Charity group helps women rise out of difficult situations

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 29, 2019

 Lanna Young, a member of the charity Phoemale, paints the kitchen of a mother whose home was in need of repair. Phoemale will host its fourth annual Phire & Ice fundraiser Feb. 1 at the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit.

Lanna Young, a member of the charity Phoemale, paints the kitchen of a mother whose home was in need of repair. Phoemale will host its fourth annual Phire & Ice fundraiser Feb. 1 at the Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit.

Photo provided by Phoemale

GROSSE POINTES/DETROIT — Three years ago, a small group of female friends realized that despite their size, they could make a big difference in the lives of women in need.

Thus was born Phoemale, an all-female grassroots charity based in the Grosse Pointes. Pronounced “female,” the term is a merger of “female” and “phoenix,” because it’s about enabling women to rise up and out of bad situations, like the phoenix of myth rose anew from the ashes.

At 7 p.m. Feb. 1, Phoemale will hold its fourth annual Phire & Ice fundraiser at Bayview Yacht Club, 100 Clairpointe Street in Detroit. It was given the theme Bootlegger Bash this year in acknowledgement of Detroit River history, and it will feature live music, a silent auction, food and a cash bar. Tickets cost $50 per person. Phoemale President Jenelle Lefief, of Grosse Pointe Park, said the silent auction will feature original artwork donated by leading local artists, including encaustic painter Birgit Huttemann-Holz.

Phoemale works with social service agencies to find women in need of assistance who are survivors of sexual assault, homelessness, domestic violence or human trafficking. Communications Director Nancy Derringer, of Grosse Pointe Woods, said the group votes on each case, and while the vote doesn’t have to be unanimous, thus far, they’ve always all agreed on each candidate.

“We’re looking for the diamonds in the rough — the women who want to change the trajectory of their lives,” Lefief said.

Derringer said Phoemale doesn’t replicate what other social service agencies are already doing.

“We don’t help with the acute situations,” Lefief said. “We help women once they are settled. Now they’re ready to rebuild their lives.”

What Phoemale does, said Derringer, is help women “get over a hump that other charities cannot help them with.”

Not everyone can turn to family or friends for financial assistance.

“If you’re poor and you need $500, it might as well be $5 million,” Derringer said.

In some cases, they’ve given women a laptop computer, paid for traffic tickets or fixed up a house in disrepair. For a woman who had to take multiple buses to get from Detroit to Ann Arbor so that her infant daughter could be treated for a heart defect, they purchased her a used car.

The 12-member Phoemale considered expanding, but the members realized there were advantages to remaining small.

“Everything is donated or paid for by members,” Derringer said. “We have no administrative costs. Everything (we raise) goes out to help people.”

Additional volunteers have assisted with projects such as home repair, and new volunteers are always welcome.

Since its founding, Phoemale has helped about a dozen women and has distributed more than $33,000, Lefief said. The charity’s members say their recipients have reported back about how important Phoemale’s gifts have been in their new lives.

“If she’s given that chance, if she’s given that boost up, that’s all she needs,” Lefief said.

For Bootlegger Bash tickets or more information, visit www.phoemale.org.