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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In Gratitude for a Year of Supporting the Work of Women

Women across the Americas are working hard for a more just, peaceful, and equitable world for all of us. With the year almost at an end, we wanted to say thank you again for all the ways you support Mary’s Pence. Our supporters are what makes this work possible.  Here are just a few of the ways your support makes a real impact!

Casita Pic 5

At Casita Copan mothers are able to take classes and work towards their primary school diploma, an opportunity they have never had before.

Amplifying Women’s Abilities
Casita Copan‘s mission is to help mothers find the internal strength and the external resources they need to care for their families. With a grant from Mary’s Pence Casita Copan, located in Copan, Honduras, started a Women’s Well-Being program to teach mothers valuable life skills and increase their literacy.


Each year The Justice Project hosts “Willow Tree Night.” During this time the women in prison are able to dine with their mentors in a room separated from men and decorated with tablecloths, candles, and flowers.



Challenging Unjust Systems
Mary’s Pence grantee The Justice Project, located in Kansas City, MO, is a peer-based group that helps impoverished and marginalized women who are incarcerated to navigate the criminal justice system. Their programs provide a safe space for women to share the obstacles that hold them back, as well as stories of hope and success.


The Pajaro Flor cooperative is one of many cooperatives that participate in the ESPERA program. The women of the cooperative work together to support their income generating projects – investing their increased income back into their families and their communities.



Fostering Women’s Empowerment
Across the Americas women often lack opportunities to better their own lives, and the lives of their families and community members. The Mary’s Pence ESPERA program in Central America, Mexico, and Haiti helps foster empowerment by providing these essential building blocks: access to financial resources through a locally-owned community lending pool, economic capability gained through experience and training, and solidarity with others by participating in a strong local women’s group.
You believe in the wisdom of local women to address local needs, and your support makes this work happen. If you haven’t yet, please consider a gift to Mary’s Pence before the end of the year, to help us continue on this journey of justice together!

*All gifts made online or postmarked before Dec 31, 2014 will receive a tax receipt letter for 2014. Thank you again.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Mary’s Pence!

On this Christmas, we want to take a moment to say thank you for all your support of the women we partner with at Mary’s Pence. Your support is vital to providing the resources women need to start collaborative projects that transform their communities. Together, we are building a world of justice and peace!

Wishing you and your family every happiness this Holiday Season and prosperity in the New Year, From all of us at Mary’s Pence

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Remembering Sister Laurie

Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF has been the Treasurer of our Mary’s Pence Board since 2011. Robbie lives in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky and currently serves as the Director of Christian Appalachian Project’s Christian Partners program. 


As I was driving home a couple of weeks ago, after having cooked for one of our volunteer houses a couple hours a way I received a text.  It was late at night so when I stopped at a stop sign I glanced at the text – my dear friend, mentor, and wise-woman had passed away.  I immediately felt tears forming and my memories of Laurencia (who was known by many names:  Sister Laurencia Listerman, Laurie, Granny, Helen – her birth name, or Angel by some who couldn’t pronounce her name, like my mother) began to flow and a smile begin to take shape.  You couldn’t really be sad as Laurie was 101 – and as a Sister of St. Francis for 83 years she was awaiting this sacred moment.  Laurie always prayed for me and my travels, she knew the roads I drive in Appalachia at all times of the day and night, no wonder I felt so alert as I drove home that night.   She went quickly – I was told.  What a blessing!

In this season of Advent when we have two celebrations of Mary – the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, a celebration that draws crowds not usually found on Sunday mornings, it seems appropriate to focus on the gifts of women in our lives.  Laurencia, like Mary, worked prophetically behind the scenes always pointing the way toward God.  I was told by her niece that her son had a history project at school and so he interviewed Sister Laurie since she had been around when the Great Depression took place.  Laurie’s mind was sharp, even up to the day she died – another real blessing.  Her niece said she even got into politics on the tape –not surprising as Laurie was always on top of current events, reading everything she could find. She stayed up late to watch our first black President get elected.   She was in book group that studied the Universe theology up until a year or so ago, and well into her 90’s she even read some of the Harry Potter books in an effort to understand young people.

