About four years ago, Virginia Lee was in the locker room at her local gym and saw a flyer that intrigued her. The Art of Giving (TAG) was inviting women to join their philanthropic efforts and provide grants to support local nonprofit organizations.

“I was at a point where I wanted to get more involved in the community,” she shared. “It just sort of dropped in my lap – it was serendipitous.” She made her first $600 annual commitment to join TAG and seized the opportunity.

TAG is a giving circle started in 2009 by Diane Amato to help women join together and realize the power of collective philanthropy. By pooling their resources, each year the group gives out one $10,000 grant (sometimes two). The grants support local nonprofit organizations, often those with a budget of $1 million or less. Each year the call for applications has a different focus to address issues that affect girls, women, and their families.

This year, Virginia chaired TAG’s grant committee. The call for applications focused on supporting women and girls affected by domestic and sexual violence.

“It seemed like a very natural thing to do [support those affected by domestic and sexual violence] as a giving circle that was primarily focused on women and girls in the Triangle,” shared Lee. “And this year we made a commitment to align ourselves with the #MeToo movement.”

TAG awarded this year’s grant to Stand Up Speak Out of North Carolina (SUSO) to support their Girls SpeakOut programs. SUSO is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on working with young people who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. What makes them distinctive is their use of art therapy.

As a part of the grant review process, TAG does a site visit with each applicant to learn more about the organization and the impact their grant can have.  “When we went on a site visit [with SUSO] we were blown away by the dynamism, dedication, and capabilities of the founder, Monica Daye,” said Lee.

In 2004 Daye founded SUSO on the belief that every woman and child has a right to feel safe, free from fear, violence, and all forms of abuse. Daye herself is a survivor of both sexual and domestic violence. “I was sexually abused at 11. I was in an abusive relationship at 13 and at 17,” she shared. “The aftermath created a domino effect of bad choices.”

She discovered that spoken word and poetry were healing outlets of expression for her experiences. And as she spoke out in the community, she “noticed a gap,” she said. “There were so many organizations providing services for victims but very few focused on children.”

It got her thinking about what could have helped her cope as a young girl. And SUSO was created.

“Children mimic what they see,” said Daye. “If they have been abused or seen abuse it becomes a part of their make-up. If they don’t have safe spaces to talk about these things, they don’t know how to cope with what they have experienced.”

SUSO is providing that safe space and helping women and young girls through holistic therapeutic services including art therapy.

“When you go to therapy as a child you don’t know how to articulate what you are feeling in your body, experiencing thought wise in your mind, and you don’t know how to say what this is. You just know something bad has happened,” said Daye. “When we use art forms, it allows people who have experienced trauma to create what it feels like. Through art, we have a way of expressing that pain and trauma.”

In the last five years, SUSO has experienced significant growth. In 2015, SUSO became a 501(c)(3) and in 2018, Daye resigned from her full-time job to focus on being the Executive Director of SUSO.

Today SUSO offers support groups for women and girls (Breathe Life Sister Circles), hosts youth programs for girls during the school year and summer (Girl SpeakOut), and partners with another organization to offer a mentorship program for girls (The Butterfly Effect).

“I didn’t know with the growth that was coming how we were going to continue to sustain ourselves especially with the growth with the summer camps and after school programs,” shared Monica.

And then they received the grant from TAG to support the Girls SpeakOut programs. Specifically, the grant is providing funds to support staff and supplies. Now SUSO will have more resources and capacity to run their programs.

“Not all foundations or giving circles are willing to give funds for capacity building,” shared Lee. “The fact that we are willing to do that sets us apart.”

Daye is very thankful that TAG believes in the work SUSO is doing. “We are so thankful that they took this leap of faith with us,” said Daye. “Just seeing us, hearing us, and believing in us. We hope to make them proud.”

To learn more about The Art of Giving (TAG), a Giving Circle hosted by Triangle Community Foundation, visit trianglecf.org; to learn more about SUSO visit susonc.org. Photos are courtesy of SUSO, and show children at the Girls SpeakOut Summer camp.