I self-consciously sat down at the table. I had signed up for a meet and greet at the Art Museum with other Impact 100 members. The experience was more than I had expected. I’d learned a lot, enjoyed the other Impact Members, but just wasn’t sure why I had extended the experience with dinner.

A woman came in and sat down next to me. She immediately drew me in along with the other women at the table. Her welcoming smile made me feel comfortable and those sharp eyes behind dark-framed glasses drew me in. Soon the table was buzzing with stories about family and work. Periodically, this woman, whom I now knew was Annemarie Henkle, would pose a question, or make a point, that would take us back to the reason we were there. We were women committed to offering help to our neighbors who simply needed a path to move forward in their lives. As AnneMarie said: “Impact 100 has been invaluable to me. I joined 20 years ago and met women with the same goal – making Cincinnati a better place to live, work and play.”

We honored several of our early members at our recent Annual Awards Celebration. The founding women of Impact 100 came together to reach out to people who needed a helping hand. They had an ingenious idea. They would pool their resources so that collectively they would make a greater impact on the community. That made sense. So, 100 women raised $100,000. The next challenge – where would it be the most effective? They soon had the answer. There were community nonprofits who were already finding solutions; they simply needed resources. As Jenny Berg said: “I’m inspired by the nonprofits that serve our neighbors in need through action, and with compassion, perseverance, and love. In fact, realizing this helped me to a career in nonprofits for over 10 years!”

The goal and path were clear. There was just one more step – how to decide which nonprofits to support. The founders created a process for requesting grants and then awarding them based on their detailed study. As Jenny Berg said: “I’ve been part of the grant review process for most of my 20 years. Reading those grants has opened my eyes, my heart, and my passion for understanding the needs of our community and taking action.”

A group of women over 20 years ago came up with an ingenious way to tackle the issues of poverty in our community. The organization they built, Impact 100, had additional benefits for members. Not only were these women contributing to their communities, but in the process, they were learning. As Annemarie said: “I learned so much about nonprofits doing amazing work.” They learned about their communities and they grew professionally as they collectively led an organization that continued to grow.

The final, and maybe best reward, as Annemarie said, “It is the friendships.” Sharon Mitchell added: “I love Impact 100 – – It’s where I learn more about our community, enjoy time with friends, and get to know so many women of all ages.” Jenny summed it up: “Starting with a common thread of women desiring to give back to our community, the women of Impact 100 that I’ve gotten to know, that I likely wouldn’t have had the chance to meet otherwise, I now count as very dear, longtime friends.”

For over 20 years, these women have been joined by others who are smart, compassionate, and tenacious. Together they have grown Impact 100 locally from that initial group into an organization with over 400 members who have contributed over $6,000,000 to regional nonprofits.

By the way, I never regretted staying for dinner. They have become a great group of friends!