Celebrating International Women’s Day with Mary’s Pence

Tere, an associate of the metal working cooperative, Yolitzli, displays the patterns used to make handicrafts for sale.

Tere, an associate of the metal working cooperative, Yolitzli, displays the patterns used to make handicrafts for sale.

The global theme for International Women’s Day 2015 is “Make It Happen!” And this is exactly what the women of ESPERA and Mary’s Pence Grants are doing. Everyday they make their businesses happen, they make improving their lives happen, and they make working for justice in their communities happen.

In our International Women’s Day letter we shared the story of one particular group of women who “Make It Happen.”

ESPERA participants in Cuentepec, Mexico meet to discusses the challenges and successes of owning and growing their business.

ESPERA participants in Cuentepec, Mexico meet to discusses the challenges and successes of owning and growing their business.

The women of the Red de Mujeres Morelenses have a diversity of businesses – some grow agricultural products, others have small stores sellng food or clothes, while others produce and sell handmade crafts or health products.

The women shared with us that they participate in ESPERA and work hard to improve their businesses, because they believe in building small, independent economic initiatives, which offer them sustainable alternatives to many of the unjust, low-wage, long hour options around them. The women of the Red de Mujeres Morelenses, along with all the women we partner with embody this International Women’s Day theme!

You know who also “Makes It Happen?” You!

Wendy, with her son, stands proudly in her store where she sells hand painted crafts.

Wendy, with her son, stands proudly in her store where she sells hand painted crafts.

Your support ensures that the women we partner with have the resources they need to make the changes they want in their lives and their communities. Thank you!

We invite you to donate today – in honor of International Women’s Day, of the women who “make it happen” in your life, in honor of the women of ESPERA and Mary’s Pence Grants, and in honor of all the women around the world who build justice. Your support ensures that the women we partner with can continue to “Make It Happen!”

Thank you again!

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Meet Carmen – Mary’s Pence New Communications and Outreach Intern

10906160_10200116586514516_4859741636333633618_nIn February, Carmen Attikossie joined the Mary’s Pence team as our new Communications and Outreach Intern. She brings a passion for empowerment, experience in social enterprise, and loads of great energy and ideas! Welcome, Carmen!

My name is Carmen Attikossie; I am a senior at St. Catherine University studying International Relations with a minor in French. I am the Communication and Outreach Intern for Mary’s Pence. I came across the work that Mary’s Pence does through the St. Kate’s Career Development office. I did a little bit of research on the organization and I was really touched by the work they do with women in various parts of the Americas. As an International Relations major, my courses are filled with research and discussions around Economic Development and empowering women globally. With such a background I was easily drawn to apply for the Communication and Outreach Intern position.

In my spare time, I like to travel and learn about different cultures and people. Last year I studied abroad in Ghana, West Africa. While I was there I would volunteer at an organization called Future Leaders. Future Leaders teaches children the basic foundations of education for free. During my stay with Future Leaders I taught science to 5th and 6th graders. I also helped developed a Micro-Finance initiative for women in the region. This Micro-Finance initiative included teaching women how to make everyday products like soap that they can sale to earn an income. In addition to that, the women were also learning how to grow vegetables that they can also sell.

I also have a business that I started about a year ago selling accessories made out of African Prints. The name of my business is Cartik. While I was studying abroad in Ghana, I would travel to Togo, which is right next to Ghana, and also my birth country. While I was in Togo I would help my aunt pick out a variety of Vibrant African Prints for her business, she inspired me to start Cartik by sketching some ideas for purses. By the end of my trip in Ghana and Togo, I came back to the US with 30 purses and jewelry that I sold out within 2 months. By the Grace of God I have increased my inventory from 30 to 200 purses.

I am really excited to begin this journey with Mary’s Pence because I am eager to learn everything this organization has to teach me about the work they do, and I am more than happy to contribute in anyway that I can.


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Social Justice: A calling for Sister Patricia Ann Hurley.

Hurley--PatriciaAnnRTwebEngaging and dedicating our lives to social justice can be a true calling. It’s a calling that can take the form of using education as a platform to educate children, or serving our communities to the best of our abilities. This was exactly what Sister Patricia Ann Hurley did throughout her life. On January 2, 2015, at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan, God called her home.

