top of page

Announcing Boston Women’s Fund’s 2022 Movement Building Grantees: A Q&A with this Year’s Recipients

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Boston Women’s Fund is honored to announce our support for three new recipients of our 2022 Movement Building Grant: Abilities Dance, Neighborhood Birth Center, and Sisters Unchained!

We believe that philanthropy has a responsibility to equitably distribute resources to communities and work in true partnership with community organizations. For us, part of that mission means perpetually rethinking how philanthropy has traditionally operated and holding to our commitment to participatory grantmaking, a process that allows communities to decide which organizations and initiatives get funding.

To determine which organizations should receive this year’s Movement Building Grant, Boston Women’s Fund created an Allocations Committee comprised of 11 volunteers diverse in age and ethnicity, from inside and outside of philanthropy. Committee members and the general public nominated 37 organizations they thought should be considered for the grant based on BWF’s definition of movement building. Together, we selected 11 to move forward. Then, rather than issuing a request for proposals, the committee issued a request for conversations with each organization’s executive director, disrupting the grant proposal process by removing the application burden from organization leaders. The committee conducted research, interviewed community members, and then, after five hours of discussion, selected recipients under a consensus model. The group had to unanimously agree on each recipient. This approach decentralizes power by shifting it from foundations to the community while democratizing philanthropy through fostering transparency, equity and inclusion.

Boston Women’s Fund can’t thank our Allocations Committee enough for all of their time and incredibly hard work in selecting this year’s recipients! The task was not an easy one, and it could not have happened without their steadfast dedication.

Each of our new grantees is working to improve the lives of women, girls and gender-expansive individuals across Greater Boston. Abilities Dance is shifting the dominant culture around disability rights through advocacy and education. Neighborhood Birth Center is creating an alternative model of care that centers the birthing needs of marginalized people through an anti-capitalist structure, and Sisters Unchained enables self-transformation for young women impacted by incarceration through community organizing and an abolitionist and political lens.

We recently spoke with leaders from each organization and could go on for days about the significance of their work, but we’d love for you to read on and hear their stories in their own words.

Abilities Dance

Ellice Patterson, Founder/Director

Abilities Dance’s mission is to disrupt antiquated ableist beliefs and disseminate the value of inclusion through dance. Abilities Dance is the only employer in Massachusetts explicitly hiring disabled dancers. The company is run by folks who identify as disabled, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQIA+, and their productions are informed by the lived experiences of disabled artists with intersectional voices.

Boston Women's Fund: Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?

Ellice Patterson: I founded the organization because I couldn't find space for myself as a professional disabled dancer, literally, as well as space that was telling stories that resonated with my intersecting identities. The catalyst after starting the organization was boldly putting ourselves out there in a reimagined Firebird ballet that was our first high-quality full-length ballet. It showed our international community that we were capable of creating, producing, and being in productions that were made by us and for us.

What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?

The grant will help continue to support the creation of our full-length ballet by supporting different artists within that production as well as supporting year-round administrative support to help move the work forward in coordinating the various logistics across both performing company and community engagement programs.

What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?

I would love for others to know that we take intersectionality very seriously. We believe intersectional disability rights = Black lives matter = environmental justice = LGBTQIA* rights, and more. We bring all of these ideas together through an access lens and strive to liberate all.

When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our Firebird ballet since it was an enormous feat to pull off with no one being part-time or full-time. There were many contract artists and volunteers committed to this representation that had never before been seen in the Boston area.

How can people get involved and support you in your mission?

Donate, attend events, and share your learnings here in your community. Find us on Facebook and Instagram: @abilitiesdanceboston

Neighborhood Birth Center

Nashira Baril, MPH, Executive Director

Neighborhood Birth Center is on a mission to offer comprehensive midwifery care throughout pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period by integrating an independent freestanding birth center in Boston’s healthcare and community landscape. They believe birth is a sacred process, and when the pregnant person is centered, the experience has the power to transform and heal individuals, families, and communities.

Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?

