Five years, $50,000. On the surface, the numbers might not seem extraordinary. But for Talley Baratka, they represent pride and joy.

Her daughter and a friend – both then in middle school – helped build Girl Power Grants, a teen-led nonprofit that has found an impressive level of success.

“It certainly sounds impossible that the moms did not do this,” Baratka joked. “The truth is, we did not."

What Baratka did, though, was set an example that has its own impressive numbers: 10 years, more than $1.5 million.

Baratka is the founder of Impact 100 Richmond, a women's giving collective that in 2019 marks its first decade. The ever-changing group of women pool their money to create at least one $100,000 transformational grant each year to support community nonprofits. 

“Talley had a vision and a network – not only that focus and that drive, but also compassion, a kind heart and willingness to put action behind it,” said Carol Anne Baker Lajoie, the 2018-19 leadership chair of Impact 100. “Her vision really has changed Richmond forever.”

Lajoie saw that change firsthand in her previous executive role at the YWCA, which was awarded the Impact 100 grant in 2013. Within 60 days, the YWCA was able to switch its emergency housing program from a challenging communal shelter to private housing for each survivor of domestic violence.

Baratka keeps thinking of new ways to support the region. In 2018, Impact 100 created a Neighborhood Catalyst Grant program to award $25,000 annually for four years to one neighborhood. The first is Fulton in Richmond's East End.

Baratka, who lives in Hanover County with her family, grew up in Houston, went to school in Illinois and landed in Washington with a fellowship at the Children’s Defense Fund. "I fell in love with advocacy," she said.

In Richmond, she held community-based roles with Voices for Virginia's Children and Capital One. She now leads the business strategy team at communications firm Rhudy & Co. and is chief ideas officer for community impact group Lightbulb Labs.

A desire for personal involvement spurred the creation of Impact 100 here. Baratka heard about a collective giving group in the Seattle area and made a Facebook page for a Richmond group – and immediately got hundreds of responses. She took the idea to the Community Foundation, which was ready to support a new initiative.

In its first decade, Impact 100 has recruited about 1,000 women to the cause.

“So many women have found their passion and joined the boards of organizations,” Baratka said. “There have been other donations discovered through this process as nonprofits share their stories with us.”

Like the YWCA, other beneficiaries of Impact 100's grants continue to serve the Richmond region. They include Art 180, which supports creative expression for youths living in challenging circumstances; Sacred Heart Center, a hub for the Latino community; and Virginia Repertory Theatre – the 2019 grantee – which is developing a theater program to educate youths about human trafficking.

“It’s really an empowering program for women ... to be the change agents in their own backyard,” said Michele Rhudy, namesake of the communications firm, an Impact 100 founding member – and mom to the then-middle-schooler who founded Girl Power Grants. 

Impact 100's annual process starts in September, when women can pledge $600 or $1,100 to become a member. It continues through the Big Give celebration in May, when members vote on grant recipients. In between are educational and volunteer opportunities.

Impact 100’s success as a giving circle has inspired the creation of similar local efforts targeted to other demographic groups.

“Collective giving has really caught on," Baratka said. "I say the more the merrier. Philanthropy is a very big table. The more seats, the better.”

***

IN HER WORDS: TALLEY BARATKA

founder, Impact 100 Richmond

Hometown: Houston

Family: husband Dan, three children

***

Tell us about a setback or disappointment and what you learned from it

Oh, so many to choose from! My husband and I struggled to have children for a number of years. It was anguish at the time; we wanted children so badly. As a woman I felt like a failure (as ridiculous as that sounds), and it was such a source of sadness.

During that time, after another disappointing month, my husband, Dan, said the best thing to me he has ever said: “I did not marry you to have babies. I married you to spend my life with you.” And then he went on to vividly describe a “Plan B” life for us.

It delighted me. He was so kind and loving. Life doesn’t give you what you want most of the time, but you have to keep rolling on, finding another path. In our case, two years later, we gave birth to twins and then went on to have another son two years later (almost to the day). We wanted one child and then crazily had three in two years – talk about a whirlwind!

I know God has a sense of humor, that’s for sure. And I learned that I could fully lean on my spouse for support. He loves me for me, and that’s a pretty special thing.

Who is your role model?

My mother is my biggest inspiration. Leslie Faye Talley is a portrait of fierce advocacy. She raised a son with autism in the dark ages of autism. Left by our father to go it alone, she was so tender, so loving, so driven, so wildly fierce and deeply committed. For me, she painted the original portrait of what it means to be an advocate. I am so deeply grateful for her love and adoration.

I am also so lucky to have watched what it means to help someone get what they need in life. My mother has been at this for 44 years and has a daily job that involves ensuring that my brother, Kirk, can understand his world.

Kirk has always inspired me so much, but as I reflect fully on the one person who has touched me the most, it is indeed our mother. She was born with something extra and set the bar high. She has nurtured us imperfectly yet wonderfully, showing me what it means to be all at once human and holy.

What is your favorite book?

It's Temple Grandin's "The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum." I grew up with a brother who was just different. We didn’t exactly understand why. Kirk was diagnosed with autism in 1989, when I was in high school. I remember being in college and trying to get books out of the library (yes, real books!) about autism. You really could not find much – and certainly nothing that explained autism well.

As an adult, I came across Grandin and her books. She explains her experience as a person with autism. It helps me better understand what my Kirk may be experiencing, and it gives me hope.

