“Shouldn’t we be doing something more — something for our community?” was the simple question Elizabeth Thuning, vice president and site manager of U.S. Bank Global Corporate Trust Services, asked three longtime friends in 2009 when they gathered for dinner and an annual Christmas gift exchange. They all were thriving professionals in Lorain County.

“Something” was a great idea — but what? “We had no idea what to do at the time,” relates Susan Bowers, chief experience officer and interim chief nursing officer for Mercy Lorain, recalling that, while it was fun to open up a new scarf at the holidays, she, too, wondered how they could extend their reach and do more for others. 

The following summer, they came upon a The Plain Dealer article about a group of women called 100+ Women Who Care – Cleveland Metro. The women gathered quarterly, each bringing a $100 check. During a meeting, members tossed a charitable organization’s name into a hat, three nominees were pulled and the women voted on which nonprofit to support.

“As soon as we read the article, we texted each other and got together to start planning how we could form a group like this for Lorain County,” Bowers says. “We figured, if Cuyahoga County could do it, we could certainly do it.”

In fact, the women — including Marcia Miller, director of investments at Oberlin College, and Nancy Sullivan, associate professor and program chair at Tiffin University — began researching the “100 Who Care About…” concept and discovered many similar organizations throughout the country. “The premise is simple,” Bowers says. “If you get 100 women to come to a meeting and each gives $100 to a nonprofit organization, in a single meeting you can raise $10,000.”

The beauty of this giving model is the ability to make a big difference with a relatively modest personal donation. “Your $100 might seem like a drop in the bucket — you might wonder if your small contribution could really make an impact on an organization,” Bowers says. “But collectively, when your $100 gets joined up with a lot of other women’s $100, you can make a much bigger impact.”

Or, breaking that down further, a team of four women can join 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County and give $25 per member each quarter and play a role in what becomes an unexpected windfall for a nonprofit serving the needs of people in Lorain County. 

At First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lorain, arson destroyed the church and its entire food pantry, which was a survival staple for many needy families in downtown Lorain. During this October’s 100 Women meeting, one member presented a moving story about the tragic fire and its devastating effect on the community. The church representative shared information about the church and the need. When she sat down, Bowers says, the tug on everyone’s heartstrings was palpable. The church received the group’s fourth-quarter donation this year. 

Bowers presented a check for $8,900 during a Sunday service. “There was a collective gasp from the 150 or so people there at this service in a school, and people started crying,” she says. More donations from 100 Women flooded in following their meeting, and donations exceeded $9,400. 

“There are so many of these smaller organizations that operate on a shoestring, and the donation means the world to these groups,” Bowers says. “They can stretch that money so far and are so appreciative of it.” 

So, who are these 100-plus women? They’re influential professionals, public officials, teachers, nurses, retirees, small-business owners, nonprofit volunteers and any woman who wants to make a difference. “The breadth of who we have as members of our organization is really vast,” Bowers acknowledges. 

“The only criterion to join is to show up and bring a blank check,” Bowers says. Membership is a yearlong commitment of $400 (or $100 for teams of four). The group meets quarterly at Quaker Steak & Lube in Sheffield, which donates the meeting space. The restaurant ramps up its service staff for the women, who may linger to catch up with friends and network with new contacts. 

It was during a 100 Women meeting that Lydia Cole Miller formed important contacts after her bank job was eliminated. “I went to a meeting a couple [of] weeks after that happened, and I was talking to a group of people who were very caring and were forthcoming with networking opportunities for me,” shares Miller, who learned about the group from her mother-in-law and co-founder of the group, Marcia Miller. By attending, Cole Miller received advice, one new friend reviewed her resume and she landed an interview.

The chain reaction of good that happens in a room with 100 women who care about the community and about furthering the success of their peers is energizing. “It’s an amazing organization, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort or time to donate a large chunk of money to an organization that really needs it,” Cole Miller says. She now works at the College of Wooster’s development and advancement office — a position she learned about from a family member of a contact she met at the 100 Women meeting. “It really is a chain reaction,” she relates. 

