A Giving Story of Our Founder, Jackie Lewis

By Martha Warrington| January 24, 2018

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Our Founder, Jackie Lewis, started WISH more than 25 years ago.

Jacqueline and her late husband Robert attended a alumni reception for Marquette University. Says Jackie, Arts ’60, “That’s when we found out that the university wanted to build an academic center in DC. We knew we could help.” That’s how WISH began.

Jackie-Lewis-Portrait

Jackie has continued to invest in future leaders ever since.

She is devoted to interns making the most of their DC experience and supporting students across the country.

The article below ran in the Sarasota Herald Tribune this month. We thought we’d share her story.

Sarasota herald Tribune Logo

By Barbara Peters Smith

Staff Writer, Sarasota Herald Tribune

“Two Sarasota Women, Two Generous Gifts”

Gerri Aaron and Jacqueline Lewis have never met. But after each of them independently made $100,000 donations to this year’s Season of Sharing campaign, they became living proof that generous minds think alike.

The two have other attributes in common. Both came to Sarasota in the 1990s from large northern cities, where they had engaged in activism and philanthropy. Both have lost husbands who started out as journalists and went on to achieve nationally recognized success. They also share a deep belief in the importance of education.

This is not really a perspective designed to expose the amount of desperation and instability that is a normal part of life for some residents in this community. And yet these two quietly effective women manage to see it anyway. What moves an individual to make the leap from gratitude for her own comfort, to caring about strangers who struggle — and then go even farther, to a conviction that she is an essential part of the effort to help?

Both of these donors note that giving comes naturally to them, and generates a feeling of satisfaction like no other.

Writing the check

The Season of Sharing fund began in 2000 as a partnership between the Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Since then it has collected more than $17 million and helped more than 20,000 local residents remain in their homes. Throughout the year, the fund is available to rescue individuals and families from the brink of homelessness in Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

There are no administrative fees and no red tape. Emergency funds may be used for rental assistance, utility bills, child care and other expenses needed to help people get back on their feet.

This time around, The Patterson Foundation is matching every $500,000 raised in the community with an additional contribution of $100,000. There is no cap on the foundation’s offer, and it stands until the end of this month.

Lewis says this matching idea is what first caught her attention, in a copy of the Herald-Tribune she picked up on her way to the airport.

Lewis heads a company called WISH — Washington Intern Student Housing —that offers accommodations and support programs for some 800 college students learning their way through a stint in the nation’s capitol. It began with her desire to help her alma mater, Marquette University, find space for an academic center in D.C. Since then, the business has retained a major philanthropic component, offering schools that participate funds for their students who could not otherwise afford to live in the expensive city.

Lewis was a schoolteacher for 22 years in her hometown of Iron Mountain, Michigan. She met her husband, Robert D.G. Lewis, the senior Washington correspondent for Newhouse News Service, when he came to the state to cover a campaign she was working on.

“I had always dabbled in politics,” she explains. “I liked to raise money for people I thought were going to do a good job. My congressman said, ‘I’m going to run for the Senate; I want you to run my field operation.’

I said, ‘Yes, but you have to fly me back home every weekend,’ because I was the cheerleading coach.”

Her husband died in 2012, and since then Lewis has made the major decisions for WISH, while continuing the philanthropic missions that interested them both.  One goal for her is to make it possible for more Florida students to experience internships in Washington.

“I pretty much do what I can” while in Sarasota, Lewis explains.

Her involvements include 2 colleges in Florida, one to honor her oldest daughter who died of breast cancer at 49. She also supports all 10 female U.S. Senators who are running for re-election, among other candidates, and she made donations to Florida colleges whose students faced unexpected expenses during the hurricane season so they could remain in school.

This made the Season of Sharing mission, helping families cope with small disasters that arise out of nowhere, a natural fit for her.

“People should know this if they’re going to give what they can:

Everything goes directly to those who need it,” Lewis says.

“I’m very impressed with it.”

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