Sister LauriePerhaps the most telling story that has been told about Laurencia was told at her funeral.  Sister Margie, in her reflections, shared that as a freshman at Oldenburg Academy in 1965 she had Laurencia as her teacher for World History.  She soon learned that the textbook served only as a reference book – looking up particular statistics and reviewing maps.  World History, in Sister Laurencia’s class, was told from the perspective of the women in the countries they were studying.  This was 1965!

I lived with Laurencia when I entered the Novitiate of the Sisters of St. Francis in 1985.  As I look back over these 30 years  I stand in deep gratitude for the woman who taught me that it was O.K. to think and act outside the box, to ask questions (from a curious point of view), to challenge the Church when it had gone off course – in her quiet educating way and to continue to deepen your relationship with God daily.  No wonder the Gospel for her funeral caused many of us to smile tears of joy – it was a unique version of the Beatitudes that brought reality and faith together.

Thank you Laurencia for reflecting, like Mary, Christ’s love and compassion for each person!  Keep praying me safely home.  We will miss your smiling face and enthusiastic greeting, but we know your spirit will live on.

Sister Robbie Pentecost, OSF

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Volunteer Blogspot: Kady

Get to know our volunteers!

This continues our blog series focusing on our wonderful Mary’s Pence volunteers.  As an organization, we are so grateful for all the invaluable work they do for us. To learn about our  volunteer opportunities or other ways you can get involved with Mary’s Pence, visit Action for Mary’s Pence on our webpage. And check back on the first Tuesday of next month, we will spotlight a different volunteer!


KadyKady D’Addario, Archivist 

What work do you do for Mary’s Pence? 

I came into Mary’s Pence to undertake the archiving project. I was tasked with handling the backlog of materials that had been collected since the last submission to the Women and Leadership Archive at Loyola University Chicago. Getting up to date hasn’t always been easy, but having my hands in the history of Mary’s Pence for the past few months has been an amazing experience – not just for the experience of working as an archivist but also to learn about Mary’s Pence. I was able to read through applications from grantees over the years and gain an understanding of the variety of organizations that Mary’s Pence is able to support.

How long have you volunteered with Mary’s Pence?

I started with Mary’s Pence in early June after graduating with my Master’s degree in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas.

What draws you to the work of Mary’s Pence?  Why do you volunteer with Mary’s Pence? what meaning does it have for you?

Mary’s Pence supports the women that no one else would ever have heard of — in Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, and even my hometown of Boston. I am so proud to be connected to these women who have undertaken projects to support women in their communities.

What else are you up to in your life? What do you do for fun?

Outside of Mary’s Pence my interests include modern Irish history, exploring Minnesota and continuing as a member of Red Sox Nation.


We have many more volunteers who help with translation, data entry, writing, mailings, and so much more. Our work is possible because of your contribution of time and talents. Thank you!

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Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Fighting for Equality through Advocacy and Education

North Carolina has consistently had the ninth highest adolescent pregnancy rate in the country. It is also the eighth most likely state for human trafficking. At WomenNC, a Mary’s Pence Grantee based out of Cary, North Carolina, innovative and resourceful young college students are addressing inequalities in their own communities, as well as challenging national and international injustice that affects women around the world.

A WomenNC Fellow presents her research at the CSW Conference in New York.

A WomenNC Fellow presents her research at the CSW Conference in New York.

Amanda Eubanks, the co-chair of the Fund Development committee of WomenNC, described the WomenNC Fellowship Program as “rooted in the idea of local to global and global to local.” She explained that every fellow chooses a research topic that is aligned with the U.N. goals from the Commission for the Status of Women (CSW). After picking a topic, each fellow decides on a local North Carolina organization to volunteer with, and on which they will model their research. They present their research in North Carolina. Then, they represent North Carolina at the annual United Nations CSW Conference in New York. Afterwards, they return and present their UN experience and research findings to their community. Local, global, local.