Sister Patricia Ann Hurley holds a special place in our hearts here at Mary’s Pence. She served as a bookkeeper and clerk for Mary’s Pence for many years. She was loved by many including Karen Flotte, the former Executive Director of Mary’s Pence. Karen states that “she was an amazing woman. If you look back in the old archived financial records, you will see her work, all done by hand on bookkeeping paper with amazing clarity and precision. She was the steady, quiet rock who created a foundation in the home office so Maureen (Mary’s Pence foundress) could do her amazing work organizing, speaking, meeting — ever tilling the fields across the country.  Together they built the legacy we all inherited. The beautiful statue of the kneeling woman was given to Mary’s Pence by Pat.  She is the one who first put a prayer altar in the office– a tradition we carried from Chicago to Metuchen — donor slips, letters, etc. were all put there recognizing the sacred commitment our donors were making through their offering.”

Sister Patricia Ann was born in Detroit and graduated from St. Theresa High school in Detroit. She went on to receive a bachelors degree in English from Sienna Heights college in Adrian, Michigan. For 38 years she ministered in elementary education in Cleveland, Ohio and in Illinois. She served as an assistant principle from 1978 to 1987.  Sister Patricia Ann, will forever be part of our Mary’s Pence community and her contribution to social justice will continue to be reflected in our organization.

You can view her obituary here.

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Exploring Economic Injustices: Guest Reflections on Visiting ESPERA Groups in Mexico

David in Mexico City

In January I tagged along with my wife, Anna Zaros, Mary’s Pence Development and Outreach Director, on her trip to visit ESPERA groups in Mexico.  I had the opportunity to visit with and photograph groups of women who received loans from locally owned ESPERA lending pools, pools Mary’s Pence helped create in partnership with local women’s groups. I heard stories about how the loans, and the accompanying support of ESPERA staff and coordinators, have been affecting their economic and social livelihoods.  Gilda Larios, ESPERA Facilitator, was our tireless guide and connected us with people who had much to say about their lives.  It was a unique opportunity for me to learn about the realities of people living in Mexico.

I visited the home of Letty in Cuentepec, a small indigenous village in the rural outskirts of Cuernavaca.  It was the feast day of St. Sebastian, the patron Saint of their town, and following their custom, each family welcomed us with an edible feast of chicken mole with all the trimmings.   Walking around their property I saw a huge pile of dried corn that partially filled the room used for cooking.  I asked if they grew the corn for consumption or sale, and they told me “We grow it for consumption, because we can’t really get a good price for it if we try to sell it.”


Lupita, another participant in the ESPERA program in Cuentepec also hosted us for mole during San Sebastian’s feast day

Later on in the visit we met Gilda’s longtime friend and colleague, Liliana.  She told us about one of the economic barriers currently facing the Mexican working class.   If a person, say Fulana Lopez, wants to sell her handmade crafts to a wholesaler or retail outlet they must sell them to a Coyote, who is basically a middleman in the supply chain.  Coyotes are granted exclusive domain in a particular municipality, so Fulana can only sell her goods to one buyer, who pays her a very low price.  If she tries to sell to another buyer for a better price, Fulana is threatened with violence.  The government of the municipality does not intervene because they receive payment from the Coyote, to maintain their purchasing monopoly over the situation.


Some of Letty’s corn, dried and ready to start the tortilla making process.

So in the end, the Coyote wins with a substantial markup in the selling price of goods, the politicians get a piece of that profit, but the producers of the goods are paid unfairly, perpetuating their struggle to advance themselves economically.  It seemed clear that for a producer, the ability to sell ones own goods directly to consumers would provide a significant advantage in this system.



Letty shows us her store

Many of the women who received loans from the ESPERA Fund were doing just that.   Letty, for example, may not sell her corn, using it instead for her family’s consumption, but she used an ESPERA loan to start a small store in her community.  A store she has control over – a store that bypasses the coyote system.

This is what the ESPERA program does – in the midst of unjust economic systems it provides opportunity for women to create economic initiatives that bypass these injustices – initiatives that provide a true benefit to women, their families, and their communities.

