Isla (1-1/2) and two dogs. They love being on the water and spending time with family close by in Washington and in Charleston, SC.

Donna Anderson is the Executive Director of Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, MD. Her career in nonprofit management, marketing and development spans more than three decades, including positions at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, National Building Museum and Goodwill Industries.

Donna “met” AAWGT in its initial years (2007-8) during her tenure at Maryland Hall. “As someone who works in nonprofits, I was appreciative and thankful that a group of women wanted to come together and build capacity for nonprofits with a particular focus on family and children,” she said.

She followed AAWGT activities through the years and joined the organization in 2021. She attended the September 2022 Grants Showcase, which she said was “really inspiring, solidifying her belief in AAWGT’s excellent work through the years.”

Donna currently serves as assistant chair of AAWGT’s Marketing and Communications Committee and is “knee deep in learning how the wheels hum.” She noted this: “The women I’m meeting feel called to be part of this organization and are passionate about its mission, operations, and most importantly, giving back to the community through the grants program.”

In addition to her full-time job and AAWGT, Donna is on the board of directors of Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and an elder at her church. She and her husband live in Gambrills and have two adult children who live in New York City. In her spare time, Donna enjoys watching sports, music, reading, movies, volunteering and traveling.

Shari Friedman is a career educator who taught in the public school system, facilitated programs in Montgomery County nonprofits and developed a focus area of working with children with learning differences and executive functioning challenges. She is the founder of SF Academic Coaching where she helps young people understand and embrace their learning styles, get excited about what they are studying and identify strategies that will help them reach their goals.

Upon relocating to the Annapolis area from Montgomery County in 2020, Shari discovered AAWGT while looking for a way to connect with people in the community. She was so excited to find a group of “bright, capable women with varied careers and experiences who were engaged with under-served communities.” Shari was interested in continuing her many years of partnering with local nonprofit organizations and found that AAWGT offered a variety of outlets for “heartwarming problem-solving” in the community.

Shari jumped right into AAWGT’s Grants and Post Grants Evaluation committees. She loved the opportunity to be able to understand the needs of applicants and then actually maintain an authentic connection as the grantee implements the work. She sees the post grants evaluation process as a great avenue to form a respectful partnership with organizations. Shari has also participated in the Racial Equity Study Group which she sees as an important part of AAWGT’s growth and involvement in the community.

Shari loves AAWGT’s mission to learn more about the many community organizations that are working hard to make life better for women and their families.

Shari and her husband, Mark, live in Edgewater and have three adult children. They enjoy the local music scene and look forward to discovering more of the activities coming to life now as venues open post-pandemic. Shari is an avid reader and enjoys hiking, yoga, Pilates and travel.

Lynne Davidson, one of AAWGT’s founding members, says “It was exhilarating for me to be part of the initial group, launched by Sharon Stewart in 2005, that created our first bylaws, committees, membership structure, programs, and grant priorities.” Lynne has a 30+ year career in nonprofit fundraising, marketing communications and project management, which all were very useful in AAWGT’s early years. She went on to serve as AAWGT President in 2009 and helped launch AAWGT’s Endowment Fund.

“The best part of AAWGT is the open exchange of ideas and the passion, talent, and collaboration that define the organization. This may be because so many members, regardless of age, have — or have had — interesting careers and/or deep volunteer experience, leading to what I consider a very professional planning and problem-solving approach. AAWGT is a great forum for learning about issues and participating in creating positive change in our community. I hope we keep doing what we do best (i.e., addressing current issues affecting our County’s most vulnerable populations, staying open-minded to new ideas, and making sure to spread the good word about this organization.”

While there were years when she was unable to be actively involved in AAWGT due to family, professional, and other personal priorities, she’s currently on the Membership Committee, has served as a Team Leader for the Grants Committee this year, and is coordinating the AAWGT Business Sponsorship program.

Lynne grew up in the Detroit area but considers Annapolis her home. She and Brad, her husband of 40 years, have two adult children living in New York City. Lynne is a daily exerciser — walking, doing yoga, and light weights — and loves music, reading, and traveling (most recently to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon with her husband’s family foundation), and she’s learning to play bridge.

“AAWGT has made me appreciate that everyone has a story and a skillset, and all can complement each other, proving that the collective whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
------- Bronwyn Belling, September 2021

In the Beginning

Bronwyn attended her first membership meeting in 2006 as the organization was just being formed. “I knew a lot about the needs and issues of nonprofits nationwide, but very little about nonprofits in my community. I saw AAWGT as a good way to learn about the emerging and entrenched issues to be addressed through ‘paying it forward’ locally.”

