Friendship forged in philanthropy

Manchester's Eileen Fisher Company Store planning event on Saturday to benefit the Kura Project

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MANCHESTER — Shoppers will have the opportunity to treat themselves and help others this Saturday, when Manchester's Eileen Fisher Company Store will team up with The Kura Project — a local nonprofit supporting female students in Northern Kenya — for a day of fashion, fun and philanthropy.

The event embodies a burgeoning friendship between the two organizations, and the women driving them, nurtured by a shared mission to empower women and enrich communities. That relationship began last September, when Kura Project founder Sarah Hadden spoke at Eileen Fisher's "Power in the Words of Women" event, celebrating local women working to make a difference.

"We asked the women to give us their power word, and Sarah's word was 'opportunity,'" said store leader Lana Prouty. "Once we learned about the work she was doing through the Kura Project, our team of employees absolutely wanted to help in any way we could."

Through Hadden the group learned of a new initiative of the Kura Project, known as the "Circle of Nine." Through the "circle," donors can come together to sponsor female students in Kenya through secondary school, a hallmark program of the Kura Project that may prove burdensome for a single donor — requiring a commitment of $900 annually over four years.

"Secondary schools in Kenya are not free; so, if a family cannot pay, the student cannot go," Hadden explained, noting that many Kenyan girls risk being married off once fertile. "A secondary school education, paid via the Kura Project, costs $3,000 — for tuition, room and board — over a four-year period. Gathering together groups that pay for secondary school makes it more affordable for donors who want to make a measurable difference in a girls life."

"We realized that if nine of us came together to commit to donating just $100 a year for four years, we could literally change the life of a girl," Prouty said. "We all got a beautiful and heartfelt letter from our girl, Estonia, and it was then that we realized we were the ones really receiving the gift."

Eileen Fisher's "circle of nine" was the first of many, Hadden says, with three additional groups "inspired to sponsor girls through secondary school" following the group's inception. Now, the store hopes to continue their support of the Kura project through Eileen Fisher's company-wide "shop well, give back" campaign on April 14.

That initiative will offer customers a 20 percent discount on purchases of $100 or more, and ten percent of the day's proceeds will be donated to the Kura project. Hadden will also be in attendance to educate shoppers on her work, with appetizers available to mark the occasion.

"Shopping on this day is an example of conscious consumption; the idea that we can make a difference in this world just by being mindful of our shopping habits," Prouty said. "It's such a win-win: customers get a great discount on their merchandise, enjoy a meaningful and fun day learning about Kura, and sample delicious appetizers all while knowing that they're contributing to a worthy cause."

Proceeds from the event will be dedicated to purchasing supplies for Kura's "opportunity kits" for female students — featuring supplies like reusable menstrual pads, underwear, and soap that help girls to stay in school without interruption, worry, or shame — while also supporting the organization's tuition and mentorship programs.

"To date we've provided 6,200 "Opportunity Kits" to primary school girls in over 30 schools, paid for 32 students in secondary schools, and educated more than 60 students per year on locally focused health-related issues through our mentorship program," Hadden said. "As we all know, many things can be taken from us; but once you have an education, it's yours forever."

"The Kura Project stands out to us because it's started by a local woman, and virtually every penny goes to the girls," Prouty said. "There aren't layers upon layers of organization to pay, so our dollars truly impact the intended recipients,"

According to Prouty, the event reflects Eileen Fisher's 30 year commitment to empower women and support local communities — a commitment that she says functions symbiotically with the for-profit retail aspect of the company. Facilitating a fun day for shoppers, she adds, is simply icing on the cake.

"Don't just come in and shop that day yourself — bring a friend or two along to make it a special 'girls day,'" Prouty urges. "The world is a better place when women support women."

"[This event] gives women the opportunity to purchase something beautiful for themselves, with the knowledge that their purchase will also make a meaningful difference in the lives of girls in need," Hadden said. "At this time of dramatic social change it's gratifying to know that each of us can impact others — even in a global way."

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