David Hong

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At the Intersection of Gender and Economy

By Eva Martinez-Menjivar, ESPERA Promoter, and Anna Zaros


Eva Martinez-Menjivar, ESPERA Promoter

Between July and December of last year, Eva, ESPERA Promoter, participated in a certification program on Gender and Economy. The certification was led by economics faculty from the Universidad Nacional de El Salvador, along with female teachers and feminists from various women’s organizations in the country.

Eva was the only woman who was accepted to participate from the Concertación de Mujeres in Suchitoto, El Salvador. She told us that, “This certification is a great opportunity for women to improve their academic and intellectual knowledge, and this serves to empower women and to help us acquire our autonomy.” Topics included the caring economy, globalization and its impacts, the economic rights of women, patriarchy and capitalism, and social movements, among others.

Eva summarized her experience: “It was a very good and interesting experience. It allowed me to obtain new knowledge, and otherwise learn about the economic reality in which women live, and to reflect upon it. It allowed us to learn more about the realities of other women…and above all, that our gender is not separated from the economy, we are a whole, and the economy affects all types of work that human beings do. [W]e can appreciate the economy from another point of view, that it is not just through capitalism.”


Just one example of women’s work, Felipa, who lives in Cuentepec, Mexico, makes these artisan handicrafts, in addition to her agricultural production and animal husbandry work.  Photo Credit: David Hong

She wrote about how women contribute to the economy, especially poor women who work hard through agriculture production and small market sales, but that this contribution is invisible to the population and to the government. Often those who work the most difficult and essential jobs get paid the least, they are disregarded. “…[P]atriarchy has made us believe and feel that the women do not contribute to the national economy, and other women are unaware of their economic rights, and for this we demand the recognition [of women’s contribution to our economy].”

With regards to her work with ESPERA: “I have learned to analyse small details of the situation of women, observing new concepts which serve me on a personal level [in my own work]. I have become familiar with the data and statistics regarding women in the economy, and how we contribute to the country’s economy.” For Eva, the certification provides more inspiration to continue her work because as she says, on the micro-economic level the connection between gender and economy “has to do with the poverty and wellbeing of…women.” Improving the status of women in the economy, improves women’s overall wellbeing.

Through the support of our donors, Mary’s Pence provided the resources for Eva to register for the course and travel to Suchitoto to attend. To our donors, Eva says, “Thank you…for offering me the opportunity to attend this course, and providing me with the time and resources.”

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Reflections on Traveling with the Women of ESPERA

Eva, ESPERA promoter, takes a picture of my traveling in the truck on one of our visits to an ESPERA group. ESPERA coordinators Eva and Auxiliadora, called this part of my "Central American adventure!"

Eva, ESPERA promoter, takes a picture of me traveling in the truck on one of our visits to an ESPERA group. ESPERA coordinators Eva and Auxiliadora, called this part of my “Central American adventure!”

Just last week I returned from two weeks of visiting ESPERA groups in El Salvador and Mexico. It was a great adventure of bumping around in the back of trucks, getting some sun in the middle of a Minnesota winter, and eating an infinite number of warm, fluffy tortillas. But most of all the experience was deeply inspiring – in the moments women opened up to me about their personal economic difficulties, the cultural sharing, and the pride each woman had as she shared her name and what her business does. We’ll be sharing so many stories, videos, and photos over the next few weeks, but I wanted to highlight here some of my impressions after these two weeks of learning!

ESPERA Loans Provide Access to Economic Goods

Overall, the need for continuing community lending pools and Mary’s Pence staff visits is so apparent. It is also clear that we could continue to expand our program to meet need. Women clearly can improve their lives with the credit they receive from the ESPERA fund – most can’t get a loan from a bank, or afford the high interest rates.  In almost every ESPERA group I visited, the women told me that they use the loan to buy raw materials – these are expensive and the ESPERA loan is often the boost the women need to get their business started.


Myrna stands proudly near her herd of cattle!

For example, I met Myrna and Marta in the community of Aguacayo, outside of Suchitoto, El Salvador. They worked together to buy cattle – which is rare for women to do in El Salvador. They have used Mary’s Pence loans to invest in a growing herd of cattle, thereby gaining more income. They have been so successful that they even have been able to buy their own land – also a rarity for women in El Salvador!