Nashira Baril: I spent most of my career steeped in the very traumatic data of the maternal health crisis, and in particular the ways that crisis bears down on Black birthing people. In 2013, I had a powerfully transformative home birth experience with midwives and felt a tension between what I experienced and the stories I know of loss and trauma and sadness. Over lunch with Dr. JoAnna Rorie, my mentor and long-time Boston midwife, we talked about reviving the 30-year-old vision of a Roxbury birth center and bringing to scale the high touch care of midwives in a warm homelike setting, but covered by insurance and accessible to all. I quit my job shortly after that fateful lunch, and began pouring into this project — for the first six years as a volunteer, then came on as part-time staff last January after the intersecting crises of 2020 opened up a portal of possibility and accelerated our work.

What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?

Most birth centers are for-profit entities, started by midwives, using their own personal savings or lines of credit. At Neighborhood Birth Center, we have committed to birthing a nonprofit model, allowing us to maintain a humanitarian mission and share power with community. In doing so, we are steadfast in our commitment to community engagement and weaving a web of believers around this vision.

In addition to real estate development, fundraising, and business planning, we see shifting the narrative and building community as a fundamental piece of our sustainable success. Therefore, we seek to build partnerships with funders committed to movement building. This grant from BWF will support our efforts to socialize the community to midwifery and birth center models of care by hosting and participating in events from birth story slams, to house party fundraisers, to church gatherings, to social media conversations, to tabling at events. Midwives will join board members in support of educational efforts and other opportunities to speak about birth center models and safety. Areas of focus are safety, dignity, and FAQs from a client perspective.

What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?

A freestanding birth center is a home-like setting providing midwifery-led, family-centered care to healthy pregnant people outside of the hospital. Birth center midwives provide continuous, supportive care, using interventions only when medically necessary. Birth centers are integrated into the healthcare system, referring patients to hospitals for consultation or transfer of care when needed. Freestanding birth centers are the perfect solution to meet the triple aim in health care: lower costs and better outcomes with high satisfaction rates. A shift of 10% of births from hospitals to birth centers would save $1.9 billion annually.

Neighborhood Birth Center is a community-grounded, Black-led, nonprofit birth center that is part of a national movement to #ReclaimMidwifery and create a future in which quality health care is accessible to all. We believe that birth is a sacred process, and when the pregnant person is centered, the experience has the power to transform and heal individuals, families, and communities. We are designing everything from physical space to policy to organizational culture with a commitment to healing the past and creating a new model of care.

When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?

I’m most proud that we have kept a sense of abundance at the center. It’s hard! But it feels so good! Often, in this nonprofit fundraising hustle, and in the broader context of deeply internalized experiences of late-stage capitalism, we are faced with scarcity. The belief that we should trim our budget, low ball costs, cut corners, and do more for less. One of the ways that showed up this year was in my sticker shock at the costs of construction in Boston and immediately, I and others, started to feel like we could trim costs by reducing the number of birth suites, or cutting the garden, apothecary, or atrium from the design. But that feeling was fleeting. We have a shared practice of naming “oh, there’s that feeling of scarcity again” and acknowledging it, then breathing into abundance.

What’s the impact of saying we need an extra six-figures in order to build the birth center that Boston needs, versus, not building it to the specs we know we deserve? From that place, there is no comparison. I refuse to sacrifice creating a beautiful space that has the power to transform people for generations because we are afraid to say we need to raise another $1M, when for many in this city, that’s a rounding error. So, I’m most proud that we are not making decisions from a place of scarcity and limitation, but from the belief in abundance and that there are enough resources for Boston to have an exquisite, luxurious, birthing center, the presence of which will benefit everyone, even if they never give birth there.

How can people get involved and support you in your mission?

Sign up for our quarterly newsletter at and become a sustaining donor.

Follow us on social media

Facebook Facebook

Sisters Unchained

Ayana Aubourg, Executive Director

Sisters Unchained is a prison abolitionist non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young women and girls with incarcerated or formerly incarcerated parents. They are a refuge space where young women of color can focus on loving and improving themselves and their communities in the way they see fit. Sisters Unchained believes that community-based alternatives to incarceration will lead us to a more liberated future.

