PORTLAND, Maine — Deb Bergeron of Falmouth counts growing up in Portland among the many things she is grateful for, and she knew she was one of many women looking for a way to “give back” to her community while juggling a career and family.
So a year ago, after some research on the Internet, she posted on her Facebook page an invitation to a meeting of a new group dedicated to supporting worthy local organizations without a huge time commitment.
“I kept hearing that people want to build community, want to give back, but don’t have a lot of time,” Bergeron said Tuesday.
Bergeron was overwhelmed to find 100 women arrive at the first meeting of 100+ Women Who Care Southern Maine.
Since that meeting, in November 2014, the group has written checks totalling nearly $30,000 to five area nonprofits.
Based on the national organization 100+ Who Care, the southern Maine chapter is one of nearly 350 around the world. Members of the group — nearing 200 women from 16 to 70 years of age — meet quarterly to learn about different organizations that help people in need and contribute $50 each to one of those groups.
That first meeting generated just more than $5,000 for Simple Gifts, a Portland nonprofit that provides gas cards and other financial support to patients in local hospitals or their families.
During the first four meetings, the group gave between $6,000 and $6,500 to One Warrior Won, which provides support to veterans and members of the military struggling with post-traumatic stress; the Cromwell Center for Disabilities Awareness; and Furniture Friends, which works with other organizations to provide free used furniture to those in need.
Earlier this month, the group donated nearly $6,000 — although checks are still coming in — to Saint Andre Home to help fund a new branch of Hope Rising, a residential treatment program for survivors of human trafficking.
Often, the women are learning about the organization for the first time — which Bergeron said is part of the goal.
“I’m telling you, it was hard to hear about,” Bergeron said of the presentation by Beth Ansheles of Saint Andre Home. “People didn’t realize how big it is here in Maine. It was such an education.”
Each meeting opens with a time for “networking,” and then the women hear five-minute presentations from three fellow members about a different nonprofit organization — frequently members of the group’s board of directors or a volunteer.
Then the women vote, and each write checks to the organization with the most votes.
But Bergeron said members frequently write additional checks to the organizations they learn about.
Bergeron is thrilled the group is growing so quickly, and she hopes other branches are formed throughout the state.
“You walk in that room and it’s amazing,” she said. “We take what we do seriously, and we do it in the spirit of community.”
100+ Women Who Care Southern Maine will next meet Feb. 9, 2016, at the Woodfords Club in Portland. Women interested in joining can call Bergeron at 797-9007, email deb100Women@gmail.com, or visit the organization’s Facebook page.