ESPERA Responds to the Needs of Women in Central America, Mexico, and Haiti

Mary’s Pence is working hard to expand our ESPERA program in order to improve the support women have as they start and grow their businesses. We want to ensure that each woman has the skills she needs to grow a sustainable business. There were many questions in each group sharing I attended about market analysis, recordkeeping, and business competition, among many others. We have listened to what the women are struggling most with at this time, and we are responding.


In Cuentepec, Mexico, a rural, indigenous village, the women who participate in the ESPERA program gather to discuss what is working well with their businesses, and what they need more support with.   Photo Credit: David Hong

For example, I met Letty in Cuentepec, Mexico, an indigenous village in the state of Morelos. She recently used Mary’s Pence funds to open a little store. The costs for running a refrigerator for cold drinks is high so she diversified her products from just selling Coca-Cola to selling all sorts of refrigerated goods. And she even loans out part of the refrigerator to others who may not have this access. Letty is a strategic business thinker and it has served her well. These are seemingly small business choices that can make the difference that helps women get ahead. We want to help other women think strategically about their business with our new business development project.

ESPERA Creates Women-Led and Women-Owned Spaces

We talk a lot about the impact of the loans themselves – the businesses our women create, the increase in their income, the savings they acquire. But I was deeply moved by another aspect of the ESPERA program, provided by the regular meetings with Gilda, the network-wide assemblies, and the casual exchanges among ESPERA women from different countries. These exchanges serve a real, ritualistic purpose. They bring women together. In many contexts women don’t even have the opportunity to simply be together as women – to converse, to share difficulties and joys. This in and of itself has value, in terms of solidarity. So much of our world is drawn with a male-dominated lens – especially the economic sphere. It is clear that outside of the concrete, monetary support, our staff and organizational support creates a feminist answer to our male-dominated world.

The ESPERA network, ASMUR, met for their first ESPERA assembly, in January. Thelma is a member of ASMUR.

The ESPERA network, ASMUR, met for their first ESPERA assembly, in January. Thelma is a member of ASMUR.

Thelma, a member of the ESPERA network ASMUR, in Bajo Lempa, El Salvador can summarize my thoughts better than I can – when I asked her what it meant to her to be in a women’s network she said, “It means a lot, because it helps me to feel more free, more independent… And there are a lot of women in bad situations, who aren’t treated well by their spouses, I can help them, I can explain where they can get help…[we learn many things, participate in trainings and meetings, and] like this, many things teach us how to feel like birds that can fly free.”

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Between Charity and Justice

On the Mary’s Pence website, it states that the reason we aim to support, empower, and fund women living in poverty throughout the Americas is because “everything we have in excess belongs to the poor.  It is theirs.” This struck me as extreme when I first began looking at the organization. Sure, I agreed with the general idea of giving to the poor, but as a recent graduate without a paycheck, the idea of everything I had in excess seemed a little challenging. I tried to imagine myself living a life of complete austerity, giving away all my worldly possessions. I respected and admired those who choose to do this, but I couldn’t quite see that as my future.

As I read on, I learned a little more about what Mary’s Pence does and how and why we give. Mary’s Pence directs funds towards projects that support social justice—changing socialservices-Two Feetsystems so that women everywhere can have greater access to resources, education, and work.  I learned a little more about the difference between charity and justice.

I was introduced to those “two feet” of Catholic social action when I started working for Mary’s Pence. Charity is important, because it addresses the needs of people experiencing poverty, and offers immediate solutions. It means sharing what we have in excess.

But charity offers no long-term solutions. It focuses on individual needs and requires no change to social structures. It shares resources, but no power. This is where justice comes in. Rather than “giving a person a fish,” working for justice means working to give that person access to the pond. It means changing systems of oppression so that charity will be less needed in the future. It means progress.

Supporters of Casa Guadalupana march for Immigration Reform.

Supporters of Casa Guadalupana stand vigil  for Immigration Reform outside the detention center in Saint Paul, MN.

Of course, while we fight for change we cannot ignore the immediate needs of those affected by inequality as it exists. That is not justice. This is why Mary’s Pence has granted funds to organizations that shelter vulnerable women and families, such as Casa Guadalupana, which offers temporary room and board to women in transition and their families. They provide immediate relief: food, medicine, and shelter. But they also work to change the system, to advocate for the women and listen to their voices, working together and sharing power. There can be no justice without solidarity.

