Ellen Shishko, chairman of the board for ArtSpring, says ArtSpring is empowering for the inmates.
“It's not about making the correct choice — it's about knowing that you have a choice,” Shishko said.
Shishko is a former board member of the Women’s Fund. Working with the women, she noted, has been rewarding and often surprising. Some stories struck her, like that of a woman whose son was in a coma for five months before he died. The woman was never able to visit him.
“They were dealing with loss, fear, relationships,” Shishko said.
Billie, a member of the Seminole Tribe, is not allowed into the prisons without special permission because she is on parole. Instead of running programs from within, she helps raise funds for the organization.
“My biggest joy and revelation in life is my ability to do service,” Billie said. “I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to be able to contribute something to society and to inmates.”
By giving back she is helping to right some of her past mistakes.
“This gentleman's life that I took, it's not completely in vain if I reach out to someone and help them on their journey,” Billie said.
By working with programs like ArtSpring, the Women’s Fund has made a significant difference in the community.
“If you know that you're interested in change in the community and you don't know where to start, the Women’s Fund is great because they're finding the grassroots organizations, vetting them and supporting them,” said Alexandra Codina, a documentary filmmaker, who worked with the group for six years.
Codina, another one of the women being honored, is invested in raising awareness. Her 2009 documentary, Monica & David, followed a married couple with Down syndrome and the struggles they face.
“I always just had an interest in having access to the world I wouldn't typically be exposed to and sharing that with people through film,” Codina said. “If you have any level of purpose in life, your only responsibility is to do good.”
Supporting organizations and groups, no matter how small, is important to the Women’s Fund because small sums can add up to big differences.
“I believe in the drop of the ocean theory,’’ Billie said. “You can do something and it might not help a million people but it might help one.”