Helping One Woman
How do you turn a charitable act into a national fundraising campaign? Charlotte Bavaro has been Helping One Woman (HOW) at a time since co-founding the organization in 2008. “My friend Brenda Critzer and I came up with the idea of getting together with some girlfriends once a month with each of us giving $10 to a need we recognized in our community.” The domino effect of helping a woman at a time when she most needed it was infectious.
Today, 28 chapters of HOW operate across the United States, with more scheduled to open this year. “I believe it’s the simplicity of the concept that allowed me to go from being a chapter leader for Fresno’s dinners to being a board member for the non-profit that oversees dozens of chapters across the country!”
Each chapter selects a designated restaurant where HOW meets for a monthly “girls night out.” Those chapters then honor a female recipient, whose name is drawn from nominations submitted by the attendees (primarily women) and randomly selected at the previous month’s event, with a cash gift. Attendees purchase their own meal in addition to providing a $10 or greater contribution at each month’s dinner, “with every penny being gifted to the woman who is that month’s recipient,” Charlotte explains.
HOW’s motto speaks to its influence: “One woman with $10 can buy another woman lunch. Ten women with $10 can buy another woman’s groceries. One-hundred women with $10 can make a real difference in another woman’s life.” It is a powerful, healing, and supportive act that has a positive snowball effect on all those related to the circumstance.
This monetary gift to women who are struggling through a trying period serves as a supplement to help ease incurred financial difficulty. It is, however, the overwhelming emotional and heartfelt support that the attendees give the recipients that is the energy behind the Helping One Woman organization.
Despite the tremendous outpour of support for their cause, Charlotte recalls a piece of advice she received in HOW’s early years: “Keep it simple, don’t over-sell it. Once the basic concept of women getting together once a month for dinner and each one giving $10 to a specific need was set, it was easy to want to add to it with ideas of things that would ‘incentivize’ women to attend. But at the end of the day, we knew we needed to keep the sole focus on the need/recipient and that would sell itself.”
For this reason, HOW holds only one fundraiser a year outside of the monthly dinners—proceeds support and promote HOW National, which is “the non-profit entity that supports the development of new chapters and leaders and allows us to offer an annual scholarship as well.” More information about this year’s event, scheduled for September 6th, can be found on www.helpingonewoman.org.
An entity that can stand on its own merit, HOW strives to keep itself free from affiliations so as to let its sole focus stay on supporting and benefitting their recipients, which allows it to be an all-inclusive organization. “I try to focus on ‘keeping the main thing the main thing,’” elaborates Charlotte. “It’s overwhelming to think about how you can individually address needs you know about in your community. But if a bunch of us, who could do a little, got together, maybe we could address those needs corporately. If my work with HOW can encourage people to look beyond their own abilities and find others to work with to tackle issues and needs…I feel the good coming from that would be a pretty good legacy.”
Yet Charlotte didn’t start Helping One Woman with the intention of being a national force. “When we first started, our recipients came from a broader community since we were just the Fresno chapter. One of those recipients was so moved by the experience that she decided to start our second chapter in her hometown. When we saw the simplicity and relatability of our mission made the possibilities limitless, we knew it wasn’t enough to stay local. So, we looked into becoming a non-profit that could oversee chapters across the country.”
HOW’s growth speaks for itself. “We started with one chapter here in Fresno and now we have dozens of chapters across the country. You can really feel the success though when a woman who was the family member or friend of a recipient says, ‘I want to start this in my community.’ That is how most of our chapters get started. The concept is so simple and relatable and that has driven the success.”
Now, Charlotte is looking to reach those who serve our country in a self-sacrificing way. “My dream for HOW is to launch as many chapters across the country as possible. But, more specifically, I want to bring HOW to our military bases for women who are enlisted as well as military wives.”
Juggling a nation-wide organization and a personal life can be a bit of a challenge, but to her, “it isn’t so much about balancing the two, but making sure I am fulfilled in both and giving proper attention to both … Personally though, I need to figure out how to not take on so much that I feel overwhelmed. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true.”
Charlotte confesses that being blessed with a supportive husband certainly helps. “Setting my husband and family aside, I must admit my sweet little Yorkie Luigi has brought a lot of joy to my life and saved me from being a stressed-out mess. It’s nearly impossible not to smile from the inside out when he is so happy to see me or when he cuddles with my husband.”
In addition, Charlotte relies on her faith to help guide her through each day. “I have found that my day goes much better when I start it with Him! … My faith in God reminds me that struggles have purpose and focusing on Him will bring me to the other side better for it.” Therein lies the joy of life, by “being able to have peace even if things are chaotic, unsettled, or negative. I find that joy by trusting God has my life in His hand and my circumstances under His control.”
Coffee also helps—she calls it the second best way to start her day. Throw in her cheater glasses (“to double-check those text messages before I hit send!”) and ice cream (“I don’t eat it very often, but I love it and I don’t even care what flavor!”) and you suddenly realize Charlotte is definitely one of the girls. “Nothing relaxes me like a bubble bath and a glass of wine!”
Between her work for women and her friendships, it is evident that relationships are a core value of Charlotte’s being—custodians such as her facilitate the betterment of our world. “It is inspiring to meet the various recipients who have gone through such difficult times. Their strength, courage, and incredible desire to give back and pay it forward are impossible to ignore. That attitude seeps into your own outlook, fortunately, and I find myself looking at tough or sad situations as opportunities to exhibit the same attributes I’ve seen in these recipients!” True to HOW’s mission statement, “when we help one woman, we are helping one family and through that family we are helping our community.”