Marcia Miller says the initial four founders scoured their contact lists and sent e-mail invites to any woman they thought might be interested. “It was a big surprise when 60 people showed up at the first meeting — we were astonished,” she says. And, the numbers continued to grow each meeting, nearing or topping that 100 mark every time. 

For the little amount of time women spend, they take home significant rewards: the satisfaction that their donation will make an immediate and direct positive impact on a Lorain organization; the valuable connections made with other members; and a growing knowledge of the range of nonprofits serving Lorain, doing everything from providing medical care for the underserved to serving food to the hungry and offering arts programming for youth. “There are a number of organizations in the community that we did not have awareness of before, and we have supported a smorgasbord of nonprofits,” Miller says. 

The charity recipients always make a presentation at another meeting to share how they used the funds and to help women learn more about the group and ways to give back. 

“I have always felt very blessed living in this community, and I feel Lorain County has a lot going for it,” Miller says. “But when you get this close and hear the stories from organizations that work really hard, it really does make me proud to live here and even prouder that we are part of a group that can support these nonprofits to help them improve the lives of those within our community that would otherwise be left unserved, frankly.”

The 100 Women are inspiring Lorain County’s men, too. Jim Walborn, president of Banyon Technologies, and Jim Leone, president of Agape Insurance and Financial Services LLC, co-founded the male version, 100 Guys Who Care About Lorain County. They launched the group following the success of 100 Women, meeting at the same Quaker Steak & Lube in Sheffield (on a different night). Its first beneficiary in October 2014 was Genesis House, known as Lorain County Safe Harbor.

Meanwhile, since 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County started in 2010, it has donated more than $150,000 to Lorain County’s nonprofit organizations. “I think we can feel very good about that,” Miller says, adding that what started as a conversation among friends has blossomed into an opportunity for women to give back in a meaningful way. “It has been eye-opening.”

Bowers adds, “We are so proud of what our group has been able to do for our community, and we are also proud that the money we have raised, every penny of it, stays right here in Lorain County.”

Mad Factory - madfactory.org

Every year, The Mad Factory distributes $8,000 to $10,000 in scholarship assistance for qualifying students to participate in its rich arts programming, which includes courses and camps that culminate into community performances. The nonprofit is dedicated to providing young people in Lorain County with education and performance experience in music, arts and drama. Because the arts constantly face budgeting pressure, and are cut out of some schools, The Mad Factory fills a critical cultural gap while providing engaging enrichment. 

The Mad Factory was founded in 1990 as a summer program for theater arts-based programming, and, by 1996, it expanded to year-round courses. Executive Director Linda Michalak has been involved since 1994, first as a parent, then as a board member, moving into a business manager role and now serving as executive director. The organization supports students ages 4 to 19. 

“Making the arts accessible to everyone is really, really important, and if you take a look at which students excel in the sciences, they are the students who also play an instrument or sing or work in visual or performance arts,” Michalak says. 

What’s unique about The Mad Factory is that it provides an intimate format for young people to learn, experiment and grow. “We are heavily improvisation-based, and, when we talk about proficiency testing in schools, we find that students were terrified of giving a wrong answer. With practicing improv, you acquire the skills that can take you anywhere,” Michalak says. “Theater teaches team-building skills that students need to learn to work together in groups and be successful, and they can take these skills with them anywhere.”

Funding such programming is always a challenge, and especially so in 2010 when the economy’s bottom dropped out. “Things just went downhill fast,” Michalak says, noting that The Mad Factory lost $60,000 in funding that year. 

While funding has picked up, Michalak admits that “trying to dig out of that hole has been a really huge challenge.” 

Michalak attended a 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County meeting in September 2013 and presented her organization and its purpose to the group. Michalak is passionate about making sure that “arts programming gets the attention it deserves” in light of school budget cuts. The Mad Factory was awarded a donation that went directly toward students’ scholarships. 

