BRAWS Founder and Executive Director
Non Profit of the Year Nominee
What is your mission and vision?
The majority of individuals living in shelters and transitional housing are women and girls. Most are domestic violence survivors of all cultural and economic backgrounds - escaping unfortunate circumstances - who are suddenly impoverished, single mothers who find themselves homeless and unemployed.
Women and girls in this extraordinary situation rely heavily on the government and community for support. Unfortunately, social welfare programs often exclude the basic needs of females - bras, underwear, and feminine hygiene products. Yet, these items are absolutely essential for women and girls to work and attend school.
Federal programs such as SNAP (also known as food stamps), WIC and Medicaid, do not cover these items. They are also very expensive, and taxed heavily - a 6% rate in Northern Virginia. New bras and underwear, as well as tampons and pads, are rarely donated to shelters and transitional housing programs - as they are often omitted from collection drives and neglected during fundraisers. Additionally, shelters and schools are typically not allocated state funding to purchase these items for clients and for their students.
BRAWS was started nearly three years ago as a solution to this problem.
Since inception, we have served almost 3,000 women in over 30 shelters - providing thousands of bras, underwear, tampons and pads to women and girls in our community who need them the most, from emergency shelters where basic survival needs are priority to transitional housing where they are working towards thriving in a more independent environment.
Our goal is to eliminate this extra burden and bring dignity and empowerment, to women and girls by providing new, personally fitted bras, underwear and feminine hygiene products. We are committed to giving women and girls more freedom and confidence and not be limited by their monthly menstrual cycle.
How does your organization achieve its mission?
We have based our approach on four key pillars: Development, Programs, Advocacy & Education, and Infrastructure.
Through a broad and diverse network of community partnerships, grassroots fundraising, and outreach - which include collection drives of in-kind donations, financial contributions, grant writing, corporate matching programs, raffle and silent auction items, and event sponsorship - BRAWS has raised over $100,000 in financial and in-kind donations since inception. We are extremely grateful for the support from our community - which essentially provides a regular pipeline of funding and inventory for distribution to our clients.
Our programs serve clients of all backgrounds, ages, and situations. BRAWS provides emergency relief services to domestic violence shelters - delivering items on demand. BRAWS also offers clients in short-term shelters the opportunity on designated days to "shop" for items from our inventory. BRAWS also has a unique program, funded partially by a generous grant award, in which local homeless girls receive a year's supply of feminine hygiene products. Our programs may be among the first positive and dignity-building moments that women and girls experience after disruptive, life-changing events.
BRAWS strongly advocates for fair tax laws regarding these essential needs for women and girls. We recently participated in Congresswoman Grace Meng’s panel, “The Case for Menstrual Equity: How Policies Surrounding Menstruation Affect Outcomes for Women.”
Last September, BRAWS testified in front of the DC Council on the unfair "tampon tax" - which led to the full repeal of sales tax on feminine hygiene products in DC. We also worked with Delegates Boysko and Keam in Virginia to introduce "The Dignity Act of 2017," which called for the sales tax exemption on essential items. The 6% “tampon tax” has an economic impact for low income women making just enough money to exist above poverty level. Given that women are already making 80 cents on every man’s dollar, this added penalty really is the difference between food on the table or meeting feminine hygiene needs. Although the bill did not pass, we made immense strides in our state - raising awareness among constituents and government officials alike. We plan to continue our legislative work into the 2018 session.
In fewer than three years, BRAWS has built a strong infrastructure that includes:
- 15 professional board members who provide regular, hands-on feedback and strategic guidance
- Mission-focused operational budget of $128,000
- Growing base of experienced committee chairs and program leads with functional expertise
- Active network of 100+ volunteers
- Strategic plan with outcome-based short- and long-term strategic goals
How have your programs directly impacted the regional community?
Since January of 2015, BRAWS has distributed thousands of bras, underwear, tampons and pads, helped over 3,000 women and girls in Metro DC shelters and schools, fundraised $100,000 worth of donations, influenced legislation in DC and VA, and launched a national campaign raising awareness about the dangers of stigmatizing menstruation.
What inspires or drives your team to stay committed to your mission?
Our organization is committed to giving girls and women more freedom and confidence, and not be limited by their monthly menstrual cycle. For example, many people are unaware that girls without access to menstrual supplies miss multiple days of school each month, or forego the opportunity to participate in sports, or to simply socialize with other kids when they have their period. Our volunteers make regular deliveries of pads and tampons to preteen and teenage girls in Northern Virginia to help remove this anxiety from their everyday lives. Knowing that girls experience an uninterrupted education and engage in equal opportunities to succeed drives us to stay committed to our mission.
Additionally, the impact our distributions make on domestic violence survivors, single mothers, human trafficking victims, and women experiencing sudden emergencies and poverty, is incredible. What we all take for granted, can be the difference between utter defeat and continued resilience. Our work provides dignity to women, at the lowest, most unimaginable point in their lives, and the strength of these women inspires us to keep working!
Finally, the outpouring of help from the community inspires us to continue fighting on behalf of so many voiceless women and girls! The unconditional support we have received from individuals, business, organizations, and corporations in our area has been unimaginable! Women and girls are entitled to access and affordability of basic feminine needs, and we are so grateful to our community for their making this happen!
What advice would you give to other nonprofits trying to make an impact in their community?
- Identify the unmet/undermet need, and focus on specific services to meet that need.
- Raise awareness in the community through public events, news outlets, legislative representatives, and social media.
- Work closely with the Board of Directors to establish goals and priorities, develop implementation strategies, and evaluate impact and progress. Revisiting and refining strategies is important to stay flexible and responsive to changing circumstances and needs.
- Develop policies, processes, procedures, and systems to optimize effectiveness and efficiency and, therefore, maximize impact.
- Recruit and connect volunteers by matching interests and talents to needs and priorities. Actively seek input and delegate tasks to empower volunteers and keep them engaged.
- Develop partnerships with social service agencies and form relationships with key staff members at other nonprofits to identify clients who are in most need of the services.
- Research funding sources and sponsorships for programs and events. Take advantage of free or low-cost training available for grant seekers.
- Engage professional support for financial, accounting/bookkeeping, and legal services. If pro bono is necessary, consult volunteer and leadership centers to help find professional support.