Grantee Profile: Women’s Medical Fund

People in a park holding up signs about crisis pregnancy centers

Women’s Medical Fund members raise awareness in October about manipulative tactics used by crisis pregnancy centers

“We strongly believe that taxpayer money should go towards actually benefiting our communities instead of just trying to control people’s bodies.”

— Tabitha Skervin

Women’s Medical Fund was started in 1985 to protect and increase abortion access for people with low incomes. “Last year, we expanded our work to include both direct service and community mobilizing,” says executive director Elicia Gonzales. “We applied for a grant from Bread & Roses to do that initial base-building work and create what is now called the Philadelphia Reproductive Freedom Collective.” The collective has been meeting every other week to learn community organizing skills and deepen their understanding of power and privilege. “Bread and Roses’ support really allowed that group to come to fruition, to cultivate their leadership,” Gonzales says.

The collective determined that their inaugural campaign would focus on crisis pregnancy centers. “We see crisis pregnancy centers as a barrier to abortion because they’re designed to intentionally deceive people, primarily poor people, [to prevent them] from having an abortion,” Gonzales says. “They have names that are very woman-centric and family-friendly, but when a person goes in, they are given misinformation, such as ‘abortion causes cancer.’ They even go so far as to lie about whether or not a person is pregnant.”

There are 18 crisis pregnancy centers in the city of Philadelphia but only six clinics where abortions are performed. “In Pennsylvania we give millions of dollars in taxpayer money to crisis pregnancy centers, specifically Temporary Assistance to Needy Families money,” notes Tabitha Skervin, community mobilization coordinator at Women’s Medical Fund. “We strongly believe that taxpayer money should go towards actually benefiting our communities instead of just trying to control people’s bodies.” Skervin adds that they aim for the city be free of any crisis pregnancy centers, and are building a base to raise awareness and support.

For Women’s Medical Fund, abortion access is a racial and economic justice issue. “Systemic oppression differently impacts communities,” Gonzales says. “The vast majority of people who get abortions in the country are white people, but the vast majority of people who call our helpline are people of color. We’re also continuing to grapple with ways to engage with our callers and really have people with lived experiences be part of the fabric of our work so that the work is not transactional but transformational.”

Meet donor Polly Pillen

Why I give:

“Because Bread & Roses centers and trusts the people that are most impacted by systems.”

Person smiling wearing a hatPolly Pillen moved to Philadelphia in October 2016 and joined a Giving Project at Bread & Roses just two months later. “It was a really special way to enter into my time in Philadelphia and hear about organizations on the ground that I would never have known about,” Pillen says. “Also, I was very recently learning about my owning class background and what I could move and starting that process. It felt like a serendipitous moment to think about what my role was in movement building.”

Pillen is a therapist at Women Organized Against Rape, a local rape and sexual assault crisis center. “My work is doing individual healing,” she says. “In my personal life, my community is doing work around movement building and thinking critically about our class and race privilege and trying to use those in ways that are important.”

For Pillen, participating in the Giving Project was one of the first steps, and she says it was transformative to hear the experiences and perspectives of people of color from different class backgrounds. “Being part of a democratic process where we got to learn about all of the work that was on the ground and mull over the decisions about how to give was really important and powerful and made me think more critically about giving,” she says. “The community aspect and being around other people doing that work really pushed me through some walls I had built up around giving. The Giving Project supports cross-race, cross-class community building, and I want to support that.”

Movements for gender justice find power in inclusivity

Women marching

Photo by Harvey Finkle

Following closely on the heels of the inauguration, the January 2017 Women’s March galvanized throngs of people into the streets to demonstrate power, rage, and commitment. The year that followed held dire threats to longstanding civil rights coupled with unprecedented moments of accountability, such as the explosion of the #MeToo movement.

“I think people are aware of gender justice on a level that they had not been before, a level of attention that has been given to #MeToo and to even more subtle and complex issues of power and relationships between men and women,” says Farrah Parkes, director of education, technology, and job readiness at ‎Lutheran Settlement House.

But today’s movements for gender justice are not our grandmothers’ movements, and they are gaining strength from understanding the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression.

“On a mass scale, more people are being encouraged, pushed, and challenged to have more of an intersectional analysis,” says Sara Zia Ebrahimi, program director at Leeway Foundation. That analysis addresses how people experience multiple forms of oppression — such as racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia — simultaneously.

