Getting to know Liz Feeley, a long-time supporter of the Women’s Fund of Western MA, sheds light on her journey here to Western MA and how her experience living here shapes her identity as a leader seeking gender equity for women and girls in our local community.
Liz lives in Franklin County and has for 20 years with partner, Sam. She moved here to start a position at Smith College in 2000. She is one of seven children (four boys, three girls) and grew up in Worcester, MA. In her family, she became familiar with needing to be “assertive to get an extra slice of pizza at the dinner table.” That taught her how to be competitive as a female.
Career wise, she was a basketball coach for 21 years and that was what brought her to Western MA. She was a basketball coach at Smith College, but she reinvented herself a few times. She went from college coaching to opening up her own business, then she started a career in philanthropy (in fundraising for non-profits particularly in education), and worked for the Women’s Fund of Western MA for a bit and learned “such a great deal about philanthropy for the causes for women and girls.”
Alycia Gay, WFWM Community Investments Coordinator, asked Liz a few questions to get to know her story and journey here in Western MA:
“My dreams for our local community of women and girls is more equity, more empowerment, more leadership.”
Q: What was your first gift in philanthropy and why?
A: I don’t remember my exact first gift, but I remember the reason for my first gift. I wish I had this beautifully compelling story that I remember vividly. One of my first gifts was most likely to research for breast cancer. My mom had developed breast cancer when she was my age now. It was devastating for not only her, but our entire family. At the time we thought, “Impossible, this can’t be.” She was such a tough woman and competitor and resilient. We learned so much from her that we thought, “no, this can’t be true.” That was back in 1988 and ultimately she was a 30-year survivor of her battle with breast cancer. She fought that battle and won that battle with breast cancer.
My first gift was to support research for a cure for breast cancer. I didn’t know much about philanthropy at that time. I just I knew I wanted to do something meaningful in honor of my mother and the battle she was fighting and contribute to helping other women fight the same battle.
Q: What are your dreams for our local community of women and girls?
A: I have so many dreams for our local community of women and girls! I’d like to see more women in leadership positions in government, and private and public industries, in the news and media locally. I know that we have a good deal of women in leadership for local education, both public and private schools in the area, but I’d love to see women in more leadership positions. If we have more women in the decision-maker roles, then we will hopefully see more representation of women at the proverbial table with more seats for women at that table.
When I reviewed the report or the Key Findings on the Status of Women and Girls in Western MA, 2019 I was astounded. Some of these figures I had heard before or seen before, but when the report was laid out as beautifully as it was…just the glaring inequities for the gender wage gap, poverty, the lack of political representation, mental health, and just the care that is afforded to young women with teen pregnancy. I was astounded to see all that information together. The wage gap in particular, it is inexcusable. To say that all females here in Western MA on average make $.75-$.80 to the dollar that males make. That’s on average! Now when we talk about women who are biracial, African American, or Latinx that gap balloons to $.42-$.68 on the dollar is astounding. One of my dreams would be to see more equity in the wage gap in Western MA.
I just want to tell a quick story. Part of who I am is a white female and I am very aware of the white privilege that I have and I’m working on understanding what that means and how to use that white privilege to elevate other women. The story I have about wage gap is back in the 90’s I was in athletics, and I remember that I went to my athletics director and expressed my concerns. My concerns were that not only was the women’s program understaffed–we had fewer assistant coaches, I was one–compared to the men’s program, but the men’s assistant coaches got paid more and had a vehicle at their disposable to recruit and get around. I remember addressing that with the athletic director at the young age of 24 or 25 and I can’t believe I actually did that. The response that I received was, “Well, you are the most well-paid female assistant coach in the league and you should be happy with that.” It has taken me a couple of decades to let that settle in and figure out what that meant at the time. You know, I just wanted to coach basketball at the time, so I wasn’t thinking, “Okay, I really need to do something about this.” I brought it up, it was shot down in such an incredible way that I didn’t move forward with that. In another position I had I did the exact same thing when I was coaching. Athletics is a very male-dominant world. I brought up the same issue for one of my assistant coaches when I became head coach and received the same response so the wage gap is something very near and dear to my heart.
