Women’s Issues

My paternal grandma passed away this past Sunday.  I went looking for her obituary online this morning and could only find a one-liner in The Daily News.  No listing in the Trib or the Post-Gazette at all.

Now this may be the fault of the funeral home, but I think my grandmother rates more than a one-line note in the local paper.  Patrick Swayze, god rest his soul, got an entire article and he’s not even from this area.

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about She-Roes, women who are admirable, courageous, and strong.  I’d like to tell you a bit about my grandma, who is one of my She-Roes.

My grandma, born in 1919, was the daughter of Irish immigrants who spoke English as a second language.  She became pregnant at an early age and was, to hear family members tell it, basically party to a shotgun wedding.  This would have been in the midst of the 1930’s, while America was coping with the Great Depression.  Not an ideal time to start a family.

She proceeded to have 14 kids over the next 25 years, each pregnancy around 2 years apart.  One was a set of twins that were miscarried (or stillborn – not sure on my memory for that one), so she raised 12 kids total.  Obviously birth control wasn’t a common thing back then, and in Irish farming families, the more kids you had, the more free labor you had available to you.  My grandparents weren’t farmers – I’m simply pointing out that it was not unheard of to have that many kids.  If she were attempting this today, she would have probably been given a reality TV show.

As if having 12 children weren’t enough to bear, she had married a man with some anger management issues.  Back then, spousal abuse wasn’t discussed, unskilled women and mothers didn’t leave their husbands, and people didn’t have the wonderful nonprofit resources available like we do today.  From what I understand, she dealt with regular physical and mental abuse from my grandfather until he got heart disease and died in the early 1970s.

Who knows what my grandma might have done in this life if she hadn’t been in these circumstances?  Her entire life, to me, seems to be a series of unfortunate events with no real choices to be had.  What I admire about her is, I’ve never heard her complain or whine about her life.  Until she got dementia around 10 years ago and more recently, cancer, she seemed to be happy enough.  I remember that she used to love to go shopping and to church – loved trinkets, knickknacks, and small things like that.  She was not difficult to please in the least – she was grateful for the smallest item or kindness.

She was also tough, in her own way…a survivor and a fighter.  When she got cancer a year or so ago, she must have gone into the hospital three or four times for internal bleeding and other issues.  Each time, the family was called in and told that she was ready to go.  Each time, until this last, she bounced back and was released.  I recall one time, about a year ago, she was in the hospital and looked white as a sheet when I visited her – I thought for sure that was it.  Two days later, my dad called me to say he had to stop her from pulling the IV out of her arms, and that she was ready to go home.

She died this past Sunday at age 90.  I can only hope that, in my own life, I will have half the courage and strength that she had.  When I think about the way her life went, it makes me incredibly grateful for my own adversities (which seem minor compared to hers) and thankful that we have such a variety of nonprofits that educate people about birth control, provide abuse shelters, send single moms to college, and otherwise help people today who have it like my grandma did.

Rest in peace, grandma…you’ve earned it.


SHE-roes abound for many of our readers…what a joy it has been to read of other people’s women they admire and celebrate!  We are compiling  a list of  recommended she-roes and I’m beginning to dream about writing a book to admire and lift up the idealistic and generous women who have made our lives rich and full…especially those who have worked tirelessly in the nonprofit sector.

Today I have the great fun of going to talk to the Magee Hospital volunteers…these amazing women have contributed more than 47,000 hours of service this year!  If you use the number developed by the Independent Sector for the value of a volunteer’s hour ($20.25 in 2008), these folks have contributed nearly $1 MILLION of additional service, kindness, hospitality and love to the women treated at Magee Hospital. 

But I am especially proud to talk to them because I am the daughter-in-law (36 years this week!) of Betty Jo Outon who has won her 10,000 hour pin and worked for almost 21 years at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, TX.  My darling mother-in-law is the Holy Grail of volunteerism – courteous to a fault, dependable as the mail, a professional serving without pay.  Whenever we visit, her freshly pressed Robin’s uniform is hanging from some door, waiting to go to work.  Women of her generation have shown so much generosity beyond self…it’s so quiet…and it’s so important to how our institutions can be human and effective…so a big Happy Mother’s Day to all those wonderful women…

And remember your nominations for SHE-roes are making my days bright and happy – and keep ’em coming!  We’re working every day to try to shine a bright light on women and their work as we are privileged to experience with them at the Bayer Center…

Much love, Peggy

Congratulation to Chad Stacy of  Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, the latest weekly winner of our blog contest!  Chad has won a 1.0 GB USB drive.  (To enter in this random drawing, simply post a comment to any article on our blog now through May 31.)

Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.
~Author Unknown

The kindness of others never ceases to amaze me – particularly during difficult times. Last night, while I performed my nightly ritual of bonding with Brian Williams, a news story reminded me about the power of generosity.

Over the last few months, we’ve been inundated with stories of personal hardships. We hear a lot about the mortgage crisis, the credit crunch, the soaring unemployment rate – but are we ignoring the losses of life’s simpler pleasures? For instance, what about the students who have waited years for the prom? Have we forgotten about a dream that is now out-of-reach for many students?
Well, not in a small town in Connecticut where a high school assistant principal recognized the prohibitive cost of prom. With the help of three teachers, they transformed the Spanish room into an upscale boutique, complete with donated evening wear, accessories, and shower curtained dressing rooms.