Can you describe the need that motivated the founding of your organization? Is there a particular story that comes to mind as the catalyst?

Ayana Aubourg: Formerly incarcerated mothers yearned for and sparked the vision for a space dedicated to daughters of incarcerated parents. This led to a pilot project called Coding for Justice in 2015. During our first summer together, we experienced transformation in sisterhood, leadership, and our inward journeys of healing. So, we collectively decided to rename ourselves Sisters Unchained. Why? Because we created a sacred space to break the isolation, build political and self-awareness, and strengthen our imaginations/visions for people-centered solutions to a more just world without prisons.

One member who became involved during the founding summer says, “When I first started Sisters Unchained I was a nervous young teenager. Throughout the program, I made bonds with a lot of the girls who came and participated.”

She joined after her father, who was sentenced to prison for four years of her childhood, encouraged her to give our program a try. She shares, “This helped me feel more comfortable in my skin to know that I had a sisterhood. Over the course of the first couple years...I started to gain more of a voice and now...I’ve advanced from participant to facilitator and program assistant. Every day I’m still learning and growing as a person within SU. I’m appreciative for all the opportunities I have gotten and that are to come in the future.”

Today, she is still working on strengthening her relationship with her dad.

A current member that recently joined Sisters Unchained shares, “It’s a second home for me and makes me feel comfortable and free to say what I need and feel.”

What goals will the BWF Movement Building Grant award help you reach?

With the investment of the BWF, Sisters Unchained will work towards increasing the number of young women involved in our summer and fall intensive; expand our Rides for Families project providing free transportation and accompanied visits to loved ones behind bars; increase the number of people reached and engaged in public awareness campaigns led by our members to highlight issues facing young people.

What’s one thing you’d love for others to know about your organization?

Our work is deeply rooted in abolitionist values and ancestral healing practices. We are non-traditional in the sense that we uplift solutions that exist within the margins of society. However, we are traditional in the sense that we are cultivating a space for young people to experience the healing modalities and creative/liberating outlets of expression that have been practiced within their ancestral lineages.

When you think of your work over the last year, what are you most proud of?

We are most proud of the systems we have built, within our organization and programming, to cultivate community and self-care practices that can nourish our spirits and sustain our leadership.

We are also proud of our two alumni participants, who are now in college and have returned to give back to Sisters Unchained by becoming program facilitators. We have witnessed their growth and are so thankful for their incredible contributions to the development of our curriculum and for sustaining a safe space for our members. They are absolutely amazing! We are excited to continue to explore more ways to invest in the leadership of daughters with incarcerated parents.

How can people get involved and support you in your mission?

There are so many opportunities to get involved and support children with incarcerated parents. Here are just a few ways:

  1. Do you have a passion, skill, or story that you would like to share with our community? We are always looking for guest speakers/workshops, as well as opportunities for young women to shadow and explore new experiences in various fields.

  2. Interested in offering pro bono graphic design services? Please email

  3. Every summer, we provide free lunches to our participants! We greatly appreciate discounted offers or in-kind food donations from restaurants and cafes.

  4. Are you a part of a youth group/org and interested in community building or collaborating with Sisters Unchained? Let us know who you are — we would love to connect with you! We are active on Instagram (@SistersUnchained) and Twitter (@SistersUnchaind).

  5. We believe that any and everyone can work towards prison abolition (not just activists and organizers)! We encourage you to have these conversations with your friends and family, try boycotting a company that invests in prisons/jails, or speak to your local rep/senator about ways they can support legislation that offers community alternatives to incarceration. Lastly, we hope you will continue to uplift the stories and visions of Black, Brown and Indigenous women and girls affected by incarceration.

Thank you, Ayana, Nashira and Ellice for your time! We’d also like to give another huge thanks to our Allocations Committee for making this possible. We’re honored to welcome these organizations to the Boston Women’s Fund family!


bottom of page