By Emily J. Minor

Charity work might seem daunting if you’ve never done it. All those phone calls. All that check writing. All that traipsing around town for corporate sponsors.

All that time.
But a growing group of influential women who call themselves the Magnolia Society
work tirelessly to help sustain and improve the level of care at Bethesda Memorial Hospital’s Center for Women and Children.

And they make it look so easy, at least from the outside looking in.
Since 2000, one of the hospital foundation’s major fundraisers has been the Women of
Grace benefit luncheon that raises money for the center. But this luncheon does
more than raise money.
It honors five women each year who have volunteered in amazing fashion to truly change the community.


Kristin B. Calder, with the Bethesda Hospital Foundation, says there’s barely a dry eye the afternoon of the event. “It’s truly incredible,” she says. “We really do make these women feel like Queen for a Day.”
But about seven years ago, hospital supporter Eileen Augustyn realized they could
probably be doing more. Their work was so important — affecting the kinds of changes that would wow her and her colleagues during even the shortest little visit to the women’s center — that she thought the could get a little more organized. And a little more focused.

“In the aggregate, we thought it might help if we could raise some money for the
Women of Grace luncheon,” said Augustyn, who has lived just south of Gulf Stream for 32 years, off and on.

“That year, we put together 12 people asked them to join and give $500 each,” she
says.

With the power of that $6,000, Augustyn and her fellow founders knew they were onto
something.

And they were.
“That first year, we were sort of the loose 12,” she says.
But the momentum — and the brilliance of the simple idea — grew exponentially.
The next year, the Magnolia Society brought in 13 more members and another $10,000.
(Once you join and give $500, it costs $250 to renew.)

The next year, the Magnolia Society grew to 45 women, then 75, then 90-something.
Two years ago — by then joined by co-chairs Phyllis Spinner and Peggy Martin — they hit the 100-member mark.


Calder says they’ve raised more than $175,000 since the ladies organized seven years ago, and all of it goes to the women and children’s center.
“It’s like a seed,” says Augustyn, who also does a lot of work for the Caridad Center
and other nonprofits and was a Women of Grace recipient last year. “When you see it growing, there’s a lot of satisfaction. You know what could happen, and then you see it happen.”

The Magnolia Society gets new members mostly through word of mouth. Augustyn jokes
that she and the older members have pretty much run out of friends to coax into the group.

But what’s happening with this lovely bunch is the wonderful mix of older women
working beside the next generation. Bettina Young, who lives in Gulf Stream and is the mother of five — three of whom were born at Bethesda — says it’s amazing what they’ve been able to do at the center through their diligent networking.

“You form kind of a family bond when you’re on the (Women of Grace) committee, and
then the Magnolia Society happens rather naturally,” she says.

One of her favorite parts of being a society member?
She loves taking a hospital tour and seeing all the renovations, from the gleaming
hallways — no more ’70s wallpaper border — to the nurses station with its panoramic view of patient rooms.

“Every time I go there, I’m just blown away,” she says. “When I leave that tour, I almost
want to have more children.’

The 11th Annual Women of Grace Luncheon will be held Nov. 11 at the
Ritz-Carlton in Manalapan. For information about tickets and sponsorships, call
the hospital foundation office at 561-737-7733.

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