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Group pushes projects that benefit women, girls
by Linda Haase

The Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches knows how to Imagine the Possibilities.

And this forward-thinking nonprofit organization knows how to turn them into reality. The social change advocacy and grant making organization is dedicated “to creating social change through empowering women and girls in our community, in Israel, and around the world.”

Although it is guided by Jewish values, “JWF advocates for all women and girls and funds projects that have long-term effects for societal change on local, national and international levels by placing an unwavering focus on the root cause of issues.”

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Tami Baldinger, CEO of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches

“We believe that when you invest in women and girls, everyone benefits,” says Tami Baldinger, JWF’s CEO. “Everything we do – grant making, leadership training for women, community education and advocacy – is all driven by this belief.”

The foundation, which will award $400,000 in grants this year, “envisions a world where women and girls are safe and successful and can reach their fullest potential, and we all live in a more fair and just society,” according to its website.

The group – which began in 2002 with 30 women – now has hundreds of supporters.

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Sydelle Sonkin, JWF trustee being honored at the group’s second annual Imagine the Possibilities luncheon Dec. 15 at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach

One of them is Sydelle Sonkin, who will be honored at the group’s second annual Imagine the Possibilities luncheon Dec. 15 at the Colony Hotel in Palm Beach.

“It is an honor to support the efforts of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches,” says Sonkin, who gave the foundation a $1 million donation. “JWF funds projects that address the root cause of issues affecting women and girls locally, nationally and in Israel. Their unique approach to grant making and advocacy ensures that my donation will have a significant and lasting impact for generations to come.”

The luncheon, which is open to the public, will feature guest speaker Martina Vandenberg, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center. Vandenberg, whose organization was given a two-year $20,000-per-year grant from the JWF, will discuss her experiences fighting injustices against women.

Her center links sex trafficking victims with pro bono attorneys to obtain criminal convictions, criminal restitution, and civil judgments against traffickers while also leading national efforts to hold human traffickers accountable for their crimes and raising awareness of victims’ rights.

“Martina is able to illustrate the incredible potential and desperate need to make a difference for women and girls worldwide,” notes Baldinger. “It is a huge issue in our community as well as well as around the world. South Florida is the third largest hub for sex trafficking.”

With pro bono legal assistance, trafficking survivors can rebuild their lives, says Vandenberg. But it isn’t easy, she contends.

“Many of the women who escape face criminal charges. It is enormously difficult to jump back into life when you have a criminal conviction,” she says, noting that victims, who are charged with crimes like prostitution, are often treated as criminals instead of victims.

“Part of the reason I am so adamant in seeking justice for trafficking victims in the economic sense is that they need money. Everything has been stolen from them, sometimes for years, and they have nothing,” she says. “They need housing, therapy, food and they need economic justice to restore what has been stolen.”

But, she says, getting that justice is difficult.

Vandenberg points to a study published in the St. Louis University Law Journal finding that child sex trafficking victims are the least likely to receive mandatory criminal restitution orders in federal trafficking cases: “Sadly, the failure to award restitution to victims of sex trafficking is typical in United States courts … The victims least likely to obtain restitution orders were children trafficked into the sex industry,” the study notes.

“My message at the luncheon will be a call to action to pro bono attorneys to fight for the rights for survivors as well as a call to survivors that they can fight and win.”

The luncheon is JWF’s only fundraiser – and it also raises awareness of the importance of the group’s mission, says Baldinger, who laments that only about seven to eight percent of all philanthropic dollars raised are allocated to issues specifically affecting women and girls.

“The luncheon is an opportunity to showcase our work, learn and raise money to continue our innovative work and expand it to include more women and girls,” she says. “We welcome all people who support the idea and want to see a world where all woman and girls can reach their full potential.”

JWF is also reaching out to young adults and teens to join their mission. “We need to create a more just and fair society and we need the younger generation involved,” she says. The teen leadership group includes 20 high school students from Stuart to Boca Raton who are learning how to be leaders and make a difference. “We want teens to know they can make an impact now and make society better,” explains Baldinger. “Young men and women need to be part of social change now more than ever. We are nurturing leadership at every age and every stage.”

For more information or to purchase tickets for the luncheon, visit www.jwfpalmbeach.org or call 561-275-2200. For more information on The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, visit www.htprobono.org/.