Three years ago, Centerville resident Jennifer Call Holbrook found herself suddenly widowed, with an 18-month-old son to care for.
Although she had an associate’s degree, Holbrook knew she’d need more education if she wanted a shot at giving herself and her son the best life possible. She enrolled in the medical coding program at LDS Business College, and braced herself for the impending debt.
The debt never came.
Instead, a Farmington-based organization called the Women to Women Foundation stepped in, paying for Holbrook’s tuition and books with its Single Parent Scholarship.
That scholarship “has been a huge blessing in being able to get my education without going into debt,” Holbrook is quoted on the Women to Women Foundation website. “I have been able to get the skills necessary to get a better job to support myself and my son.”
Holbrook is just one of the single mothers who have been helped by the Women to Women Foundation. The nonprofit organization was started in 2014 by a group of Davis County women.
“Our kids were growing up, we were becoming empty nesters, but we still had the energy to try to make a difference in the world,” said Women to Women founder and president Julie Barfuss, of Farmington. “We have this strong conviction of the importance of families in their communities, and that strong families make strong communities.”
In trying to determine how they could best help those families and communities, these women realized single mothers face a particularly difficult challenge. So they began raising money for scholarships to help single moms improve their educational and financial lot in life.
“We think education makes a real difference in lives, and it’s generational,” said Women to Women secretary/treasurer Thieda Wellman, of Fruit Heights. “If a mother goes to school, her children see that and it makes a lasting impact.”
Barfuss said the group subscribes to the saying, “Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.”
“We wanted to teach these women to fish, not just give them a handout,” she explained.
On Saturday night, the foundation held its one and only fundraising event of the year — the annual Planting Seeds of Hope dinner and silent auction at the Davis Conference Center in Layton. Every penny of the proceeds from the evening goes to the group’s Single Parent Scholarships, according to Wellman.
In 2014, the Women to Women Foundation held its first fundraiser — an art and quilt show — but collected only about $6,000 for scholarships. After a one-year hiatus, the group switched last year to a dinner and silent auction format. That event brought in about $30,000.
This year, Saturday night’s dinner and auction exceeded all expectations, raising an estimated $90,000 for scholarships.
And Barfuss and Wellman hope and believe they can continue to grow the event in the future.
“We are soooo rookies at this right now,” Barfuss says with a laugh. “We’re still in our infancy.”
Barfuss points out the organization’s grant is called the Single Parent Scholarship, so a single father would certainly be eligible if he met the requirements. However, she concedes the focus is on moms.
“They’re kindred spirits,” Barfuss says. “Call it a sisterhood or whatever, but these are women trying to take care of their families, and we feel differently about it as mothers. We relate to each other.”
The women are also unabashedly “guided by traditional values,” as the group’s mission statement points out.
“We are believers in the traditional family,” Barfuss says.
“And the demise of the two-parent family is the demise of society,” Wellman adds.
More information on the Women to Women Foundation is available at https://www.womentowomenfoundation.org/.
The scholarships are currently connected to the LDS Business College — an anonymous donor has pledged to match funds there, so Women to Women gets “more bang for the buck” there — but Barfuss hopes to offer scholarships to other institutions in the future. She’d also love to see the foundation’s model spread around the country, with other groups of women helping single moms in their communities.
“We want to take that vision and turn it into a larger movement,” Barfuss said. “But our dreams are bigger than our abilities right now.”
Stephanie Brown is a single mother of four living in West Valley City. She was hesitant to start college.
“I didn’t do so well in high school,” the medical coding major admits on the foundation’s website. “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle college. Also dealing with mental illness, my confidence was very little.”
But Brown intends to prove that physical and mental insecurities aren’t a barrier to success.
“My hope was to show my daughters that they could be independent and not rely on someone else,” she says. “My daughters tell me that they see I am strong. I share my story so I can encourage other women to go for their desires, no matter what life may throw at you.”
It’s stories like these that keep the Women to Women Foundation energized, organizers say.
“Individually, I can’t make a difference, and you can’t, and you can’t,” Wellman says, pointing to others around the room before making a circular motion with her hands. “But we, together, can make a difference.”