WomenNC is an all-volunteer organization, whose mission is to lead North Carolina’s youth in the elimination of injustice against women and girls. Mary’s Pence funds have gone into growing the WomenNC CSW Fellowship Program, which, since 2009, has trained 23 young women and men who have gone on to influence their peers and respective communities. Fellows challenge national and global issues, from high rates of female poverty, rape, and domestic violence, to a basic lack of education, technology, and access to affordable health care.

Many of these injustices affecting women around the world are all the more damaging by their relative invisibility, and the lack of awareness and resources in place to fight them. “Look at the data,” says Amanda, “to date, women still do not earn equal pay for equal work, despite the fact that women are outpacing men in advanced degrees and heading up more households than ever before.” Even the well-known, but maddening statistic that women earn 78 cents to the white, male dollar varies dramatically across racial lines (64% for African American women and 54% for Hispanic or Latina women).

WomenNC at Women's Equality Day Raleigh, 2014

WomenNC at Women’s Equality Day Raleigh, 2014

WomenNC empowers a new generation of intelligent, educated leaders fighting for women’s rights, and thus, human rights. They provide the resources, guidance, and platform for these students to develop skills in research, policy, and public speaking, as well as networking opportunities. The experience teaches young women how to fight for their own equality, and educates young men in how to be allies. “You cannot have a one-sided movement with men and women working against one another,” explains Amanda, “In order to bring about true change and break the barriers of institutional injustices and patterns of traditional injustices against women, men need to be educated and involved.”

Their website states that WomenNC “spreads awareness of and provides opportunities to engage in issues important to equality for women and girls.” WomenNC’s efforts have touched people all over the world. Over the last five years, the organization has sparked dialogue with over 75,000 people, igniting change that both starts and ends within their own communities.

Want to find out about how you can get involved with WomenNCCheck out their webpage!

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Giving Tuesday Helps Mark the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. And now Giving Tuesday.

Giving TuesdayThese days have become markers of the holiday season – they draw us into this time of food and family, and for some…shopping. #GivingTuesday, which began in 2012, reminds us that giving is also an integral part of the holiday season.

#GivingTuesday was created as a worldwide effort to have a day to celebrate giving back, and as a way to encourage more folks to give generously. At Mary’s Pence, we rely on the generosity of our donors, like you, to fund women’s organizations working for justice and peace. And this year at Mary’s Pence we are inviting you to celebrate this kickoff to the holiday season with a special gift  to help us reach our matching goal of $2,000!

The first $2000 donated on Tuesday, December 2 will be generously matched! Your doubled gift, means double the impact across the Americas:

Giving for healthy communities

Did you know that on the East Coast of Nicaragua, there is only one doctor for every 3,000 persons? Mary’s Pence grantee Adelante Mujer grants University scholarships to young women who aspire to become medical doctors in Kamla, Nicaragua. Adelante Mujer helps students secure their right to an education and meaningful work and strengthens communities by increasing the availability of health care.

Giving for safety

Did you know that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or Partner for Women's Equalitysexually assaulted than other US women? Partners for Women’s Equality, a grantee based in Minnesota, was funded by Mary’s Pence to connect Native American women to indigenous women in Guatemala, who also suffer from high rates of abuse, in order to create a curriculum for training sexual assault/domestic violence advocates based on shared indigenous wisdom.

Giving for education

Did you know that women account for nearly two-thirds of the 780 million people worldwide who cannot read? Haitian Connection, a partner of the ESPERA program, is strengthening the literacy education of one Haitian community.

Giving for change

We hope you will join us on Giving Tuesday with a special holiday gift. On December 2 the first $2000 donated will be doubled through our matching donation and will help to support inspiring programs like Adelante Mujer, Partners for Women’s Equality, and Haitian Connection!

Together, we create a better world for women everywhere. By funding women, we fund change.

Giving Tuesday



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