“Ten years ago, Leeway made the transition to fund not just women artists but women, trans, and gender-nonconforming artists, because feminism is about self-determination and trying to address people who are marginalized because of their gender, and so we’re looking beyond he or she and to a wider spectrum,” Ebrahimi says.

Nora Lichtash, executive director of Women’s Community Revitalization Project, works at the intersection of gender justice and economic justice. “It feels like now people can see a reality that has been so present for so many of us for a long time,” Lichtash says. “Sometimes people do see it but feel scared to say it. I think people are speaking out in the context of class, which is very important because as poor women, the vulnerability as far as the horrors of sexism and violence is unbelievable.”

Social change happens when communities organize together, and the spring 2018 Giving Project will raise money for a specialized Gender Justice Fund. “I’m looking forward to the gender justice project as a way to engage a lot of people on this issue,” says Parkes, a Giving Project alum. She notes that every person who contributes to a Giving Project, at any amount, is a part of sustaining change and building movements.

“The time is always right to do what’s right,” Parkes says, “but it’s the right moment because people are energized, people are waking up, people want to do something.”

Bread & Roses profiled on CityWide Stories

Bread & Roses Community Fund: Striving for Racial Equity and Economic Justice
Excerpted from CityWide Stories article published on February 19, 2018

Seven people outdoors smiling

Bread & Roses staff in December 2017

Casey Cook, Executive Director, has been at Bread & Roses Community Fund for over ten years. She told me she feels privileged to be a part of that history and to work with an amazing team of staff, volunteers, and organizers who work every day to create real change in the Philadelphia region and beyond. “The work we do together is shifting the balance of power in our region, lifting up the voices of those who have been silenced, and creating equity for all of our communities. We do that through collective action, driven by a sense of mutual accountability. We are in the midst of creating a world that has yet to be imagined,” said Cook.

In 2016, Bread & Roses launched the Giving Project, an innovative model for building leadership and moving money for real change in the Philadelphia region.


In memoriam: Libby Harman

Person with glasses smiling, looking at camera

Credit: Jacques-Jean Tiziou

Libby Harman, a member of the spring 2017 Giving Project and longtime supporter of Bread & Roses, passed away Feb. 22 in hospice care at home.

“Libby was a vibrant person with a real zest for life, and I was lucky to know her,” says executive director Casey Cook. “When she believed in something, she gave it her all. She brought her whole heart to the Giving Project because she wanted to make racial and economic justice a reality.”

Libby was a skilled and compassionate women’s health nurse practitioner who worked for 38 years at Womencare OB/GYN in Abington. She was a dedicated member of congregation Mishkan Shalom, an avid dancer, and a talented quilter and fabric artist. Libby is survived by her spouse, Sharon Coulson Downes; her daughter, Grace; her sister, Janet; her brother-in-law, Cesar; her nephews Danilo and Emilio; and her mother, Liz.

Giving Project member Julie Zeglen writes about young people, generosity, and activism

Millennials are mad as hell and they’re not afraid to do something about it
Excerpted from Philadelphia Inquirer article published on February 9, 2018

The Center City-based Bread & Roses Community Fund is one of about seven social justice-focused funding organizations in the county that runs Giving Projects, a fund-raising initiative that asks a cross-race, cross-class, intergenerational cohort of citizens to fund-raise from their peers (and donate themselves) to a collective pool, which the cohort then grants out to local activist groups working for racial and economic justice. This past winter’s cohort of 17 — which, full disclosure, included me — raised $154,801.

Executive director Casey Cook said that interest in the project surged after the 2016 election — and that overwhelmingly, it was young people who responded to the call over their older peers. This matched Giving Project trends around the country.

“In Philly, we’ve had to make an effort to create an intergenerational environment,” Cook said. “We are overwhelmed with applications from young people, and that’s actually why we’re increasing the number of Giving Projects we’re running every year, in order to accommodate that need. And from my colleagues around the country, I am hearing similar things — that applications from young people are the largest in number.”


Director of programs Aarati Kasturirangan wins social innovation award

Four smiling people look at the camera

From left to right, Bread & Roses staff members Casey Cook, Aarati Kasturirangan, Nigel Charles, and Lexi McMenamin at the Philadelphia Social Innovation Awards on January 24

Aarati Kasturirangan, director of programs at Bread & Roses Community Fund, was awarded first place in the Foundation category of the Greater Philadelphia 2018 Social Innovation Awards at a ceremony on January 24.