For the pre-owned and donated dresses, girls paid what they could afford. In some cases, this amounted to $20 – in other cases, it was free. Any proceeds were used to supplement the purchase of additional accessories. And the generosity didn’t stop there. Local vendors, such as dry cleaners, nail and hair salons also donated their services.

One small town pulled together – demonstrated absolute generosity and kindness – to ensure that their high school students have a night to remember. Pretty incredible.

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week until the end of May.


Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May.

I have been pondering women in nonprofits all my LONG professional life…I’m worked for them, worked beside them, worked with them and worked in spite of them.  74% of the workforce in nonprofits is female, but too few of these nonprofit goddesses get their due…in my opinion – and hey, this is my blog – so my opinion matters!

Sally Shipman was one of my first she-roes.  Sally taught my son to swim in her pool in Tarrytown in Austin, TX.  Sally was President of the first board I ever served on and she was a wonder.  She made the grouchy, mean-spirited Treasurer give the teachers a $.25 an hour raise (to $3.75 if memory serves). He who did not have a child at the school and never darkened the door to see the wonderfully creative & generous teachers and the sometimes terrible, sometimes delightful kids Sally made more respectful and generous.  I was the only one who was an active parent on the board, but I was young and so often didn’t trust my own voice to defend those she-roes…Sally led us firmly, but fairly – made the meetings come to something, respected the interests of the kids, the teachers, the parents, our church where the program lived…we had real discussion and made sound decisions.  I got good training.  Sally went on to serve on the Austin City Council and I felt good about living there partly because I knew Sally.

I have known a number of she-roes and I realize that one of things that elevates a woman to she-ro status for me is her effective, fair voice…I admire Joyce Rothermel here in Pittsburgh.  Joyce is a straight shooter.  She always tells me something important and painful and that I don’t know about the lives of the poor and yet is a peaceful, consistently kind presence anywhere.  She’s fierce, but loving.  I love that in a person!

We are also lucky to have Shirl Regan of the Women’s Center and Shelter among us.  Shirl told her story recently at a Bayer Center Open Space.  She tells a story of suffering and humilation turned to one of service and strength because of her courage and determination to live a life that matters.  Her honesty was exemplary…we’re all better off  because Shirl lives in Pittsburgh.

I think we are supposed to seek to admire others as one of our life tasks.  A few years ago, I was interviewing national nonprofit leaders and I was sad and more than a little disturbed when I would ask them about their heroes and sheroes and one after another said “I don’t have any”… That is poverty true and simple.  Our lives lift up when we see each other as admirable, noble and true!

So if you don’t have some heroes and sheroes – go get some!  And please tell me who they are so I can join in the song!

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week through the end of May.

I actually had two male colleagues proofread my last blog entry. After all, I didn’t want to sound like a bra-burning, man-hating liberal. So in thinking about my next blog I said, “I definitely have to stay away from the women’s issues this week or else people will think I am a crazy feminist.” Then I realized, what is so wrong with being a crazy feminist? In fact, shouldn’t we all be crazy feminists? Shouldn’t we all want an equitable society for our sisters, mothers, daughters, and wives?

Yesterday, our She-roes event amassed more than 60 nonprofit rosie_the_riveter1women (and one brave man) who weren’t afraid of the “f” word. As evidenced by the passionate discussion on how to better support women in the nonprofit sector – the topic is far from irrelevant. Looking around the room, I couldn’t evade the feelings of reverence. I admire these women who work tirelessly to make our community a better, more vibrant place. I am inspired by them. I am inspired by the woman who is a recent doctoral graduate, an executive, and a mother of two. I am inspired by the woman – a victim of domestic violence – who discovered a voice by helping other victims. I am inspired by the teenager who accompanied her mother – a mother who was demonstrating her life’s work of fostering the growth of young girls. Today, I am proud to be a crazy feminist.

“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

Might women be the key to our economic salvation?  Perhaps I am biased, but after reading the New York Times article, Mistresses of the Universe, it’s hard not to agree with this notion.


According to the author (and corroborated by countless studies), elevated testosterone levels often lead to greater assumption of risk.  So is it any coincidence that male-dominated Wall Street just placed far too many leveraged bets?  No, we can’t place the country’s peril on the shoulders of men, nor are women the panacea for the nation’s problems, but, it is interesting to think of how more estrogen might have changed the course of the financial market’s future. 


After all, women have made quite a few marks in history.  Marie Curie introduced the world to X-ray and radium therapy.  Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean.   Rosa Parks sparked the Civil Rights Movement. With accomplishments like these, it’s no wonder why we encourage diversity in our schools, in our communities, in our organizations. 


According to research, women are more risk averse and less susceptible to peer pressure.  Perhaps we need more gender diversity at the top — and not just in the private sector, but in the nonprofit sector, too!  The Bayer Center’s 2008 Wage and Benefit Study found the majority of executive directors are female, but NOT in the largest organizations.  This begs an enduring question, how do we see greater shared power among our leaders?