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Community Foundation in Greater Milwaukee Helps Older Women Go Back to School

The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee has been, for over 15 years, devoted to making sure that all women and girls have equal opportunities to further themselves in leadership, education, and financial equality. “We are committed to leveraging the collective resources to affect a change in attitude, behavior and/or culture,” the fund’s philosophy reads. “Our focus is on systemic change for the betterment of the lives of women and girls in our community,”

While their involvement in bettering girls’ realities has always been important, in a time where women’s equality is a much-needed achievement, the fund’s involvement is almost crucial. “We have to have a realization before we can change our attitude, then we can begin to shift our behavior and change how we interact,” says Lisa Attonito, who works with the fund. “That change in behavior eventually changes the culture.”

The #MeToo movement, for instance, has been able to inspire many conversations across all gender lines.

“What I’ve heard from several men is that when they saw that #MeToo stream on their Facebook profiles they were very overwhelmed and surprised over how many women were affected,” Attonito says, “and I think for women that wasn’t surprising at all.”

Not only is it specific to this particular moment in time, it’s specific to how people are shaping their culture from said moment onward.

“The #MeToo too movement isn’t necessarily for one segment of society,” she argues. “It’s about what culture we want to create and live in and everyone contributes to it, both men and women and anyone who is on the spectrum. I feel like while there have been some successes, I don’t think we’re done yet.”

Attonito has had the opportunity to study women’s history throughout the years, especially in women’s reactions to various achievements in history. One part of history she came across in her studies was women’s belief in how much better the world would become were they allowed the ability to run for office or vote.

“While we do have women as elected officials, I don’t think we had the ground swell that the women were thinking,” she says. “We thought that access to higher education would change things and they have, but not to our satisfaction.”

“There’s still more work to do. It’s complex and I think we have to work it from many aspects,” she continues.

One of the ways that the Fund is working to aid the gain of women’s higher education is creating the HER scholarship, which provides scholarships to women over 35 so that they may go back and complete their bachelor’s degrees at a Milwaukee college or university. According to the Fund’s website, there are three lofty barriers that women face in returning for their educations: low income, full-time employment, and the responsibility of raising children. The fund hopes its scholarships will help women overcome at least one of those barriers.

“The ripple effect of one woman obtaining a bachelor’s degree is very difficult to quantify because not only does it affect her, but her family and her extended family,” Attonito says. “Maybe even her neighborhood and her community. I’ve had women come back and tell me what they’ve done, and you’re like, ‘Wow, one woman did this. Look at what one woman has done with her degree and her aspirations.’ It’s fabulous.”

The Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee is helping women cross some barriers that prevent gender equality, and their funds to help women gain their education have the potential to change the course of history.

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