Tell us about an object you own that has great sentimental value

I had a beautiful gold bangle bracelet that my parents inscribed with “We are so proud of you.” I wore it to my high school, college and grad school graduations, and to my wedding and every job interview. It was a really special piece to me, sort of a good luck charm.

Unfortunately, it was stolen about three years ago. I was very sad to see it go! But interestingly, I have not seemed to run out of luck. This event sort of underscores my feelings about life: easy come, easy go. You cannot get too attached to objects.

What is something about you that might surprise others?

I think most people know I am high-energy and excitable. Most people probably don’t know how much I work on being mindful. I am working on creating quiet space.

I may never be a truly peaceful human, but I do think finding ways to truly “be in” the present is an important skill to cultivate.

If you had to pick a different profession or course of study, what would you choose?

I would absolutely study economics. I think this was most missing from my college and graduate studies. I am fascinated by how decisions are made and how power is accumulated. Economics, the study of how goods are consumed and produced, is an underlying system or framework that is driving the world. If we want to see positive changes to our world, we need to understand the systems that are at play.

I also would be interested in immersing myself in personal finance. I think in a different life, I would be a personal banker/talk show host! I love to help people, enjoy business strategy and want to empower folks to make the most of what they have. Maybe personal finance guru/self-help talk show host is still an option for me?!

What is something you haven’t done that you’d really like to do?

Travel around the world. I spent my early years in Houston, then my teen years in an international community outside of Chicago where the world was open to me. I genuinely love people; we belong to each other. While I have never had the opportunity for such travel (not enough time or money), I hope the future holds many chances to know people from all over the world — meeting them where they are.

How would you spend a great day in Richmond with a close friend?

I adore Richmond! I absolutely would start out on my beautiful deck in Hanover, watching a multitude of birds on their flight patterns to our feeders. We’d drink coffee and eat Dan’s sous vide egg bites, then we would be off to whitewater-raft on the James River. We would do the shorter trip, so we could hit lunch at Mama J’s before we go to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for an exhibition.

Then on to Carytown to pick up stuff for the kids at World of Mirth. We love games and puzzles, and I know my friend would, too! We would have to stop at the children’s book store bbgb as well.

Then we’d get drinks at Hotel Greene – I have been dying to go there and play some putt-putt and have a drink. There are so many great places for dinner, but I think my guests would love Rappahannock and the Olde Salts oysters and fresh fish options there. The rockfish is always to die for!

It would be a jam-packed day before coming back to our little house in the 'burbs, where I would tuck my guests into their makeshift bedroom in the office because my house is full to the brim with people!

If you could deliver a message to a large audience, what would it be?

Stop and listen. Get to know someone with a different life experience from a different neighborhood. Cultivate a pause before reacting, and be more patient and forgiving of others.

Giving what we can to our community starts with seeking understanding. It is easy to forget that there is still so much to do to create a just and equitable community. Now is the time to dial in and double down on our efforts to bring opportunity to neighbors within our region. We can do that by giving our dollars, our time and our know-how, but it is most important that we reach out and get to know people. Listen to what folks want for themselves, and empower people to go after those goals.

Describe a small moment in your life that has had a lasting impact on you 

In the past year, Impact 100 Richmond has gone beyond its usual $100,000 grants to give $25K Neighborhood Catalyst grants, too. Our membership selected the Greater Fulton neighborhood as a partner for the next four years. We worked with a self-made committee of Fulton women to provide direction for where this year’s grant would go.

These women have been working for years within their neighborhood to make change. All of them are powerful connectors already. Impact 100 selected Fulton as our partner because of the incredible efforts and energy we saw already happening in the neighborhood. The committee came together to support Impact 100’s process, so that grants could be given this past summer.

Through that process, I had the chance to meet several key members of the Friends of Fulton Memorial Park committee, including several individuals who were young adults/teens when the razing of that community occurred almost 50 years ago.

Meeting Mr. Spencer E. Jones III and Ms. Linda Sutton has been a true honor. What I learned from hearing their stories of triumph over extreme racism was to stop and fully appreciate context. It is a lesson that will stick with me for a long time. A lesson I thought I knew – but clearly needed a deeper appreciation for.

Many of us, as younger people who grew up in the ’80s, are excited about revitalization efforts. We want to jump in and get going – move ahead. We love future thinking. I learned that I still have a lot to learn. It taught me in no uncertain terms how important it is to talk openly about the past, no matter how painful. We cannot move forward without healing the past.

We need to own up to the truth about our country and what many of our ancestors and family are responsible for doing in the past. It is particularly difficult because some of those family members are still alive today. No one wants to be called out for inhumane or racist acts, but the truth is families were then – and are now – holding these secrets. We need to sit in that pain, hold space for that pain.

We are not healed, but we can be.

I came to understand why a memorial park could be truly healing if it is conceived of, created by and blessed by those who overcame. Love and forgiveness are powerful, but you don’t get the full benefits unless you say, “I am sorry” – even if as a young person you don’t think you have “done anything to be sorry for.”

You have to hold space for the pain of the past, because you are either a person who benefited from those wrongs or were hurt by them. So while Richmond yearns to rush ahead, we have to do our work of healing the past. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it. I am committed to doing my part, even though I am going to have to learn as I go. We all do.

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