To say Debra Starks-Patrick grew up in foster care is something of an understatement.
“She lived in 23 foster homes. She went to eight high schools. She survived terrible abuse,” said Faye Hargrove, the woman’s longtime mentor and the grants committee chairwoman of Women in Philanthropy, a charitable organization that celebrated its fifth anniversary in Augusta on Friday.
It was Starks-Patrick’s story that inspired the work of the organization’s grant committee this year, Hargrove told a crowd of more than 150 women.
“We used her kind of as our litmus paper,” Hargrove said.
The group has awarded $310,500 to local nonprofits to date, with more than $90,000 given to five local groups in a presentation at the Augusta Country Club on Friday.
With each of the 41 groups that applied, Hargrove said the grants committee would ask, “Would this organization have helped Debra and all the other Debras of the world?”
For this year’s recipients, the answer is, “yes,” Hargrove said. “They have the Debra-stamp of approval.”
The $93,000 given to local agencies this year provides for services that support at-risk women and children.
In the past year, the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County served 302 children, 70 percent of whom were sexually abused, said Gayle Lofgren, the executive director.
A $17,000 grant will pay for medical exams, including STD screenings and pregnancy tests. It also provides for forensic interviews so that children answer questions about abuse in a child-friendly environment, instead of the back seat of a police car or the emergency room, Lofgren said.
The largest grant, totalling $40,000, was awarded to two organizations that have teamed up to provide counseling and support groups to victims of sexual assault. They are Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services at University Hospital and SafeHomes of Augusta.
“With your dollars, we can work toward preventing the cycle of violence,” Anne Ealick Henry, of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services, told members of Women in Philanthropy.
The charitable organization’s commitment to serving women and children has been inspiring, Starks-Patrick said. So much so that she joined the organization Friday.
Members of the group, founded in 2007 by 100 local women, pay annual dues of $1,000, with 70 percent going directly to grants.
“It’s an amazing organization,” Starks-Patrick said. “It’s my mission and my goal to help young children and women so they won’t have to endure the same things I endured throughout life.”