Where help is felt most

When Mikala Berbery went from earning $21,000 a year to losing her job, her life suddenly plunged into a dangerous abyss of homelessness.

She spent 2 1/2 years homeless, struggling to find shelter for herself and her young son. The seemingly insurmountable challenges she faced in trying to get out of that "hole," explains Ms. Berbery, fuels her dedication today to the Boston group Roofless Women.

The small organization will receive a $20,000 renewable grant later this year from The Chahara Foundation, started when 20-something activist Karen Pittelman decided that her inherited millions could better benefit her community if it were doing more than just sitting in her bank account.

Roofless Women, dedicated to training low-income and homeless women to become advocates for themselves and to educate women about housing and welfare-related state legislation, has scraped by for three years.

This year's budget is a paltry $52,000, and the organization nearly fell apart in 1998 when funding resources were too scarce.

"People aren't exactly throwing money at us," says Berbery, who is the coordinator of Roofless Women. "The Chahara Foundation grant is the biggest one we've ever received in one lump sum. We've never had that kind of show of faith before."

Organizations benefiting from this kind of social-change-oriented philanthropy represent an eclectic mix.

The Philadelphia-based Self Education Foundation, of which Billy Wimsatt is a part has awarded grants to groups as diverse as United Parents Against Lead (confronting the lead poisoning of low-income city children) and Books Through Bars (getting literature to prisoners).

Ms. Pittelman's Chahara Foundation will be awarding grants this year to many small, Boston-area groups including Kitchen Table Conversations (a low-income women's support group with an operating budget of $5,000) and the Welfare Education Training Access Coalition.

"I think it's wonderful," says Berbery about the increasing interest that some young philanthropists are taking in small, grass-roots groups like hers. "It does my heart good, because it gives me faith for the future."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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