Off and Running

With a background in grant seeking/making, Bronwyn joined the Grants Committee in 2006, helping to design the program and raise $38K for the first grants in 2007. She was Chair in 2007 and 2008 and then assumed the roles of AAWGT Vice President in 2009 and President in 2010.

In 2010, AAWGT received an anonymous gift of $25K to start an endowment fund and matched it with member donations. “It’s been exciting to watch the fund grow, thereby helping to ensure enduring support for our grantmaking mission.”

Continuous Improvement

“Every year we try to improve on each aspect of the work we do. This is good, except that change sometimes is hard,” says Bronwyn. “For example, the quality of the grant proposals has improved over the years due to the training we provide nonprofits each and every year. Adopting new technology has enabled us to make the grant writing and review process more accessible and transparent.”

Bronwyn cites the Racial Equity Study Group as a critically important area of continuous improvement. “I am thrilled with the progress its 50-some members have made personally and organizationally to evolve to be more diverse and focused on the philanthropic inequities that have caused a lot of the problems our funding supports,” says Bronwyn. “It adds another dimension to our work which is important and timely.”

Growing the Organization and Its Resources

“AAWGT’s number one focus is growth. I believe there are still lots of women in our county who would benefit from becoming members of the Giving Circle. The more members we have, the more funds we can give. It’s a win/win situation,” says Bronwyn.

“Looking back, in honor of our 10th anniversary, we created a mechanism whereby members could become 'Lifetime Members’ and pay a lump sum, thereby building a safety net for the organization. In a year when we might have diminished resources, it is possible to request that a slightly larger distribution be made from our endowed funds into the grant fund,” describes Bronwyn.

Promoting a Larger Philanthropic Role in the Community

“Seeded by information provided by AAWGT about nonprofits in the community, many of us make contributions and have served on boards or as volunteers,” says Bronwyn. “AAWGT has lifted us up, educated us, and made us more aware and engaged. That’s something we can’t readily measure, but I think it’s another extraordinary benefit of the organization.”

“And, what I didn’t expect on joining AAWGT was that I would meet so many extraordinary women, who have become my sisters and lifelong friends, stepping up be a village of support in times of need.”

“By supporting and shining a light on organizations that have a positive impact in the community, AAWGT provides a unique opportunity for those who want to make a difference.”

------- Margo Cook, August 2021

Having an Impact

“A lot of us who are philanthropically minded sometimes feel powerless. We see major societal issues and want to be part of the change, but don’t know how or don’t have enough money to make a real impact,” says Margo. “Being a part of a collective giving circle like AAWGT allows your donated money to make a larger impact. And, you can help to identify the most important issues in the County and support organizations that are doing really great work.”

Following a Passion

Encouraged to join AAWGT by Tara Clifford, Margo Cook took a major plunge in doing so five years ago. “The President and CEO of my firm, Jim Brennan, (1 North Wealth Services) encourages all of our team to give back to the community as part of our philanthropic mission. He has fully supported my taking the time to do so as a result,” comments Margo. Margo and her husband Lee have two young children, so time was, and is, in short supply.

“I was able to join committees right away, the first of which was the Grants Committee,” notes Margo. “It’s at the center of what AAWGT does, providing a view of all the fantastic work being done by nonprofit organizations in the community.” She also joined the Membership Committee, because she “fell in love with the people in the group, who are people I want to be like.” Margo also is a part of the small, strong team that secures corporate sponsors.

The Future of AAWGT

“AAWGT has added so much to my life and I look forward to the volunteer work I do. I hope others will join us so we become a mammoth funding group that can help solve big problems in the community,” concludes Margo.

“My membership with AAWGT has re-energized my stewardship passion and truly allowed me to grow as a servant leader.”

------- Michelle Hellstern, May 2021

Off the Ground and Running

Michelle joined AAWGT in April 2019, having been introduced to the organization by Elaine Stanley at a Rotary Club of Annapolis meeting. Michelle is Senior Director of Corporate Compliance at Luminis Health and an Adjunct Professor at Towson University.

“What resonated with me is AAWGT’s mission,” says Michelle. So, her first step was to get involved as a Grants Reviewer to learn about the grants process. “I like looking from a bird’s-eye view, asking questions such as ‘what’s different or changed about this grant proposal from an organization we’ve funded in the past? And, when looking at potential new grantees, which we should definitely do, do all of their “ducks need to be in a row” and “I”s dotted and “T”s crossed?’”

“The grant review process is the most organized, robust process that I’ve ever seen in any organization I’ve been in. I was impressed and intrigued to learn about the county’s applicant organizations and some of the ladies on this committee,” says Michelle. “For anyone joining AAWGT, I’d recommend the Grants Committee.”

