Where We Began
Opening Doors for Westerly’s Children was the inspiration of two women, Nancy Loney and Donna Simmons, who wrote to their friends and neighbors in March 2012 seeking donations of gently-used books for 30 children at UWRI’s Hasbro Learning Summer Initiative in Westerly and 60 children at Head Start.

Deborah Lamm joined Nancy and Donna in November 2013, to formally establish a name and mission for their efforts: Opening Doors for Westerly’s Children. Julie White-Gooding undertook the administrative leadership role to establish an active and effective steering committee and initiate fund-raising strategies.

United Way of RI helped launch Opening Doors for Westerly Children allowing the organization to operate under its 501(c)3 status. On a daily basis, Opening Doors operated independently to achieve its goals to improve opportunities for school-age children from low-income families. UWRI generously supported the growth of Opening Doors by providing staff support, a modest annual budget and strong backroom support to allow Opening Doors to flourish and ensure 100% of donations stayed in Westerly. All monies raised were designated to UWRI’s Community Impact Funds and restricted to Opening Doors’ projects and initiatives.

Our Accomplishments
The first letter campaign in March 2013 to solicit $50 donations for new books and backpacks filled with school supplies raised over $7,000. A separate first-time campaign that year raised $10,000 for 10 scholarships to grow the number children attending the Hasbro Summer Learning Initiative from 30 to 40.

The 2014 “Books and Backpacks” campaign added another 140 children who participated in the Jonnycake Center summer lunch program and raised $12,000. The Summer Learning Scholarship campaign raised $13,500 allowing an additional 7 children to attend that year. A springtime plea for help for families hit hard by winter heating bills raised an additional $3,500 to underwrite tuition for children from those families to attend the Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) program at Tower Street Community Center.

The inaugural “Books on the Beach,” a ladies lunch on the lawn held at “The Castle,” raised $4,000 in ticket sales and secured $6,000 in donations. This unexpected windfall allowed Opening Doors to distribute books to children at the holidays and at the end of the school year in time for the summer break. The Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Network held its second annual “Cocktail Challenge” in November donating $2,000 from the proceeds to underwrite after school scholarships.

The 2015 mail campaign exceeded its goal and raised $23,000 for books and backpacks while the scholarship campaign raised $20,000 for summer scholarships. “Books on the Beach” raised $9,000 which was earmarked for educational resources in support of children’s literacy.

In 2016, Opening Doors increased the number of children receiving books and backpacks from 390 to 450 and maintained the number of summer scholarships at 20, relying on successful mail campaigns and a grant from the Forrest & Frances Lattner Foundation in the amount of $5,000 to reach these goals. The “Books on the Beach” event was redesigned as an evening cocktail party which was attended by over 140 guests. This party raised over $28,000 for books and backpacks as well as 60 iPad Minis for a local school library. Our hosts, the MacLear Family, were instrumental in helping us achieve these exciting outcomes.

Opening Doors for Westerly’s Children stepped out as an independent 501(c)3 effective June 1, 2017.
ODWC benefited from the unique and rewarding relationship with United Way of RI and is deeply grateful to United Way of RI CEO, Anthony Maione, and his staff. To support our new independent status Opening Doors has undertaken a separate annual campaign to support operating costs. A modest but feasible budget is possible because of the significant commitment of volunteer time. Professional Planning Group offered a generous challenge grant of $15,000, or half the first year operating budget. Our success in meeting this challenge is gratifying. The Roy A. Hunt Foundation awarded Opening Doors a $5,000 grant towards ensuring our success in meeting the challenge. Robin and Jeff Knisley donated $5,000 toward the goal through The Stieff Foundation. And to date, individual donors have contributed an additional $2,000 bringing Opening Doors within reach of achieving our first year’s operating budget.

We want to assure our donors that you are still able to designate 100% of your donation to the program or resource of your choosing, which includes Books and Backpacks or Scholarship. We are continually looking for funding sources through Grants, fundraising, and other resources to cover our operating budget so that donor contributions can be targeted for the specific programs and resources at the donors discretion. However, as any independent non-profit, we can’t survive without an operating budget. Operating remains an important portion of our funding to make sure we can continue to serve the community and realize our mission.

As an independent 501(c)3, Opening Doors looks forward to the future as we continue to support the needs of Westerly children and their families. Though the delivery of our work may change and grow, the focus will not. Opening Doors will remain dynamic and viable working with Westerly Public Schools, local agencies, private family foundations, volunteers and donors to help ensure the success of children who are the future of Westerly. Donors to our programs appreciate that 100% of their contributions will continue to benefit the children we serve. These are all our children. We are one zip code. We thank the community for their support and hope every contributor remains part of our energetic efforts.