The memorable woman who started our Fund ran the first sexual assault crisis center in the US.

Our History

Our origin story is memorable. In 2000, Judge Bettina Borders, made a donation to the Community Foundation in Southeastern MA. Her goal — to ensure that any regional women’s program launched could thrive with the necessary dollar support. This visionary action founded the Women’s Fund SouthCoast.

Judge Borders is the ideal person to have founded an organization dedicated to the advancement of women and girls. She has been a keen activist for gender equity her whole life and ran the first sexual assault crisis center in the country. She also knows the struggles young women and other birthing people encounter when raising children on their own, as she was a single mom.

When Bettina became Judge Borders, she left the Fund in the hands of a group of visionary women we now call the Founders. Bettina, now retired, has returned to the Fund as a Board member and is committed to charting the course for the next 20 years.



In 2004, the Founding Mothers hired Kate Fentress as Executive Director. Under Kate’s direction, the Fund began awarding small, individual grants (“Action Awards”) supporting local programs for women and girls. Among these was Bristol Community College’s “Women in Successful Environments” (WISE) employment program for low-income women. WISE demonstrated the value of just one semester’s support. Yet it also highlighted the challenges facing working women who were not earning a living wage.



To provide more than a single semester’s support, the Women’s Fund convened a community collaboration to enable low-income women with families to receive the education and skills needed to earn a living wage. The resulting LifeWork program provided training, mentoring and cohort support to foster economic mobility. LifeWork continued through 2019, showing strong results: better grades, improved credit ratings, higher rates of graduation and educational continuation, increased employment, and a greater sense of personal agency.

In 2014, Val Basset became Executive Director. With a focus on raising the percentage of regional women earning a living wage, Val convened a regional Task Force that researched income disparities, barriers and best practices, developing an action plan: the Economic Blueprint for Women.



The Blueprint set a bold, shared agenda for regional partners and became the basis for all Women’s Fund grants.   It also initiated the Women’s Fund’s focus on advocacy as we promoted policies like Equal Pay, Paid Family and Medical Leave, and Universal Pre-K. 

Since inception, the Women’s Fund has dispersed over a million dollars and benefited thousands of women and families in our region.

Lifework project finds a new home at Bristol Community College!

The successful LifeWork project, a five-year visionary program conceived by the Women’s Fund SouthCoast to assist low-income women achieve a better life for themselves and their children, ended in 2020. The accomplishments of the LifeWork graduates were robust and measurable, and demonstrated how women can advance with proper support. We are delighted to announce that Bristol Community College Women’s Center has adopted the LifeWork project, reimagined it as the Parenting Advancement Pathways Program, and will continue its legacy by empowering women through advocacy and education.

The goal of the LifeWork project was to offer participants a path that made it possible for them to earn a living wage. The initiative targeted predominantly single mother heads of households and promoted their economic mobility by building on and adapting a five-point collaborative plan put forth by Empath (formerly the Crittenton Women’s Union) in Boston. The plan’s five pillars of their Bridge to Self Sufficiency® were employment/career management, family/housing stability, education/training, wellbeing, and financial management.

At the end of 2015, the first year of the LifeWork project, 76% of the participants were gainfully employed. Take a look at their accomplishments at the end of five years.

LifeWork Results

Initially 20 women participated in the project, and all attained improved outcomes for themselves and their children. Their accomplishments after five years are stellar:

  • All earned an associate degree; some attained a bachelor’s degree.
  • All quadrupled their annual income.
  • All developed financial skills and opened bank accounts.
  • Some even purchased their own homes after achieving increased financial stability.


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Our Founders

These ten women were forward-thinking, early leaders of the Women’s Fund SouthCoast, and shaped the organization’s philanthropic vision. Still involved today, they share what has sustained their commitments.

Chrissie Bascom

We need to drive change as a funding movement to empower women at all economic levels.

Bettina Borders

The Women's Fund SouthCoast was born with the goal of granting needed funds for systemic change. We promote equity for all women and girls. I delight in working with talented women and men to push this change agenda forward.

Nancy Braitmayer

The LifeWork project was such a positive, life-changing experience for many of those who participated. Collaborating with Bristol Community College to sustain that successful program for more women is a win-win which delights me.

Priscilla Ditchfield

The Women's Fund SouthCoast was my introduction to New Bedford — a way to learn about this community and to help address some of its more pressing needs — all through the lens of women of all ages.

Kate Fentress

We established an organization that quickly became recognized for its focus on collaboration, on uniting women’s voices for change, and on supporting and encouraging women in their various journeys out of poverty and towards self-sufficiency.

Nan Johnson

The Women’s Fund has never lost sight of its mission over 20 years: to uplift women and girls through as many vehicles and partnerships that we could develop throughout the region.

Rachael Kolb

After 20 years, I continue to believe in the power of women to support each other, to solve problems, and to enrich and improve our community.

Nancy Kurtz

I have long believed in fairness and justice for all, especially women, and I have found at last a fitting home for my values.

Anna Whitcomb

Opening up your wallets to give is easy when first you open up your heart.

Marcy Wintrub

Inequity is so deeply embedded in our culture that many of us don’t even see it for what it is. The Women’s Fund is here to raise awareness about the reality and raise funds to invest in change.

What Drives Us

We imagine a world in which women and girls are valued and their voices heard.


Why Give

Local women helping local women. We advocate, we advance. Our collective voice initiates change.

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