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December 3, 2014 / Rebekah Seder, Editor

From overseas to over the river: learning about poverty right next door

By Rebecca Scherpelz

Rebecca Scherpelz is a 2015 Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Maryland. Through the Philanthropy Fellows program, Rebecca has been interning at the Washington Area Women’s Foundation since September 2014.

She shared with us her thoughts on her experience at the Women’s Foundation so far.


When I moved to the D.C. area to start graduate school at the University of Maryland, I came for the School of Public Policy’s International Development and Nonprofit Management and Leadership specializations. I was focused on soaking up everything D.C. has to offer, especially when it came to the international focus and global diversity. While I have certainly learned a lot about what happens outside this country, I was simultaneously curious about my own neighborhood and community. I didn’t grow up in the area (I’m a Midwest girl!), so there was a lot to learn.

Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to serve as a Philanthropy Fellow with Washington Area Women’s Foundation, I was excited to learn more about the communities they serve in D.C., Virginia (Arlington and Fairfax counties; City of Alexandria), and Maryland (Prince George’s and Montgomery counties). The Women’s Foundation has been an important bridge to my own education here; but more importantly, the organization is an essential link of support as we empower women and girls to thrive. The intelligent and dedicated team at The Women’s Foundation work strategically to impact women and girls, really making efforts to partner with organizations who are going to move the needle.

Currently, my main roles have included supporting the research, literature reviews, and outlines for upcoming issue briefs, participating in calls and site visits for potential grantees, and helping out as needed for the annual luncheon that took place a few weeks ago. This year, the luncheon’s theme was “Here. Now. For her.”  I was thrilled to be there, not only to see behind the scenes of how a big event like that is managed; but being part of nearly 1,000 people gathered to support the foundation’s efforts really brought the organization’s mission to life.

Professionally and academically, I can see how well this is contributing to my Nonprofit Management and Leadership education, as I’d never worked with a foundation before. Though I had spent five years in the nonprofit sector prior to moving here (including roles that involved grant writing), seeing how the foundation functions has helped me consider what makes a strong nonprofit. A focused mission, innovative thinking, and a supportive staff and board are just the beginning. In many ways, my role with The Women’s Foundation is a living example of the themes and lessons from my courses at UMD, showcasing how partnerships between foundations, nonprofits, community leaders, and the government can be a catalyst for systemic change.

I’m thrilled with the opportunity to serve as a Philanthropy Fellow as part of the partnership between the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership and the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers. Even if my future career has an international focus, I appreciate The Women’s Foundation for giving me a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities right next door.


WRAG Members: The Philanthropy Fellows program is an exclusive partnership with the University of Maryland’s Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. Through the program, WRAG connects our member organizations with UMD students studying philanthropy and nonprofit leadership at the School of Public Policy. Learn more about the program here.

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