When Lisa Montgomery thinks about giving, she thinks about her mother. Lisa grew up in Fair Park, part of a large family, and her parents were working poor. "My mom wasn’t a woman or means, but she could cook and she could sew," she recalls. "I have memories of her with her sewing machine late at night. We'd say, 'What are you doing?' She'd say she was making clothes for Miss Barbara’s children, or for the family down the street who’d lost their home in a fire. That was how she blessed the community."
They didn’t have much themselves. But her mother would walk into fabric stores asking for samples and scabs of fabric she could turn into clothes for those who needed it. If ever someone was ill, Lisa's mother was the one knocking on their door with a hot meal.
Lisa remembers what her mother would say, "It doesn't matter how much you have; you have something to give."
Lisa Montgomery is the chair and one of nine African American women who cofounded the Villiage Giving Circle, which operates through Texas Women's Foundation. Their goal is to honor and sustain the legacy of giving in the African American community. They started in 2017 with nine women. Now, they number more than 100, spread throughout the DFW area, united in the belief that great things are possible when Black women work with each other and for each other.
"We all want to do something that makes a tangible impact and we want to be close to that impact," Lisa says.
The work began in 2016 when Lisa joined the board at the Texas Women's Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to creating meaningful social and economic change for women in Texas. She wanted to start a giving circle of Black women. When she mentioned it to the foundation, they immediately told her that she needed to meet another foundation board member, Shonn Brown, because she had the same idea.
Shonn Brown is a force in the Dallas world of law, and while Lisa handles the administrative duties of The Village, Brown, she says, is the master fundraiser. The two met for the first time at La Madeline, for what was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting. They ended up talking for two hours.
"We kept saying how is it we never met? We knew all the same people. We were on the same page. It's cliche, but we sketched it on a piece of paper. I asked how we'd do it, and she said, 'I don't know but I know we can do this. Let’s just start.'"
They each agreed to bring a handful of friends together to found the group. The heart of their mission is the legacy of giving, passed down to them from women who inspired them. "Each of us sat around the table and talked about it, our community, our legacy," Lisa says. "We talked about the women in our lives that have been essential in us becoming the women we are. Mothers, grandmothers, aunts: they are our cornerstones."
With seven other founding officers, Lisa and Shonn worked for a year to build the group and define its goals.
"She is such a passionate person," Lisa says. "People say, 'Whatever Shonn Brown is a part of, I want to be a part of it too.'" The two women have grown to be close friends.
The Village Giving Circle officially launched in 2018 through Texas Women's Foundation. To date they have raised more than $610,000 and awarded it to 21 organizations and initiatives benefiting African Americans, simply by inviting more women to join the mission. They are now in their third fundraising cycle. A total of 39 organizations applied for consideration, and 31 made it through their financial evaluation.
Members are currently in the process of conducting site visits, where they learn about each nonprofit and the work they do. Despite COVID-19, this has been a record breaking year for them.
They support well known and well established nonprofits like The Family Place, a haven for survivors of family and domestic violence, and Big Thought, which helps juvenile offenders return into society, by providing opportunities like job placement. Through the Village Giving Circle, they have also become familiar with newer, smaller nonprofits like The Compelling Why.
"It's very unique. The founder says he was a C student in high school, he was overlooked." Attention, Lisa says, was given to high and low performing students. "His goal was to go into schools and find students who were performing average, get them into mentorship and leadership and watch them excel."
Lisa enjoys the site visits, and every time she learns about new initiatives and needs in the community. "I always say, 'Please put me on something I’m not familiar with.' People take their pain, create something with no budget, no infrastructure, just passion. We want to find those folks, the ones who are just starting out and ones who are already doing great work."
At the moment, the Village’s biggest initiative is expansion into Collin, Denton, and Tarrant Counties. They are also looking for new members in these counties. Though The Village started as a movement between friends, Lisa says it’s time to grow their network.
She says it’s also been impactful to see the way the recipients of their grants have responded to them, and how meaningful it has been to be Black women giving to other Black women and people in the community. The feeling is one of solidarity: "you see me, you know my struggle, whatever issue, you’ve been there, you know it well."
For more information about The Village Giving Circle, visit txwf.org/village-giving-circle
Members of The Village focus their collective resources on local community organizations that are led by African Americans and/or serve the needs of African American communities throughout North Texas. In addition to providing financial support to selected organizations, The Village membership seeks to elevate awareness of issues, initiatives, and efforts that affect or support African-Americans living and working in North Texas.
The Village is seeking funding proposals from organizations or programs serving the African American community in Dallas, Denton, Collin or Tarrant County. The Village also considers proposals from organizations or programs led by an African American. Organizations may apply to The Village Giving Circle by invite-only.