Fenway Health celebrates two decades of women’s philanthropy

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May 13, 2011
By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter
“This looks like the high school prom I always wanted to attend,” said comedian and mistress of ceremonies Kate Clinton, in kicking off the Women’s Dinner Party, a signature fundraising event for Fenway Health.

This year marked the 20th anniversary for the annual elegant-attire affair, which raises both awareness of and money for women’s health.

And to show their support, more than 1,000 lesbian, bisexual and transgender women – “and the men who love them” – turned out on Saturday evening, May 7, for the gathering, held this year in Boston at the Westin Copley Place.

Indeed, women’s health services and initiatives have blossomed at Fenway Health. As Jennifer Potter, MD, women’s health director, explained, the world-class medical center now “serves more than 5,000 women as patients, with more than 20 dedicated staff.” Overall, she added, “Sixty percent of Fenway’s medical providers are women, including four full-time women physicians.”Altogether, Women’s Dinner Party attendees raised nearly $300,000 in cash, pledges, and in-kind support for the local medical center’s life-saving services and programs.

The event also raised nearly $53,000 of challenge money in support LGBT youth programming and services, including those provided through the Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center and the Peer Listening Line, a vital 24/7 hotline that is lifeline for teenagers and young adults. The listening line no longer receives state funding.

Within the last year Fenway Health assumed management of the Sidney Borum, a facility that provides safe, non-judgmental medical care for youth between the ages of 12 to 29, many of whom are LGBT persons and do not feel comfortable in other health care settings. Among the 1,600 youth who rely on the Borum for health care, more than half are girls and young women.

Support for Fenway Health youth services is vital, said Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, one of three co-chairs for the dinner party. As she explained to attendees, “No child who has run away from home, who is addicted to drugs or at risk for prostitution, gang recruitment, HIV, or suicide is denied an appointment, a prescription, the care of a competent medical professional, or the comfort of a caring adult.”

An Hinds and Ann Rogers, M.Ed., served as co-chairs.

Joining them briefly for recognition were 20 former co-chairs who came on stage to the music and lyrics of Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman.”

Fenway Health also marked the occasion of the Women’s Dinner Party to honor Catherine D’Amato with the Dr. Susan M. Love Award.

A tireless 25-year advocate for ending hunger, D’Amato is president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank, which over the years has grown to a nearly $63 million charitable business, an organization that now leads the region in providing nutritious food to approximately 550 member hunger-relief organizations. These agencies annually serve more than 394,000 – possibly as many as 545,000 – hungry residents of the nine counties and 190 cities and towns of eastern Massachusetts. The Greater Boston Food Bank distributes more than 34 million pounds of food and grocery products annually.

Each year at the dinner party, Fenway Health presents the Dr. Susan M. Love Award to honor and celebrate a woman and/or an organization that has made a significant contribution to the field of women’s health.

D’Amato’s work to help end hunger earned her recognition because of its importance to improving the health of women and single mothers with families, groups that make up a disproportionate number of those lacking access to nutritious food.

In acceptance remarks, D’Amato underscored the connection between hunger and health.

“Hunger hurts,” she said. “It hurts one in six Americans, most them women and children who do not have enough to eat,” adding, “It hurts our community. It’s blind to sexual preference, gender, age, or ethnicity. Hunger hurts children, youth, and elders and leads to compromised living. It limits our ability to engage in life fully.”

But, with enough food, D’Amato said, “Lives begin to change, and health begins to improve.”

The Women’s Dinner Party is the brainchild of Deborah Heller, Ph.D., who had “an idea – pretty radical at the time – for a fun and formal evening to raise money for the women’s health services at Fenway Health, an event by women and for women all dressed up showing that we understand philanthropy,” explained co-chair Rogers at the event.

“Nay sayers wrote it off as the ‘Birkenstock  Ball,’” she said, predicting the dinner party would attract no more than 100 to 200 people. But the event sold out in two weeks, and 500 people attended the first gathering, held at the Boston Ballet.

“We were out, organized, empowered, and all dressed up,” Rogers said. “Twenty years, 18,000 women, and $3 million later, we’re still at it.”