This local mom’s giving circle offers inspiration to mothers and children.
With her headphones over her ears and her hoodie pulled up over her head, the young girl made it clear she wanted to be left alone while attending an empowerment workshop for women and young girls at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission, hosted by the Volunteer Vixens. “She was very private and didn’t want to share her personal details,” says Christina Bolling, cofounder of the Volunteer Vixens, a Central Florida-based sharing circle of women who do a monthly local charitable event. “Throughout the session, young girls would ask her to be their partner or join the activity. After 30 minutes, the hoodie came down. By the end of the evening, she opened up like a flower,” says Bolling. “It was literally a jaw-dropping-to-the-floor moment.” That, says Bolling, is what Volunteer Vixens is all about.
Bolling and her cousin, Katy Leach, founded Volunteer Vixens in January 2011. “I have an extensive background in philanthropy in Central Florida,” says Bolling, who is stepmom to son Jordan, age 12. “What I found is that the more you move up in an organization or the greater exposure [the organization] gets, the easier it is to get disconnected with the root cause you’re supporting. It’s easy to get burned out.” Bolling and Leach, mom to Gavin, age 7, Caden, age 2, and a third child due in February, wanted to offer women an opportunity to get involved with something that wouldn’t burn them out. “After all, our volunteers have families, young children, but they want to be involved. They want to make a difference,” she says. In addition, she wanted to support the relationship women have with one another in a positive environment. “We want women to have a chance to build relationships with one another without getting together over cocktails, or with a MOMS or MOPs group — someplace they can come to socialize but also include their families and make a difference,” she says. That’s not to say she isn’t a strong supporter of those social groups. In fact, the Volunteer Vixens get together for one social meeting each month in addition to one charitable event. “We do a yoga class or happy hour, and one or two philanthropy projects are also scheduled each month,” says Bolling. “We want to give back, but we also want to focus on forming new friendships and having a social network outside our jobs or kids.”
Volunteer Vixens is not an official nonprofit. “We don’t want it to be about managing money,” says Bolling. “We remain a grassroots concept called a giving circle, a small group of individuals supporting multiple causes and supporting existing organizations.” The group has two chapters — one in Central Florida, with 18 active members, and another in Rhode Island, recently formed by a former Central Florida Volunteer Vixens member who moved to that state. While the Central Florida chapter has 18 active members, they get upwards of 45 volunteers out to each project, including husbands, significant others, children and friends.
The group supports many different causes, including Dress for Success, the Orlando Union Rescue Mission and Beta Center. “We gravitate toward charities that uplift and support women and children,” says Bolling. Whom the group supports is decided democratically. Members come forward and make suggestions, and the group votes on which ones to take on. However, one organization close to both Bolling’s and Leach’s hearts is the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Katy and I both lost a grandfather to pancreatic cancer, so that is our pet organization,” says Bolling. November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, so the group participates in the PurpleStride Orlando 5K Run/Walk (November 18 at UCF’s main campus), working the registration tables and participating in the run/walk. In December, the group will adopt a family with young children and provide it with food, presents and decorations.
One of Bolling’s most memorable events was a carnival the group held at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission. “We’ve been working with them since they were founded, and we did a family fun night at the shelter,” says Bolling. About 55 Volunteer Vixens showed up to work booths, paint faces and mingle with the 155 residents of the shelter, many of whom are women and children. “Our goal was to have a carefree, fun day for the kids. At the end of the night, the residents and children were asking for photos with us, kids came up to hug us. People shared their stories. Our members left feeling like they made a difference that night,” she says.
Bolling says the group has expanded organically. “We put the word out on our social networks. I have a lot of corporate contacts [her full-time job is with Winning Work Teams, a human resources consulting business], and Katy is active in her MOPs group,” says Bolling. However, she says many of the new women come via the Facebook page. “People share [our page] a lot, and we do some events with the arts community where we’ll have a table about our group,” says Bolling. But overall, says Bolling, she just wants the group to be fun, be positive and allow local women to participate as much as they choose.