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Originally published: 2014-03-03 12:22:30
Last modified: 2014-03-03 14:25:32

Local organizations merge to form Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge

by Jeff Eason

"All for one, and one for all," was the battle cry for the Alexander Dumas' legendary Three Musketeers.That slogan is also applicable to the new union of organizations dedicated to bettering the lives of women and children in western North Carolina. 

It was announced this week that the Appalachian Women's Fund and the High Country Women's Fund are in the process of merging into one, unified organization. 

"A continued commitment to serving the needs of impoverished, disenfranchised women and girls remains the core mission of the new group now known as Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge (WFBR)," said Cathy Williamson. 

"Representatives from both groups began the merging process with the expectation that very little would change with regards to the grant funding priorities and goals. Focusing on the strength of each fund, the combining of efforts will make for a very strong presence throughout the counties being served."

According to Williamson, both board voted unanimously and the transition became effective on March 1, 2014. 

Karen Sabo will serve as the executive director of the newly merged organization. 

"I am thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute to this community that I love," said Sabo. "As former director of the New Opportunity School for Women at Lees-McRae College, which has been a grant recipient from both former organizations, I have seen firsthand the positive results from local women's philanthropy. I'm so looking forward to being a catalyst to connect those who can donate with those who need assistance to fulfill their potential. The WFBR will make our whole area even stronger through its activities and philanthropy, and I'm proud to be part of it." 

As the first-ever executive director for the WFBR, Sabo will have an active role in merging the two former organizations into a cohesive new one. 

"My primary duties will be varied, and will range from some of the minutiae of running a small-staff non-profit to working with the board to help local groups empower area women and girls in fulfilling their potential," said Sabo. "I look forward to developing new friends and donors for the WFBR, and to strengthening the relationships we already have. I am excited about the increased influence of this new organization to make our wonderful area even better through the WFBR activities and grant-making." 

The newly created Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge will support non-profit organizations benefiting women, girls and children in six or seven mountain counties, including Alleghany, Ashe, Avery and Watauga, according to Williamson. 

Sabo stated that she feels the combining of the two groups will allow it to serve the community more efficiently. 

"I greatly admire the boards of the Appalachian Women's Fund and the High Country Women's Fund for combining into one organization," said Sabo. "I believe that this new, unified group will be able to have greater positive influence, both financially and through leadership, that is even more significant than what the two wonderful groups had been doing separately. The unity that we now have is, in itself, an inspiration to women and girls trying to obtain the skills, confidence, and help to improve their lives."

A long-standing relationship between the High Country Women's Fund and the United Way is where one of the biggest changes will occur. An initiative of the United Way, the HCWF was formally established in May of 2006. Between 2006 and 2013, the HCWF has allocated over $500,000 to non-profits serving women and their families in Watauga and Avery counties. 

"Being under the auspices and guidance of the United Way has enabled us to grow our membership each year," said Grace Palacios-Will on behalf of the former HCWF. "Their support provided us with a strong and steady foundation for raising both money and awareness for women's issues. 

"We remain very grateful for the years of support and encouragement from the United Way," she said. 

Previously, High Country Women's Fund's primary fundraiser was the Power of the Purse Luncheon and the Appalachian Women's Fund's primary fundraiser was the Women of Vision of Luncheon. Those events will be merged into one charity luncheon, scheduled for Thursday, June 26 at the Linville Ridge Country Club. The luncheon will utilize the Power of the Purse title with Women of Vision as the subtitle. 

"The board and I are already looking forward to our June luncheon, and to welcoming members of our new, larger, stronger organization to celebrate our past and future achievements," said Sabo. "We hope that our increased visibility as one organization will lead to even more donations from businesses and more guests at this event. We are, however, looking for a place that can accommodate our new, larger crowd."

According to Williamson, the two groups will have a joint meeting in the near future so that all of the members can meet and plan this summer's fundraising luncheon and choose a speaker. For more information, or to join the Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge, email (info@womensfundoftheblueridge.org) , or call (828) 264-4002.