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Debbie Rathwell holds a gift marking 10 years of 100 Women Who Care. Image: Alex Graham

Saint John charity marks 10-year anniversary, $1M in donations

By Scott Pettigrew Jun 8, 2023 | 6:00 PM

The Saint John chapter of 100 Women Who Care marked its 10th anniversary surpassing $1 million in donations to over 40 charities in the region and welcomed a change in leadership as co-founder Debbie Rathwell stepped down.

“I can’t even begin to describe how full my heart is when I think back on the past 10 years and what we’ve accomplished together,” Rathwell told the audience.

Avenue B Harm Reduction was a recipient of $28,000.00 after a vote following presentations by Avenue B executive director Julie Dingwell, as well as from Kent Grass, chair of the board of Shining Horizons Therapeutic Riding and Sue McHugh, board member of the Community Autism Centre.

The charitable model works by every member making a donation adding up to a significant amount for one lucky winner. The candidates are randomly selected and invited to make a five-minute presentation to the group before a vote is held to decide who receives the money.

All of the organizations up for consideration were previous winners, as charities are again eligible after a three-year waiting period.

The lasting impacts of Covid were one of the common threads the charities mentioned, with financial implications of that time still being felt.

“Thank you so much, it’s been an emotional day,” said Dingwell on the win. “I assure you we will not squander any of this money. We will get people fed and housed and do the best we can do with the money.”

With the Avenue B donation 100 Women Who Care has now donated $1,021,550 to Saint John region charities.

Wrapping up the official part of the meeting, Rathwell reflected on her 10 years leading the organization, going back to when she first heard of the organization at a tourism conference in Fredericton over a decade ago.

Gasps of shock were heard in the audience as Rathwell unexpectedly announced that she was stepping down.

“We have one final order of business before we pop the champagne corks,” Rathwell said. “After ten years at the helm of 100 Women Who Care it’s time for me to step away and hand over the reins to two well-known local entrepreneurs and caring women who are passionate about their community.”

The two women are Brittany Merrifield, Mayor of Grand Bay-Westfield and owner of Merrifield Photography and Shannon Merrifield, visual artist and arts entrepreneur and co-owner of Spicer Merrifield Gallery.

“The beauty of this organization lies in its simplicity and its inclusivity. It doesn’t require mass resources or deep pockets. It thrives on collective action, the power of small contributions,” said Brittany Merrifield. “We have witnessed how a dollar here and a dollar there can transform into a force for good.”

Past recipients Dave Nickerson and John Buchannan of Saint John Community Food Basket were also on hand to tell the organization how they used the $28,300 they received in March.

After experiencing significant food spoilage due to buying large volumes of perishable goods, the organization has invested in a vacuum sealer to create custom packages that last much longer for their clients.

As well, Nickerson had a surprise gift for Rathwell marking the organization’s 10th anniversary.

“I know the 10th anniversary is either tin or aluminium, so from my garage to yours – happy anniversary,” he said, as he presented a gift-wrapped, hand-made aluminium sign marking the special day.

The Saint John chapter of 100 Women Who Care has grown to over 300 members over the past 10 years.

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.

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