I think the statistics on poverty and how poverty here in Western MA affects more women than men. I would love to see poverty decreased here in Western MA, especially for women and families. I think everyone should read the report on the Status of Women and Girls in Western MA, 2019 and do what we can, do what I can, do what you can to help even if that means time, money, or lending the expertise that you have on solving some of these problems.
My dreams for our local community of women and girls is more equity, more empowerment, more leadership.
Q: There are a lot of pressing problems and urgent needs in the world. Considering the priorities of all these needs, why does the Women’s Fund of Western MA remain work you consider funding?
A: I would say the thought leadership of the Women’s Fund team is impetus for my support. Whether it be the team with boots to the ground starting with Donna, to the board, and to the volunteers. The impetus for my support is the thought leadership that they possess for creating change here in Western MA. I was really impressed with the results of the initial LIPPI program for getting women involved in civic roles and political positions. I was very impressed with that. And now LIPPI 2.0, I really feel that that program is catering to a wider audience with women who have more varied objectives, who are looking to make an impact in a variety of ways and not just in public service or political office.
I’m a really big cheerleader of the Young Women’s Initiative, too! I recently attended a round-table discussion for careers and leadership with the YWI members. I was incredibly impressed by the young women taking the initiative to be part of the solution of the various problems that face women in their communities. Wow. The intellect and the drive of the YWI members to move the needle is heartening and encouraging to me. These young women are working to address problems women face in leadership, rape culture, health, in the economy, and workforce development. At that age, I was thinking about basketball and other selfish things that absorb a teenager’s attention. I’m so inspired by these young women. I wish I could go back and do more at that young age.
That’s why the work of the Women’s Fund of Western MA is pivotal for moving the needle for women and girls. That’s why I support the Fund and hoping others will find a piece of the work that the Women’s Fund does motivating enough to support the Fund.
Q: As a donor, what about giving to the Women’s Fund makes you feel powerful in a world that often overwhelms?
A: Overwhelms…wow, for sure. The Women’s Fund is one of my top philanthropic priorities because they are making an impact at the local and regional levels. I think this is really important because we are a global society and the broader picture can be overwhelming, but I really think by empowering young women to take up leadership roles they will precipitate change on a local, regional, national, or international level someday. We just don’t know what the young women here in our region will accomplish one day. Working with the younger generation on how to tackle these problems can really give us hope.
It is a difficult time to be a woman and possibly, with the brighter spotlight on women’s issues, women feel empowered to speak up about issues for change, for equity, for support, and I think that keeping an eye on that hope can overcome some of the overwhelming situations we all face now.
Q: You shared some of your experiences about the Women’s Fund that you have had personally and told everyone about all the good things that comes from the Women’s Fund, but what is one thing you wish people knew about the Women’s Fund?
A: That the Women’s Fund really makes a difference. The Women’s Fund is really listening and learning about how best to invest in women and girls here in Western MA. I hope people will hear that message that listening is really an important part of precipitating some of this change and I truly feel like the Women’s Fund is doing that.
After listening, initiating support and supporting programs that help women and girls overcome some of the hurdles that we face in Western MA and beyond. I wish people would know that the work that the Women’s Fund does lifts everybody up, not just women and girls (to steal words from Melinda Gates). When we empower women, we empower communities, we empower societies, and I wish people knew that the Women’s Fund is working towards that. They are working toward making a difference in our Western MA communities. That is powerful.
I wish that people hopefully understand that the Women’s Fund themselves supports other organizations and supports a variety of initiatives across Western MA that help empower women and elevate their position in our communities, in our schools, in our political landscapes. I hope people do some research and find out that the Fund is truly a fantastic investment to precipitate some change.