The Women's Foundation Honors Memphians Who are Making a Difference
(page 1 of 6)
When it comes to changing the social and economic landscape of our community, few groups have played a larger role than the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis. With an annual budget of $1.5 million and a dedicated group of members and volunteers, the Foundation’s work is specifically geared towards women and children, and each year, the group honors Memphians who have contributed to that cause.
To date, 27 women have received this honor, with past winners including such well-known figures as Maxine Smith, Gayle Rose, and Dr. Shirley Raines. This year’s honorees include Dr. Barbara Prescott, Dr. Rosie P. Bingham, Kathy Buckman Gibson, Carolyn Chism Hardy, Rachel Shankman, and Hazel G. Moore.
Founded in 1995 by a grant from local philanthropist Mertie Buckman, the Women’s Foundation helps Memphis women achieve and maintain economic stability for themselves and their families. “It was established to raise money and grant dollars and put those investments back into our community,” says Ruby Bright, executive director of the Women’s Foundation since 2000. “To create a sense of women’s leadership through philanthropy, to educate women about giving — the impact of collective giving for and by women. ”
Just four years after its inception, the Foundation conducted a study showing that 80 percent of those living in poverty in our communtiy were women and children. “I think it was startling to the board of directors,” says Bright. “It raised attention to the board that we need to be a part of the solution. In its 18th year, we continue to work on that and make strides. It’s very difficult to move the needle of poverty, but we know that, through grant-making and other work we do in the community, we are changing lives every day.”
In 2009, the Women’s Foundation established its Legends Award to honor women whose “visionary and innovative work is paramount in their specialized areas of service and philanthropy.”
With the goal of staying true to its mission, engaging the community, and creating something unique, the Foundation decided not only to honor exceptional women with the award, but also to recognize female writers and artists. After the honorees are chosen each year, a separate committee selects a writer to profile the honoree and also commissions a work of art to represent the honoree. “We are storytellers and we are passionate, purposeful, and thoughtful in reaching the next generation, honoring the past, and being so much in the present,” says Bright.
The artwork and stories about each were initially presented at the Foundation’s Annual Tribute Luncheon in April, and afterward, the art is on display in the community at various locations, including Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women.
On the following pages are profiles of the 2013 Legends Award honorees, a brief Q&A with each winner, the artwork that represents them, and a listing of all previous winners. To nominate a local woman for the 2014 awards, visit the Women’s Foundation at wfgm.org. — Anna Cox
Dedicated to educating children in Memphis and Shelby County, Dr. Barbara U. Prescott has worked on the front lines to improve the education system for 30 years. She is presently the executive director of PeopleFirst Partnership, the education and talent component of Memphis Fast Forward. Starting her career as a teacher and guidance counselor, Barbara was co-director for the Optional Schools Program and is a former three-term member of the Memphis City School Board where she served twice as president and vice president. During that time, she sat on the board of directors of the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA); was named to the All Tennessee School Board; chaired the Ethics Advisory Board; earned the distinction of Master School Board member, and served as the president of TSBA. She has been an instructor for TSBA’s Vision Academy and the Board/Superintendent Relations Academy and has worked with school boards and systems across the state in team building and strategic planning.
Prescott was recently appointed to the Transitional Planning Commission (TPC) in 2010 and elected chair. The TPC was tasked with creating the plan for the merger between Shelby County and Memphis City Schools. She is also a licensed professional counselor.
What or who motivates you?
“That’s a really interesting question. I’d say what motivates me the most is the desire to give back to the community and make it a better place. I would say specifically with children, but really it’s education at all levels.”
What’s your greatest challenge?
“My work on the TPC [Transitional Planning Commission] was challenging as we were elected after the decision was made for the merger [between Shelby County and Memphis City Schools]. By law, there had to be a planning commission, not to enact or implement but to make sure the plan was set up for the school board. It was challenging, but the people I worked with were fantastic.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years — my faith is very central to me, so that’s definitely a factor. I believe everyone is given talents, and it’s our duty to use them. So the lesson from that would be to do work for which your talents can be best used.”
What’s your proudest moment/greatest reward?
“There have been many proud moments, most centering around my family. For one, presenting my kids, Allie and Allison, with their high school diplomas. I was president of the Memphis City School Board at the time, so that was really great. Another would be my husband’s individual awards, like when he [Allie Prescott Sr.] was named Outstanding Alum at the University of Memphis.”
What’s the best advice you ever received?
“It’s also the advice I’d give: Embrace your strengths and talents and give back with a purpose. Act on your talents and passions because that’s where real change can happen.”