Last Monday, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mary’s Pence posted one of our favorite quotes by the inspiring civil rights leader: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

This is what we strive for in our work here at Mary’s Pence. It is not about giving everything we have to the poor, but giving generously where we can to the organizations that promote change, and in doing so finding the intersection of charity and justice.

Dana Coppock-Pector

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Lessons Learned from Feminist Leaders

Mary’s Pence Development Liaison, Anna Zaros, is currently visiting ESPERA programs in El Salvador and Mexico.

It was subzero temperatures when I left Minneapolis at 3am in the morning. But 12 hours later, I found myself in 90 degree El Salvador sharing a room with two local coordinators of Mary’s Pence’s ESPERA program, Auxiliadora and Dona Rosalía. As the Development Liaison at Mary’s Pence I am visiting the groups of the ESPERA program to learn more about the work we do and gather stories of the women we partner with. On my day of arrival I may have been tired and hot, but I was beyond excited (and perhaps a little bit nervous) to meet the women I had heard so much about – it was time to converse, connect, and learn.

Left to right: Milvia from Guatemala, Auxiliadora, Anna, and Dona Rosalía

Left to right: Milvia from Guatemala, Auxiliadora, Anna, and Dona Rosalía

Auxiliadora, Dona Rosalía, and I dove right in and found ourselves in a conversation about women’s rights and feminism. They shared with me how strong women are in their country, Nicaragua (they were visiting for an “intercambio” with the groups in El Salvador – an exchange). How much the women fight for equality and respect. I brought up the fact that, by the numbers, Nicaragua has more gender equality than mi país, the United States. Si, they said, we have many women in leadership positions – mayors, in state government, etc. And the women’s movement is strong.

Recently in the United States a backlash has grown, especially among young women, against the label, “feminist.” Some women see it as anti-male. At Mary’s Pence that’s not how we see it – we root our work in values of Catholic Social Teaching and feminism – in values of justice, collaboration, and mutuality. So I was curious and asked Dona Rosalía and Auxiliadora, is there a backlash against the term feminism in Nicaragua? How do women identify?

"Neither blows from the state nor blows to women." A sign in the store of one of the cooperatives of the ESPERA program.

“Neither blows from the state nor blows to women.” A sign in the store of one of the cooperatives of the ESPERA program.

They shared that some women may not identify with the label, perhaps older women, but there is no backlash against the term itself. Not all women share the same views on certain “feminist” issues, like sexuality or reproductive health issues, but generally the women work together for women’s rights, such as economic equality and an end to violence against women. There are still problems – machismo is rampant, but “poco a poco” the women are working to change the situation – to teach their sons to cook and clean as well as their daughters, to work on communication with their spouses, to grow equality from the family unit out to the larger community.

In the United States the feminist movement is splintered, and not just around the label. Even among those who adhere to the basic assumption that equality should never be dependent upon gender, there are rifts that keep us divided. For a while now I’ve followed the conversations about intersectionality of feminism with other justice issues, I’ve mourned the sad truths in the #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen Twitter campaign, and I’ve tried to stay current on blogs such as The Crunk Feminist Collective. I do this because I know as a woman I experience injustice, but as a white woman I have a certain level of privilege. And it is imperative that I step outside that privileged box and work to be in solidarity with women of color in the United States, and women around the world. Indeed, this is in part why I work at Mary’s Pence.


Me with various leaders of the ESPERA program – what strong women and inspired leaders to learn from!

So I had something else to learn from Auxiliadora and Dona Rosalía, how do women in Nicaragua remain so fiercely united? Porque de la lucha. Because of the struggle. So many women came to consciousness during the war. Women had no choice but to mobilize for peace and justice. Despite any difference of opinion, the war united women in their shared experience.

What is our shared experience as women in the United States? What unites us? So many divisions exist because of racism and classism. These divisions limit our work and movement forward. Perhaps these divisions are why a country with a united women’s movement like Nicaragua has a higher level of gender equality than the United States. I told Auxiliadora and Dona Rosalía that I had much to learn from the experience of women in Nicaragua, to inform my work as a feminist in advancing the rights of women in my own country, and to work from a place of solidarity with women who experience racism and classism.