This award recognized Dr. Kasturirangan’s work launching and growing Bread & Roses’ Women of Equity program, a peer-led support group for women of color working in the nonprofit sector who are addressing diversity and inclusion efforts. “We are all thrilled for Aarati to be honored for her leadership in organizing communities of changemakers at Bread & Roses and beyond,” says executive director Casey Cook.

Aarati Kasturirangan poses with other honorees at social innovation awards ceremony

Aarati Kasturirangan (in blue) at the awards ceremony on January 24

Join us in recognizing Aarati as a steadfast champion of racial and economic justice by leaving a comment below or sharing this post on social media.

Grantee UrbEd in the news

Student-run advocacy nonprofit UrbEd is ‘reclaiming our school system’
Excerpted from article by Ebonee Johnson

UrbEd was founded in 2016 when Harper joined forces with former SLA student and now-UrbEd’s deputy executive director and program director, Luke Risher, to envision an organization devoted to the improvement of urban education. The pair began reaching out to other organizations for funding and support, and in June of 2017, was given a $6,000 grant by Bread & Roses Community Fund.

Bread & Roses’ Future Fund, designed to assist agencies “working on emerging issues or developing new approaches to social justice activism,” provided UrbEd the boost it needed to focus on branding and development.

“They took a chance,” Harper recalled.


Grantee Profile: Youth Art and Self-empowerment Project (YASP)

Group photo in a park

YASP leadership team members gather at their annual cookout in September

“We created an organization to get those resources and empower ourselves and our communities to make change.”

— Joshua Glenn

Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP) was founded in 2004 by young people who wanted to build a movement to end the practice of automatically charging young people as adults and incarcerating them in adult facilities. Through weekly art, music, and empowerment workshops, YASP makes space for young people to express themselves creatively and develop as leaders within and beyond prison walls.

“Young people get out, they’re homeless, they lost contact with their families while in jail. That was my situation,” says YASP cofounder Joshua Glenn. “I was let out right back into the community I was arrested in. So, we created an organization to get those resources and empower ourselves and our communities to make change.”

The first grant YASP ever received was from Bread & Roses. “We had no money. It was just an idea,” Glenn recalls. “Bread & Roses fueled that whole fight. That was the money that helped us even have time to figure things out and shape our organization.”

Recently YASP has been building a statewide campaign to end the practice of youth being tried as adults and educate people about the school-to-prison pipeline and structural violence. “We try to equip people with education on how to rise up against the system and how to be activists and organizers,” explains Glenn. YASP members produced a short documentary, Stolen Dreams II: Breaking the Cycle of Youth Trauma, Violence, & Imprisonment, that they screen at community meetings throughout Pennsylvania.

“We’ve received funding from other organizations, but Bread & Roses is one of the best. They’re willing to listen,” Glenn says. “Bread & Roses is built to enrich the community. There’s not any ulterior motives behind the fund — they don’t try to guide what you do with the money. That’s the best thing you could possibly have when you’re doing this type of work.

Meet donor Patrice Green

Person smiling outdoors in front of a wall

Why I give:
“I fully believe in the concept of tithing your time, your talent, and your treasure.”

“Working in social service, I felt like people were given things, but not what they needed to be sustainable to take hold of their own power,” says Patrice Green, a Bread & Roses donor. “As I was finishing graduate school, I began interning at Bread & Roses. The slogan of ‘change, not charity’ was so significant.”

The structure and vision of Bread & Roses seemed unique to Green: “Being able to support movements at a grassroots level — from organizations in their infancy to organizations that have been around longer than Bread & Roses — and being able to do that as the tides change … Bread & Roses is so responsive to the needs of communities.”

Green now works for the federal government, helping drive money and resources to local community initiatives. She served as a planning committee member for this year’s Tribute to Change. “The Tribute is the most celebratory space I’ve ever seen,” Green says. “In the struggle of movements, it’s hard to break away and celebrate one another, but the Tribute provides that space.”

“Supporting Bread & Roses is a way to stay connected to what’s happening on the ground in various movements regardless of if they affect me personally,” Green explains. “Giving means sowing back into movements that have created the opportunity for me to have access, to get the education that I’ve got, and to have the opportunity to navigate systems that traditionally folks who look like me don’t get.”