Laura Bierema, associate professor and program coordinator for UGA’s adult education program, is passionate about women being able to advance in society. And she sees her efforts come to fruition through her role as president of the Jeannette Rankin Foundation.
Named for a suffragist who lived in Watkinsville, the foundation helps women achieve success through education by awarding grants to low-income women over the age of 35.
As the foundation observes its 30th anniversary, it also will mark the first time UGA employees can pledge their financial support through the Campaign for Charities, which ends Dec. 7.
Employees who designate money to Georgia Shares, one of six independent federations, also will support the Rankin Foundation.
“We are really excited since this is our first year of being a part of the Georgia Shares group,” Bierema says. “I am very hopeful that Georgia Shares is going to help the foundation build its endowment in a way that will help fund operations.”
Bierema initially learned about the foundation in the early 1990s from Margaret Holt, a member of her dissertation committee who also was one of the ‘founding mothers’ of the Rankin Foundation.
“At that time I was commuting, working full time, traveling for my job and pursuing a doctorate degree,” Bierema says. “These activities left me little time to become involved in philanthropic pursuits.
“When I moved back to Athens in 2000, I pledged to become involved with the foundation and began attending functions and volunteering,” she also says. “So, I’ve been an active member since 2000, but a fan of the foundation for much longer.”
Since the foundation’s inception, more than 80 percent of grant recipients have met their educational goals.
A moment at last year’s annual dinner-attended by more than 500 people-for grant recipients brought home the importance of the foundation to individuals for Bierema.
“My most memorable part of the evening was when one of the recipients told her story. She said that her daughter was dying, and that she knew she needed to make a change. She left her abusive husband and worked hard to get the medical care her daughter needed,” Bierema says. “The Jeannette Rankin Foundation grant helped her toward her college goals by allowing her to focus on her studies, keep her family together and help her daughter. This true story of a woman’s life shows that the work that you are doing is making a difference not only in the life of the woman but for her family, too.”
Since the issuing of the first grant 30 years ago, more than 400 women from all over the nation have been able to succeed through education.
“We have big plans for the future,” Bierema says. “The foundation is in a growth mode, preparing to increase the awards given and recognize the rising trend of the number of women in higher education.”
Some of the past grant recipients have gone on to get graduate degrees and are now donating back to the foundation.
“This is our goal,” Bierema says. “For recipients to come full circle.”