Lisa Peyton-Caire

Lisa Peyton-Caire, founder and president of the Foundation for Black Women's Wellness in Madison, speaks at a conference on women's health initiatives at Monona Terrace in March.

Over a decade ago, Lisa Peyton-Caire sat in her bedroom, working on her laptop in her spare time, to organize the first Black Women’s Wellness Day, with just a “vision and a dream” to address the “overwhelming issue” of black women’s health struggles, she said.

Today, she’s the founder and president of The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, and her organization is well on its way to raising the necessary funds to open a health and wellness center. The foundation recently received a $50,000 boost from the Mary Burke Fund for Girls and Women at the Madison Community Foundation.

To look back on those “humble beginnings” and see how far the foundation has come is amazing, Peyton-Caire said.

“I could not have envisioned it then,” Peyton-Caire said. “To have an outpouring of community support to do it makes it all the more meaningful.”

The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness is a Dane County-based nonprofit aiming to advance the health and well-being of black women and girls. The organization provides a variety of services for over 1,000 women and girls every year, including prevention education, fitness and yoga classes, one-to-one wellness coaching and more.

In May, the foundation announced plans to open a Black Women’s Health and Wellness Center, centralizing its programming and expanding its services, heralded as the first such center specifically for black women in Dane County.

The foundation works to battle the many health disparities facing black women and girls in Dane County and the state, including higher rates of infant mortality, lower life expectancies and breast cancer mortality. The west side center will be located in a high-needs area where "black women's health and birth outcomes face big risks," the project's fundraising site says.

To make that center a reality, the foundation needs to raise $100,000 to expand programming and fill the mostly empty office space at 6601 Grand Teton Plaza with fitness equipment, computers, office furniture and more. The goal is to open the center by late summer or early fall.

The fundraising effort has already raised more than $70,000 online. Some of the money from the Burke fund, $20,000, will go directly to the new health and wellness center, putting the center just about $6,000 short of its goal.

The rest of the money from the Burke Fund will support other Foundation work, like stipends for local wellness ambassadors and seed money for a Black Women’s Opportunity and Empowerment Fund.

Wellness ambassadors help the foundation “take our programming out into the community,” Peyton-Caire said. The ambassadors report on what black women need in the community, help define priorities for the foundation, and “go out and do the work,” she said. They’ve all worked on a volunteer basis, but this money will provide them with a small stipend to show their efforts are appreciated.

The pilot empowerment fund will provide micro-loans and mini-grants to women who face financial barriers.

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The role of financial well-being is critical when holistically addressing black women’s health, Peyton-Caire said. The foundation is regularly contacted by black women in financial crisis, like women facing medical emergencies, a broken-down car, or who are on the verge of eviction because they had to take time off work for a sick child, Peyton-Caire said.

The fund will intervene to make sure those unexpected challenges don’t become life-altering events, she said. The foundation has already been assisting these women, Peyton-Caire said, and she’s “grateful that Mary saw the need and the value” in helping the foundation formalize its efforts.

The empowerment fund will also provide money for women who have dreams to create solutions to public health or community challenges but may have difficulty finding funding for their ideas, Peyton-Caire said.

“I’ve followed Lisa’s work for a long time and seen the impact she and the Foundation’s team have had, with very few resources, on mobilizing women to improve their health and their lives,” Mary Burke said in a statement. “When we empower women, we build stronger, healthier communities, and this is a commitment I wholeheartedly believe in.”

Expanded programming and services represent just some of the recent growth of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness. Peyton-Caire was able to start working for the foundation full time, and the foundation recently co-lead a community engagement campaign to find solutions to the frequency of African-American babies born at low birth weights, and is working on follow-up steps to the campaign.

“Now we have to sustain (our work) and maintain it, which is why the support of donors like Mary and many others is so critical to us,” Peyton-Caire said.

The 11th annual Black Women’s Wellness day is Saturday, September 21, where they expect a sold-out crowd, Peyton-Caire said. Tickets are available at blackwomenswellnessday.org.

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