By Marisa Cohen
For five years Ericka Carter and three of her closest friends, all of them public-school teachers in Los Angeles, would get together in her living room every month to discuss books and spirituality. "Somehow we always ended up talking about how upset we were with all the problems in the world, like the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina," recalls Ericka, 43, the mother of a 6-year-old. "Finally we said to one another, 'Enough complaining! Let's start doing something to help, right here in our own neighborhood.'"
One of the women had recently read about giving circles, groups of people who combine donations for a specific charity. And in the summer of 2005 the San Fernando Valley Giving Circle was born. "We sent an eVite to friends and colleagues, and at our first meeting 12 people showed up and raised $230," says Ericka. "We decided to give the money to a local family that had just lost their home in a fire and were left with nothing."
The group, now 35 strong, meets every other month, and each member contributes about $10. "That's not a lot, but it can make a huge difference for needy women and children, whom we've chosen to focus on," says Ericka. "Last year, when I delivered food coupons to a struggling young mother, she told me, 'Please ask other people to do this too, because people like us usually get help only at Christmas.' I can't begin to describe how that made me feel. Forming this group has truly been a life-affirming experience."