I took a step back – the women of ESPERA share their experiences with one another frequently, they have “intercambios” as a part of assemblies in order to enhance each other’s work and support one another. This is solidarity in action. Here I was, just barely a few hours in country, benefiting from this informal “intercambio” learning from the experience of strong female leaders in their communities, experiencing this same solidarity. What a beginning to the next two weeks of “aprendizaje,” of learning!

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Grantee Spotlight: Asociación Empoderamiento

The average years of schooling for indigenous girls in rural areas of Guatemala is 1.2 years. Eight of every ten girls will start primary school, but by secondary school over 90% will be working to help support their families or preparing for marriage.

ASOEMPO1If these girls were able to complete at least nine years of education…

  • Their average income would increase by 20 percent
  • They would be more likely to marry later and to decide how many children to have
  • They would have more opportunities to stay healthy and live longer
  • It would decrease their likelihood of attack, and the impunity of attack perpetrators.

Asociación Empoderamiento (ASOEMPO) is a small organization based out of Livingston, Izabal, Guatemala that works to empower girls and young women to improve their lives through education. Their secondary school educates over 100 children from rural, indigenous communities, teaching the importance of human rights and gender equality to girls and boys alike. They ensure that transportation is not a barrier to education equality, by providing a bus system (of boats!) to deliver the children living in remote areas safely to their classrooms.


Mary’s Pence is proud to help fund ASOEMPO’s  Abriendo Oportunidades afterschool program, developed specifically for indigenous girls, ages 7 to 18, from rural communities in Guatemala. The program consists of two parts: a structured time that emphasizes the importance of building skills, making goals, achieving in school, and learning about human rights, and an unstructured time for crafts, sports, and sharing. The program helps  ASOEMPO3to create a social support network for rural and indigenous girls, connecting them to positive female role models and providing opportunities to learn and grow while developing self confidence and leadership skills.

ASOEMPO is kicking off the new year with a Leadership Workshop with 65 teenage girls!

Want to find out more about how you can get involved with ASOEMPO? Click here!  And be sure to check out more photos of their program working in the small village of El Cedro!



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New Year, New Resolution

Happy New Year!

Mary's Pence 2015This time of year is always filled with clichés—a new year means a fresh start, a clean slate, a new chapter in life just waiting to be written. I could take this opportunity to talk about new roads to journey and new battles to fight, because here at Mary’s Pence we have plenty of both. And as we stare out into the yawning void of 2015, it is easy to feel excited, and more than a little scared.

But what really changed in between December 31st and January 1st? The earth completed another cycle around the sun, but other than that large cosmic event, nothing is different. It is still cold and snowy in Minnesota, and that circling world is still filled with injustice. What makes me think I can change it now, when it is 2015 and the work still remains unfinished? What makes this year different?

This first week of January always feels like a threshold of sorts. We are caught between old and new. We want to commit ourselves to the future without abandoning the past, so we set yearly resolutions. As 2015 begins, we think about what we accomplished in 2014. We reflect upon who we are and where we are going. We think about what we could have done differently and what we still want to change.

The things that are worth resolving to change are usually difficult. This year, we unite with inspiring groups of women who have committed to challenge unjust laws, educate their communities, and fight to eradicate inequalities that are deeply entrenched in our systems and institutions. Resolutions like these are challenging precisely because the issues are hard to resolve. These are the resolutions we cannot do alone.

ASMURIn Fiscal Year 2014, Mary’s Pence gave $51,000 dollars to 16 women-led organizations in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The ESPERA Program currently partners with over 890 women in nine networks in six countries. We are excited about this growth and progress, and we’re eager to see what awaits us in 2015. We will be putting more of our resources into the ESPERA program, increasing lending pools and providing renewed support and encouragement. Our Mary’s Pence Grants program will be refocused as we strengthen our relationships with our grantees and the work they do.

January 1st wasn’t just the start of a new year, it was a new day. Every day is a new chance to finish the work we’ve started—work that didn’t end on December 31st and that likely won’t finish within the next calendar year. By fighting for change we commit ourselves to a long struggle. We set New Year’s goals, but we prepare ourselves for much more than just New Year’s resolutions.

So once again, I say happy New Year, but I also say happy January 6th. May your year and also your day be filled with love, laughter, and strength. In this year, and on this day, may you continue to work for change.

Dana Coppock-Pector

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