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Fayetteville women’s giving circle expanding

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Alisa Debnam

Alisa Debnam

Todd Cohen

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — At age eight or nine, at a convenience store in rural Vance County, Alisa Debnam saw her father take off his shoes and give them to a person who was barefoot.

“He came home and my mother said, ‘That’s just like your father. He gives everything away,'” Debnam says.

Giving has been a lifelong calling for Debnam, who says she learned about sharing from her parents, aunt and teachers, and in church.

“When you grow up in a rural area,” she says, “everyone is family, and people have a large part in your growing up.”

In addition to serving on the boards of the Highlands chapter of the American Red Cross, and the Cape Fear Valley Health System Foundation, and serving as a sustaining member of the Junior League of Fayetteville, Debnam co-chairs the Women’s Giving Circle of Fayetteville.

Launched in January 2008 as a way for women to pool their funds, support local causes and network with one another, the group recently enrolled its 100th member.

In September, when the giving circle had 73 members, its parent Cumberland Community Foundation said it would match the money the fund raised if it could grow to 100 members by Dec. 31.

The giving circle met the match, and since has added another member.

With each new member asked to contribute $550 a year for three years — $400 of it for grants, $100 for an endowment fund and $50 to cover operations – the giving circle in its first round of grants last year gave a total of $26,000 to five groups that work to improve the lives of women and children by focusing on the basic needs of food, shelter or health care.

This year, based on member contributions and the matching funds from the Cumberland Community Foundation, the giving circle expects to make grants totaling $50,000 to the same types of causes.

After an open invitation for community groups to submit letters of intent, and a review of the letters, the grants committee of the Giving Circle will invite specific groups to submit grant applications.

The giving circle, which will hold a membership meeting Feb. 25 at the foundation’s office at 308 Green St. in Fayetteville, offers women from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to “come together and support some of the same causes, things they all value, in our community,” says Debnam.

Now executive director of the Chapel Hill-based Council for Allied Health in North Carolina, Debnam says 4H, which has a big service component, was an important part of her childhood.

“It’s how volunteering became an integral part of my life,” she says.

As a student at East Carolina University in Greenville, she joined the Alpha Kappa Alpha service sorority, and still is involved in its graduate chapter in Fayetteville.

After college, where she majored in school and community health education, Debnam worked as a health educator at a rural health center in Cumberland County, at the county health department in Robeson County and in the Cumberland County Schools before serving as dean for health programs at Fayetteville Technical Community College.

Debnam also has worked to pass on her passion for giving to her daughters.

Deidra, a 21-year-old junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, traveled with her mother to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as part of a Junior League rebuild, to help restore a house.

And Diana, a 10-year-old fifth grader, volunteered with her mother last fall feeding breakfast to homeless people at Operation In As Much, a local homeless shelter.

“My kids are very much a part of everything I do,” Debnam says. “They volunteer with me when there are opportunities.”

The giving circle not only gives women opportunities to give, learn about the community and get to know one another, she says.

In the economic recession, when nonprofits face cuts from funding sources, she says, the giving circle represents “a new source of funding for this community.”

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