For the past 25 years, a group known as the Women of NECC has been working quietly to help students pay their way through college.
Since the group's creation, its members have helped raise more than $518,000, providing more than $360,000 in scholarships at Northern Essex Community College. That money has helped more than 400 students continue their education and achieve their goals, even though they struggle financially.
The organization generates money for student scholarships and special projects by hosting several fundraising events throughout the year, including a fall membership tea, a holiday party and a June gala open house.
This year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has been forced to cancel its fundraising events, but members say they will find a way to provide scholarships for next year's graduating class.
"Because of all these cancellations, we may have to draw from our endowment," said Geraldine Murphy, president of the Women of NECC. "We are encouraging women throughout the area of join us as membership money goes into our scholarship fund."
When the group formed in 1996, it included Murphy and Betty Jaffe, both of North Andover; Carole O'Conner of Andover; and the now-deceased Marie Dow of North Andover. They were asked by an official at Northern Essex if they could begin raising money for scholarships for students in need. The organization was born.
"We did not have any ties to Northern Essex other than we had fundraising experience and we learned there was a need to help raise money for scholarships," Murphy said of the college, which has its main campus in Haverhill. "We formed the Women of NECC and for first two years, the state matched the money we raised."
After that matching ended, the group continued to meet and host fundraising events to help students achieve their goal of an education leading to a good livelihood.
“We appreciate all that the Women of NECC do to support out students and the college," said Allison Dolan-Wilson, vice president of institutional advancement for NECC.
The current board of directors of the Women of NECC includes about 30 women from across the region, in addition to about 70 members. An executive board consists of seven women.
"A lot of our members have attended Northern Essex, which is why they are so enthusiastic about their support," Murphy said.
The group's fundraisers include a membership luncheon in September that has featured guest speakers such as local best-selling author Andre Dubus III, who has since presented several other talks.
A perennial favorite, Steve Janivicus, owner of Flowers by Steve, presents talks on flower arranging.
"We host a Christmas party in December, usually at the Andover Country Club or the Lanham Club, and in June we host an event at private homes in the area where we invite about 100 guests who enjoy a buffet and participate in an auction for many wonderful items," Murphy said.
In all, the three annual fundraising events raise enough money to help 30 NECC students who meet certain criteria and share in a total of $30,000 in scholarships each year.
In addition to giving annual spring scholarship awards, the Women of NECC donated $25,000 to the college's capital campaign last year.
The women meet three or four times a year at the college to discuss plans for fundraising events. They also decide how much money to donate to the college and how much to put into their organization's endowment.
"Northern Essex is the only community college that has a group like this, volunteering and raising money," Murphy said.
Jaffe said letters written by students applying for scholarships never fail to touch her heart.
"They tell us they work, they take care of their parent, they take care of their children and I just don't know how they do it," she said. "Some have told us they have nothing and they don't know how they are going to get through school without help."
The Women of NECC executive board includes Murphy; Lisa Martin, vice president; Paula Moore, treasurer; Jaffe, who is secretary; and Jill McCann and Carole O'Connor, membership co-chairs.