AKRON, Ohio – On March 7, nearly 450 local leaders gathered at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn to celebrate women’s philanthropy and honor Savannah James, founder of the I PROMise Makeover and the Women of Our Future mentorship program.

James, a successful businesswoman and pioneering philanthropist, was the featured speaker at “For Women, Forever,” the annual celebration of the Women’s Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation. WKYC anchor and Summit County native Sara Shookman served as emcee. James’ husband, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, and Cavs guard J.R. Smith and his wife were among the event’s attendees.

In all, the sold-out event raised nearly $100,000 for the permanent endowment fund, whose grants improve the health, safety and economic well-being of women and girls in Summit County.

During her keynote address, James announced the launch of a new philanthropic initiative to support young women at her alma mater, Buchtel Community Learning Center. The Women of Our Future initiative will match high school girls with volunteer mentors to help them succeed in school and in life.

“By pairing these girls with individual mentors, they will never walk their road alone,” James told the crowd. “When they need help with their schoolwork, advice about life situations, or a source of strength during one of those low moments, we will be there for them.”

The initiative will begin with a group of 16 eighth- and ninth-grade girls at Buchtel, many of whom were in the audience at the event.

“To see girls’ faces light up from excitement and confidence is what fuels my passion. That is the reason I’m here. They are my purpose,” James said. “I’m excited about these programs and the opportunity to impact these young ladies’ lives in a very real way.”

In honor of James’ work to empower young women in Akron, the Women’s Endowment Fund announced it had donated 100 pieces of jewelry to her I PROMise Makeover program, which uplifts underprivileged girls from Akron-area high schools by helping them prepare for prom.

“(Savannah) has blazed her own trail as a businesswoman, pioneering philanthropist, devoted wife and loving mother, and is perhaps Akron’s most famous first lady,” said event co-chair and Women’s Endowment Fund Vice President Sherry Neubert in her introduction of James. “But if you ask her, she is just a girl from Akron doing her part to make this community – and its young girls, especially – stronger.”

The evening culminated in the presentation of the second annual Judith A. Read Tribute Award for Service & Advocacy for Women to Marie Covington, a former BFGoodrich Company executive and co-founder of the Women’s Endowment Fund. The award is presented annually to the individual or couple who best exemplifies the late Judy Read’s extraordinary commitment to the advancement of women and girls in Summit County.

“(Judy) would be very pleased to know that this year’s award recipient follows very closely in her own philanthropic footsteps,” said Women’s Endowment Fund President Cindy Johnson, who presented the award. “Marie was unanimously selected by a committee of Women’s Endowment Fund board members, who felt that she truly exemplifies Judy’s service, advocacy, leadership and passion in the community.”

Covington, a highly regarded community leader, co-founded the Women’s Endowment Fund in 1993. She has been a lifelong champion for women and girls in Greater Akron through her leadership in both the business and nonprofit communities.
“(One trait) that Judy had, and that I continue, is a commitment to this fund and the growing impact it can have on the future for women and girls,” Covington said. “I’ve been continuously engaged – as a founder, a board member, a committee member, a seeker of funds, and a donor since the early 1990s. Thank you for this singular honor.”

Earlier in the evening, fund leaders announced a surprise $10,000 impact grant from the Read family to ACCESS Inc. to meet the emergency needs of homeless women and children, many of whom are fleeing abuse.

“Tonight, Judy’s incredible legacy lives on through a $10,000 grant in her memory to ACCESS,” Johnson said. “This grant aligns directly with the Women’s Endowment Fund’s priority of providing safety from violence and will help women in crisis achieve a brighter future for themselves and their children – something Judy was passionate about during her lifetime.”

The grant from the Read family matches a $10,000 grant to ACCESS awarded by the Women’s Endowment Fund in February. Altogether in 2017, the fund granted a record $114,460 to 19 nonprofit organizations that improve life for Summit County’s women and girls in the areas of health and wellness, economic empowerment, and safety from violence. Representatives from each of the grantee organizations were featured during a pre-event cocktail reception.
Major sponsors of this year’s event included the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation, Signet Jewelers, FirstEnergy, Pam Kanfer, the Maynard Family Foundation, Dianne and Herb Newman, the J.M. Smucker Company, State and Federal Communications Inc., and Summa Health.

For more information about “For Women, Forever” or the Women’s Endowment Fund, visit www.womensendowmentfund.org.