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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Special interest group: Together Women Rise aims to level playing field for women one potluck at a time

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Several years ago, Lindy Cater visited a friend in Vancouver, Washington, and attended a gathering of a group formerly known as Dining for Women.

“I was blown away and fell in love with it. I came home and founded a chapter here in Spokane,” Cater said.

That chapter of that organization, now called Together Women Rise, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Together Women Rise is a community of women and allies dedicated to achieving global gender equality. There are hundreds of local chapters across the U.S. where members learn about and advocate for gender equality issues, give grants to organizations that empower women and girls in low-income countries, and build community to forge meaningful connections.

The premise is simple.

“We gather for a potluck and donate what we might have spent on dinner out,” Cater explained. “It’s very inclusive because someone might go to Arby’s while someone else might go to Luna. These donations fund grants to organizations that help women and girls with education, health care and self-sufficiency.”

At each monthly meeting, attendees hear presentations from fellow members about a featured grantee and a sustained grantee.

“I’ve served on the national grant selection committee for four years, and I guarantee the applications are carefully vetted,” Cater said.

Shannon Kapek co-chairs the group.

“I loved the concept of empowering and educating women around the world,” she said. “It’s amazing how far American dollars go in other countries.”

She vividly remembers one project they helped fund.

“It was the “Grandmothers Project,” in Africa,” she said. “The grandmothers would sit under a big tree in the village and talk to girls about how things like early marriage are not in their best interest.”

Stories like that attracted Madonna Luers to the group –but that wasn’t the initial draw.

“To be honest, I’m a foodie,” she said, laughing. “The potlucks are amazing!’

But she quickly discovered what she learned was equally impressive.

For example, one of the featured grantees was a teen pregnancy prevention program in the Dominican Republic, where teen pregnancy rates are extremely high.

“It was a mentoring program to build self-esteem and knowledge,” Luers said.

Though the program launched prepandemic, Luers discovered almost everyone in the country has cellphones and that’s how the program continued.

“I’m a news junkie,” she said. “But I don’t know where else I’d learn about some of these things in such depth. Learning compels me to give. This is a terrific way to broaden your horizons.”

Luers was also deeply touched by the following affirmation recited at each meeting of Together Women Rise.

“As we share food, we share something of ourselves and we honor each other. We recognize the powerful associations of women to food, life and nurture in all cultures. We honor the importance of those. We also recognize the burdens they can bring. We remember the women about whom we’ve learned, the ones they strive to nurture, and the organizations that are trying to nurture them. By eating together, we remember and honor those women, who also have favorite foods and family recipes. And we express the hope that through our efforts, they may find more sustenance for their lives. May we all be able to feast together someday.”

Pam DeRusha joined the group a few years ago.

“I loved how well it was organized and how transparent the organization is,” she said. “I liked that the grants were very practical.”

Cater said their roster includes approximately 30 women, but about 10 usually attend the monthly potlucks. Due to the pandemic, the group has been meeting via ZOOM for the most part, but they hope to resume in-person gatherings in January.

“We have diverse professional backgrounds and range in age from mid-50s to 80s,” Cater said. “Our commonality is that we’re curious, interested women who believe educating and supporting women in developing countries will create peace and democracy.”

The members enjoy the local connections they’ve created.

“It’s a wonderful way to meet new people who aren’t in your bubble but may share your world view,” said DeRusha. “I’d encourage younger women to get involved in these groups.”

Kapek agreed.

“I’ve made some good friendships through this,” she said.

For those who’d like to see some of the programs they’ve funded in action, the national organization of Together Women Rise plans trips so members can visit some of the countries where their donations have been put to use.

“I love to travel and in May, I’ll visit Jordan,” Cater said. “A few years ago we supported a grant for the Collateral Repair Project there. Women and children are often the collateral damage of war, and this program assists Syrian refugees.”

Meanwhile, she and the other members of the group are looking forward to once again sharing a meal and discovering new ways to lift their sisters across the globe.

“I believe to change the world in a positive direction, it will take the education and empowerment of women,” Kapek said.