Karena Bailey, a Greenwich native, didn’t know anything about brain cancer when her mother was diagnosed with it.
Bailey described her mother as someone in peak health who “did everything you’re supposed to like exercising, never smoking a cigarette and eating organic before it was cool.”
Yet brain cancer crept into her healthy body anyway. “Watching my mom die really changed me,” Bailey said. “Back then it seemed like no knew what I was going through.”
Later, her best friend would endure a similar trauma as she watched her own mother die from the same type of brain cancer.
Now, Bailey spends much of her free time leading a Greenwich nonprofit called B*Cured, which awards $50,000 grants to scientists researching brain cancer.
She and her husband have gone to great lengths fundraising for the cause so personal to them, including running marathons.
On Thursday, Bailey will try something new. She will compete against three other nonprofits in an attempt to persuade a room full of Greenwich women to give B*Cured $30,000.
Earlier this year, she joined more than 30 women in a new Greenwich nonprofit called Pitch Your Peers, or PYP. All members were previously involved in local philanthropies and wanted to ensure they donate wisely.
PYP’s four founders, Nina Lindia, Brooke Bohnsack, Dara Johnson and Rachael LeMasters, said they were often inundated with friends requesting donations. They decided together they would form a new method of giving where women act as “grant champions” and deliver pitches to all members once a year. The group’s first pitch competition will take place Thursday. Afterward, members will have four weeks to consider their written and oral proposals, ask follow-up questions and then vote anonymously for their choice.
The winner will receive a check on Dec. 1 for $30,000 that will go directly to the charity they pitched. The gift is composed of the $1,000 annual PYP membership dues each woman pays.
LeMasters and Lindia said they look forward to learning more about the pitches that represent a great breadth and depth of philanthropies that affect Greenwich.
“Thirty thousand makes a big difference when it’s local and has a real potential to make a positive change in the community,” Lindia said.
Lisa Getson and Karina Solomon are teaming up to present their case for Kids in Crisis, a local shelter providing advocacy and emergency services for abused or needy children. Solomon has invested her efforts in the shelter for a few years and Getson joined her in pitching it after taking a tour and learning more about its work.
Adding to the shelter’s need, its funding was slashed in a round of government budget cuts in the last few years. Both hope this contribution will make a dent in replacing what’s been lost.
If it wins, the gift will go toward its on-site medical crisis services.
Getson, an attorney, said she’s preparing for Thursday’s pitch the same way she would an oral argument in court.
Though all the women deeply want to win after they’ve invested so much time learning about the charities and crafting their pitches, each emphasized that PYP’s model means it’s a “win-win situation” whatever the outcome.
“Even if we don’t get the money, we’ll have won because we brought more awareness,” Solomon said. “This is a great model for charitable giving.”
Bailey matched Solomon and Getson in her desire to win, but she heartily agreed the education element is the most significant part of the process.
Every member also discussed the importance of PYP serving as a collaborative giving group.
‘We’re harnessing everyone’s strengths and resources to create a new way of giving,” Lindia said. “We want this to make a sound and not just be a drop in the bucket.”
Lindia, who had worked in marketing for Kaplan Test Prep, added PYP is an outlet for many mothers in the community who sharpened their presentation skills in the corporate world but now primarily raise children.
PYP’s founders are already dreaming of how their group will expand to other communities across the nation and to younger generations, including their daughters.
LeMasters said she believes this format can translate to high school girls, in whom she wants to instill the “notion early to stand up for what you believe in.”
They haven’t begun formally working on that piece yet, but they are already finding ways to involve students.
Four students from Sacred Heart Greenwich will put their broadcast journalism skills to use by filming and crafting a video PYP will use to recruit new members. PYP leaders visited Ellyn Stewart’s broadcasting class and told students about their philanthropy. They asked the girls to attend Thursday’s pitch competition and the December event when they give the check away.
When senior Ellen Pucel heard about PYP, she said she thought it was “the coolest thing ever and everyone wanted to be part of it.”
Stewart said all four girls are leaders both in school and in outside video contests. “PYP fits into the type of real-world experiences and community service we try to give the girls,” Stewart said.
Sheehan added she and her classmates “connect with PYP‘s advocacy for female empowerment” since they attend an all-girls school.
Regardless of what project PYP members ultimately choose, its mission is already forming a deep impression on the community.
“It all shows the power women can have when collaborating,” Lindia said.