“We take our scholarships very seriously, and that donation gave us the ability to make more money available for scholarship assistance,” Michalak says. The funds give a grassroots organization like The Mad Factory some “breathing room,” she says, and alleviate some financial burden so it can focus on its core mission. 

Elyria YWCA - ywcaelyria.org

Transportation is a real challenge for nonprofits, and in particular the Elyria YWCA, which transports clients to various appointments. Last year, the Elyria YWCA received a donation from 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County that allowed it to apply for a grant through the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. The state department matched the donation, doubling its value, so the YWCA could purchase a van for its facility. 

“That was also the year of our 100th anniversary, so we had a lot of activities going on,” says Jeanine P. Donaldson, executive director. “So, secondary to the monetary donation was the opportunity to be visible in front of so many women — women you might have thought would know about the YWCA, but surprisingly not all do.” 

The Elyria YWCA was founded in 1913, before women were considered “full citizens” and had the right to vote, Donaldson shares. “But the women bought property and ran this association — the YWCA — and that is a huge deal,” she remarks.

Donaldson says the YWCA is grateful for the donation that allowed the organization to purchase a van, but the value goes deeper with an ability to touch women who might help carry on the century-old nonprofit with a mission to eliminate racism and empower women. “It takes women like these [in 100 Women Who Care] to keep it going so we can continue services such as women’s shelters,” she says.

Margeau’s Free To Be Project - free2beproject.org

Eight months after Gail Stumphauzer’s daughter died in September 2011, she was deeply suffering from the loss — and the first gathering to which she returned was 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County. Stumphauzer, former CEO of Leadership Lorain County, has been involved with 100 Women since its inception and is a friend of its founders. “I hadn’t been out much, but I thought, ‘I can do this,’ to give back to all of these lovely people — ‘I can get there,’” she says. 

That’s when it occurred to her that she should put her name in the hat. She had just started the organization Margeau’s Free to Be Project after her daughter, who struggled with feelings of self-worth. The purpose of her organization is simple: to help women on a path to finding love, worthiness and self-respect. Free to Be is founded on the belief that each and every woman is good enough exactly as she is. 

The group puts on an annual women’s conference, Discovering You, featuring nationally recognized speakers who are experts in emotional, physical and spiritual healing. This year, Free to Be held its first month long juried art exhibit in conjunction with Lorain County Community College, local artists and students in Northeast Ohio. 

During that 100 Women meeting, Stumphauzer’s name was pulled from the hat and she gave a presentation to the 100-plus women in the room. She began by asking, “How many of you have had a day where you didn’t feel good enough?” She continued by telling them more about her project. That night, she walked away with $8,100 to support her efforts. 

“I was able to start a website, and our whole idea is to bring a diverse group of women and girls together from all walks of life to our conference,” Stumphauzer says. Some pay a fee, while others can apply for a scholarship to attend. 

Today, Free to Be’s conference is an annual event held at the college’s Spitzer Conference Center attended by about 200 women and girls, ranging in age from 10 to the oldest this year, 92. “We encourage all women and girls to stand up for each other and be a support for one another,” Stumphauzer says. “I think we are all contributing to something great.”


Helping Nonprofits in Need

The roll call of nonprofit beneficiaries of donations from 100 Women Who Care About Lorain County is diverse, but what they all have in common is a mission
to serve the local community. These organizations have received donations since the group’s founding in 2010:

• First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lorain’s Food Bank
• Soul to Sole
• Lorain County Free Clinic
• St. Mary’s Hot Meals Program
• Blessing House
• Genesis House
• Family Promise of Lorain County
• Margeau’s Free to Be Project
• Human Trafficking Collaborative Lorain County
• Haven House of the Neighborhood Alliance
• Children’s Developmental Center
• Elyria YWCA
• Lorain County Red Cross
• Second Harvest Food Bank Backpack Program
• St. Jude Church Helping Hands Food Pantry
• Neighborhood Alliance Senior Nutrition
• The Mad Factory