In 1963, after she was passed up yet again for a promotion in favor of a male colleague, Mary Kay Ash left her job. Sitting at her kitchen table, she made two lists: one, of all the positive traits of companies she had worked for over the years, and the other, of all the areas that needed improvement. With this knowledge, only $5,000 in savings, and the support of her son Richard, she opened Beauty By Mary Kay in Dallas, Texas. With a small 500-square-foot storefront, Beauty By Mary Kay’s nine original independent beauty consultants set out to change the world.
As her business expanded, so did Mary Kay’s awareness of the challenges facing her female workforce. For her, “P&L” had always stood for more than “profit and loss”; it also represented her business ethic of “People and Love.” Even as she grew into one of the world’s leading female entrepreneurs, Mary Kay was committed to having a personal relationship with her sales force, whose members she often referred to as her “daughters.” She began inviting these women into her home, met their families and mentored them. Mary Kay became passionate about two issues many of them faced: cancer and domestic violence. Realizing that not every woman felt safe in her own home, and frustrated that cancer care was not widely accessible to the masses, she dedicated herself to these two causes.
Today, these issues remain epidemics. In the United States, domestic violence will affect 1 in 4 women over their lifetimes. Just let that statistic sink in: 1 in 4. That represents women who are our neighbors, coworkers, friends, sisters and more. Domestic violence does not discriminate by race, age or socioeconomic status.
The Mary Kay Foundation sets the agenda
Mary Kay formalized her efforts to fight cancer when she created The Mary Kay Foundation℠, a public 501(c)3, in 1996. She later incorporated her passion to stop domestic abuse into the Foundation’s mission.
As Vice President of Public Affairs for Mary Kay Inc., I believe the Foundation gives additional purpose and meaning to my work. I joined the company in the 1980’s and had the opportunity to work with Mary Kay Ash personally. For me, it is especially meaningful to serve on The Mary Kay FoundationSM board. Through the Foundation’s work, we are able to pursue our founder’s vision of giving back to community and empowering individuals. She encouraged us in the Public Affairs group to contribute our government relations skills and contacts to specific causes. Today, we put that mandate into practice on two fronts. We advocate for greater breast cancer awareness and legislation, including mandatory insurance coverage of mammograms, informed decision opportunities for patients, quality assurance of mammogram machinery, and more. At the same time, we support efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence, and to work to prevent and end this scourge on local, state and federal levels.
In the U.S., domestic violence or abuse will affect 1 in 4 women over their lifetimes. That represents women who are our neighbors, coworkers, friends, sisters.
The cornerstone of the Foundation’s domestic violence work is the annual Shelter Grants Program. Every year, 150 deserving women’s shelters from all 50 states receive a $20,000 unrestricted grant, for a total of $3 million in funding through the program annually. These shelters are chosen through an extensive selection process that also involves the employees of Mary Kay Inc. Employees volunteer to review hundreds of applications, research the shelters and ultimately provide recommendations to the Foundation’s Board of Directors on where the funds could best be allocated. We love that this process weaves the company with The Mary Kay FoundationSM, offering employees the opportunity to personally further our founder’s mission of eradicating domestic violence.
The Foundation’s unrestricted grants help women’s shelters take care of every barrier a woman might have to leaving an abusive relationship. Clothing, shelter, protective orders and counseling are some of the most critical services these agencies provide their clients. The shelters we support receive their grants each year just in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
Shelters have elected to use their funds in a variety of ways. Family Crisis Center in LaFayette, Georgia planned to use its 2016 grant to hire a part-time counselor to work with domestic violence groups in the evening for women and teens residing in the shelter. The Caring Place Inc. in Lebanon, Kentucky decided to use its 2016 grant to renovate the children’s playroom and playground, as well as assist clients with their first-month rents and deposits. Carteret County Domestic Violence Program of Morehead City, North Carolina was able to replace its failing facility roof thanks to their 2016 grant given by the Foundation.
One particular story that stood out to me was Community Alliance Against Family Abuse (CAAFA) in Apache Junction, Arizona. This organization received a grant from The Mary Kay Foundation℠ to provide comprehensive support services to its crisis shelter residents, including a unique and effective program: horse-assisted therapy. While this approach may sound unusual, it is a natural fit for CAAFA’s clients in a large, rural area where the old West cowboy culture remains strong. We love hearing about how shelters are able to use these unrestricted funds to enhance and add services that fit the needs and culture of the women they serve.
Another shelter we were inspired by was Southwest Advocates for Family Empowerment (SAFE) in Louisiana. Their 2016 grant from the Foundation allowed them to open a second emergency shelter facility for victims fleeing domestic violence. Additionally, the funds provided emergency stays at hotels when the shelter’s housing units were full. This is a shelter that provided more than 1,400 bed nights to abuse survivors from July 2016 to June 2017.
We hear these stories of the critical services these and other shelters are able to offer women fleeing from unimaginable abuse on a yearly basis, but they never get old. Instead, they motivate us to keep working, and to keep pushing against abuse.
Independent sales associates are key allies
While our Foundation’s grantmaking efforts set the agenda, our work benefits from a critical group of allies: The Mary Kay independent sales force. Long before the Shelter Grants Program or even the Foundation itself began, Mary Kay was known to share her passion for giving with her sales associates. They, too, caught her vision for giving back to women and this important cause. Today, many of our associates (also known as independent beauty consultants) host fundraisers across the United States to support the lifesaving work of the Foundation. From creating a Mary Kay 5K Race to hosting country music concerts, independent sales force members work to fuel the Foundation’s grant programs and work to end domestic violence. The promise of a better life for women trapped in abusive relationships propels many of our consultants to go above and beyond in their Mary Kay independent businesses.
Often, individual shelter grant proposals include endorsement letters from local Mary Kay consultants who volunteer their time, conduct skin care classes for shelter clients, or serve on a shelter board of directors. Some even work as shelter staff members as well. These personal connections further illustrate to us that these shelters are doing urgent work every day.
Overall, The Mary Kay Foundation℠ and Mary Kay Inc. have donated nearly $57 million in support to domestic violence prevention, education and emergency support programs. The Foundation would be unable to sustain the same level of support and resources without the support of community members, Mary Kay independent sales force members and those who share the same passion for ending domestic violence. Together, we are determined to realize the vision Mary Kay Ash set out several decades ago, and put an end to domestic abuse once and for all.
Anne Crews is vice president of public affairs for Mary Kay Inc., and a board member for The Mary Kay FoundationSM.