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Giving Back: Stella Sayles

Donor Stories l

by Erica Brody and Judi Handwerker

Philanthropist Stella Sayles believes that empowering others creates a positive ripple effect — waves of change — that can impact communities and countries at large.

“I’m very excited about being part of NCJW and look forward to working with women who want to make a mark for a better world,” says new NCJW board member Stella Sayles.A philanthropist with a penchant for women’s empowerment, Sayles comes to NCJW through its recent partnership with US/Israel Women to Women (W2W), which was founded a quarter-century ago to seed and sustain grassroots efforts in Israel. The partnership, announced July 1, combines the resources, reach, and expertise of both organizations, creating progressive social change in the lives of thousands of women, children, and families.

The seeds for Sayles’s commitment were planted by her parents, Israeli pioneers who encouraged her “to be active in challenging laws that were not morally right.” Raised in apartheid South Africa, Sayles was first drawn into grassroots advocacy when she joined the student protest movement, fighting discrimination in university admissions.

Eventually, she became a clinical psychologist and, in 1980, settled in the United States with her first husband and two children. Soon after, she put her own personal experience to work with the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) — advising other newcomers to “put the US
Constitution on your refrigerator. When you see it, you’ll know why you came.”

Today, Stella Sayles lives in Manhattan with her second husband, Donald Sayles, a longtime W2W donor who introduced her to the group a dozen years ago. She is clearly enjoying her new NCJW connection. “I like the idea of a women’s watchdog organization that speaks out about what’s
happening…. [NCJW is] a catalyst for social issues pertaining to American women,” a company of kindred spirits — like Sayles and her parents — who “take pride in pioneering.”

As a donor to a variety of organizations that support women’s empowerment, Israel, and social justice, Sayles believes firmly in the influence — and necessity — of philanthropy. “Change cannot happen without financial support,” she says. “There is a tremendous ripple effect in funding women’s empowerment programs, in particular. When women learn to take care of themselves, their ‘sisters,’ their children, and the community are all positively affected.”

She looks forward to seeing that ripple effect firsthand — visiting the programs that NCJW and W2W sustain — on NCJW’s mission to Israel next spring. “It’s important to feel the pulse of Israel, to see and understand the impact we have. Together we really can make a difference.”