When Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation Orange County held its installation of officers at the Shady Canyon Country Club on June 16, it was clear that the new president, Ann Miller, lights up a room with her enthusiasm and makes things happen – or as Ellen Weiss, a former president and the installing officer, put it, “Ann leads by example and offers a smile and a hug.” It was also clear that the enthusiasm was contagious as Miller talked about how much the people in the room had touched her life.
“When you volunteer, you are not paid in money or recognition,” Miller said. “You are paid in love and respect. People may forget what you said, and people may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel or the impact you had on their lives.”
Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom said in her invocation, “Ann, everyone is here to celebrate you, the work of your hands, and the lives that you touch. Just as the “Shechechiyanu” recognizes that God is all around us and gives us life and so many blessings, your life and everything that you do is a blessing as you inspire and empower other people.”
Empowerment is what it’s all about as Women’s Philanthropy provides a place for every woman to express her commitment to the Jewish values of tzedakah (social justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). Since the inception of Women’s Philanthropy, women in Orange County have raised millions of dollars to support the local Jewish schools and agencies, and to help Jews in distress in Israel and 60 countries around the world through the individual and collective power of Orange County women making a commitment to build and strengthen Jewish life. Raising money is only a part of what the organization does: the activities are hands-on and life-changing, and members agree that they get even more than they give.
It seems that Women’s Philanthropy is everywhere. Outgoing president Debbie Margolis offered the opinion that “diversity is our strength.” Shalom Elcott, CEO of Jewish Federation Orange County, talked about how “we forget sometimes the eye-widening broad smile of a child getting new books and new pencils through the Reading Partners program. We see just how many families are impacted by this, and yet it’s just one little piece of what Women’s Philanthropy does.”
Miller has participated in Reading Partners on a weekly basis for 5 years, has helped it grow to more than 100 volunteers, and was touched by the response of the children to the women’s efforts at the last session of the school year last week. After sharing excerpts of some of the letters she received from the children, she talked about some of the other Women’s Philanthropy programs: sorting food at Families Forward, cooking meals at Ronald McDonald House, sorting and packaging gifts for children who are patients at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), and participating in Race of the Cure, walking for Crohn’s and Colitis.
She added, “We’ve collected, sorted, and packed boxes for the troops both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through our fabulous group of knitters we have made caps for preemies, hats for the soldiers in Israel to keep their heads warm in the winter, and created beautiful hand-knit blankets for CHOC and other organizations. We have a group of Mitzvah Mavens who wear our pink T-shirts proudly.”
Happy to “work hand in hand and side by side with the most phenomenal and dedicated group of women” she has ever met but not content to maintain the status quo, Miller talked about her objectives for Women’s Philanthropy during her two-year term. She wants to build on the “strong foundation in the central part of the county and…integrate the western, southern, and northern areas of the county to further strengthen and maximize the possibilities that we know exist” and to “expand our programs and partner with Girls Inc. in an outreach event as well as the Hillel Council at UCI.” Miller hopes to do more at Heritage Pointe, as well as with Women 4 Women, a grassroots organization designed to help empower women to gain independence after a setback in their personal lives.
She concluded, “There are women who make things better simply by showing up. There are women who make things happen. There are women who make a difference and women who make us smile. There are women of wit, wisdom, and courage. There are women who change the world – women like you. I look forward to an exciting term of achieving our goals, having fun, and at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment.”
Those who know Ann Miller and the rest of the Women’s Philanthropy board have no doubt that the next two years will do that and more.