Additionally, last February, Michelle joined the Racial Equity Study Group, which she says is “another example of AAWGT’s recognition of opportunities for continuous improvement with forward-thinking ways to provide unconscious bias education for our membership and beyond. It’s such an open group and all opinions are welcome.” “I just love it,” she says.


Michelle cites three hopes for AAWGT’s future:

  • Continuing to encourage new people to join committees, bringing their fresh perspectives and voices
  • Attracting individuals from diverse groups through involvement in different communities and diverse speakers in education and other panels
  • Tailoring communications to young demographics through social media and in-person opportunities, when possible

“AAWGT has enabled me to meet some amazing women trailblazers who have taught me so much,” says Michelle. Because she lost a son last year and has gone through a year of grief and unusual isolation, Michelle hopes to carve out more time to “reconnect with her sisterhood, getting to know each person individually.” She considers all AAWGT members to be her “sisters and part of her extended family.”

“If we use our trusted, respected, and ethical philanthropic power, we can help shape the agenda and use our access and influence to affect priorities in Anne Arundel County.”

------- Tara Balfe Clifford, April 2021

Helping AAWGT Grow

With a deep commitment to, and a career focused on, community development and affordable housing, Tara was active in Baltimore’s Giving Circle. Then Tara joined AAWGT at its founding in 2005. She was part of the team that discussed and drafted guidelines for the first grants in 2007.

In 2007, Tara spearheaded a new committee—Post-Grants Evaluation—and served as its first Chair, with Barbara Hoffstein as Vice Chair. “We established a process to ensure AAWGT/grantee partnership and mutual understanding of the results and impacts to be achieved, with monitoring through regular communication and site visits,” says Tara.

Tara cites and salutes the many accomplishments in AAWGT’s early years, including the design and implementation of the website, and getting the infrastructure up and running for the organization’s operations, communications, membership/grantee database, electronic invoicing, and online applications.

In 2009, Tara received the Founders Award, presented annually to a member for exemplary efforts and results. Also in that year, with Bronwyn Belling, Tara helped establish the Lifetime Member option. She has served on the Leadership Development Committee and currently is in the Racial Equity Study Group.

AAWGT Founder Sharon Stewart notes Tara’s leading role in recruiting the next generation of AAWGT members. “It’s easy and we should all do it,” says Tara, who also mentions the importance of “intergenerational recruiting,” such as inviting one’s mother and daughter(s) to join the organization.

Hopes for the Future

Tara’s “hope list” is a long one, but her top aspiration is for AAWGT to live and embody the title of our March 2021 education offering, Women Fostering Change.

Other hopes include continued work with AAC public schools on financial literacy for all students; nurturing innovation by grantees in incubating new ideas and ways of solving problems; continuation of an intentional journey toward racial equity based on our shared values; and initiation of a conversation about planned giving. “Creating one’s legacy through planned charitable donations provides oxygen for not-for-profit organizations,” concludes Tara.

“I want to congratulate members on the 15th anniversary of AAWGT. You have proven, once again, that when smart women get together, powerful things happen.”

------- Sharon Stewart, February 2021

AAWGT Beginnings

When Sharon moved to Annapolis in late 2004, she was eager to establish a Giving Circle, having participated in one in the Baltimore area. By May of 2005, she received a hosting “go” from Les Salamon, Founder of the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, and permission to work with the Foundation’s new Executive Director, Gail Sanders, on recruiting a small group of women who could get a Giving Circle off the ground.

Fifteen women (Founders) participated in a kick-off meeting in September 2005. “We had a specific game plan for what we wanted to accomplish during the first six months, including, among other things, determining organizational structure, focus of contributions, grant-giving criteria and process, educational activities, and impact evaluation,” says Sharon.

“We decided early on that we wanted our grants to support women and families, so we invited speakers from around the county to educate us about key needs of this population,” notes Sharon. The group identified six “big need buckets” and prioritized them via member voting by urgency of need. “Education, health and welfare needs, and violence and abuse emerged as the top issue areas where we thought we could actually do something to help.” 2007 was the first grant-giving year, with nearly $40,000 granted to four organizations.

Achieved primarily by word of mouth, AAWGT’s membership grew rapidly. By June 2006, there were 45 “Founding Members” and by year-end 2006, membership was 72. That doubled by 2008.

Hopes for the Future

“I’m really proud of what AAWGT has accomplished during the past 15 years and of all the amazing leaders who have stepped in and taken it to the next level. I’m especially proud of the group’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that AAWGT set up the new Racial Equity Grant category,” comments Sharon.

“I hope AAWGT continues to be a thought leader in the community, taking on important issues. By continuing to partner with other organizations, AAWGT can be even more powerful, working with others to achieve positive change.” Sharon also notes that she hopes to see the AAWGT endowment grow, leaving “a continuing legacy for the community forever.”

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