British ladies do so much more than sip tea and gather 'round the telly to gush over the latest episode of Downton Abbey.
Members of The Daughters of the British Empire are a formidable group of women that enjoys camaraderie while fundraising for several charities that are important to them.
"The primary goal of the organization is to fund-raise to provide support for four homes that have been established by (Daughters of the British Empire)," Edith Caponigro, president of the DBE Northern California state chapter, said. "One of those homes is in Southern California. The others are New York, Texas and Illinois."
While the group fund-raises for the retirement homes, its philanthropic reach is far broader that that single charity.
"We do an awful lot of work for other charity organizations," Caponigro noted. "We fund-raise and donate to other local nonprofits."
Caponigro is a member of the local Tri-Valley chapter, dubbed John McLaren's Roses of Britain. The local chapter is part of the larger Northern California state chapter, which in turn falls under the umbrella of the National Society of the Daughters of the British Empire in the USA.
"My own chapter supports Axis Community Health, Keystone Adult Learning, Valley Humane Society and the Horizon school," Caponigro said. The latter is a Pleasanton school district program for teen mothers.
While the local chapter supports those four key groups, each year it chooses two other charities to support. Last year, the ladies threw their extra support behind the Wounded Warrior Project and the Salvation Army.
Each local chapter hosts a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, but the Bay Area's big event is when several chapters come together to host an authentic tea room at the annual Scottish Highland Gathering & Games held every Labor Day weekend at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.
"We host a tea room that weekend, and our members bake all the baked goods, and we have a true English tea that people can sit down and enjoy," she said. "We have people at the Scottish games every year who come back looking for us. We're supposed to open at 8 o'clock in the morning, but we invariably have people there earlier looking for our hot coffee and tea."
The dedicated British Empire volunteers who worked at last year's event raised more than $11,000 for their favored charities. Their many fundraisers allowed them to donate more than $27,000 to DBE's British Home.
The national organization's roots date back to 1909, when the United States started a British Empire chapter under the auspices of a Canadian group. The U.S. Society became its own entity in April 1920 with chapters cropping up across the country.
The Northern California state chapter boasts more than 200 members, while the local Roses chapter has about two dozen active members.
"It's not just English," Caponigro said. "It's anyone with British empire ancestry. That can include the Chinese from Hong Kong, ladies from India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many others. It's quite a varied background. They're people who have British ancestry. I have a member in my chapter who has her heritage go back to the Mayflower, but she is very American."
Most new members join through word of mouth, though some people are recruited by existing members, particularly when they hear someone speaking with that distinctive British lilt. The group's website and its new presence on social media also help with recruitment.
Local chapters meet once a month, providing camaraderie and giving the ladies time to plan their philanthropic endeavors. The group is a chartered as a legal nonprofit, so fundraising remains the key goal.
"We can't state that we are a social organization because of IRS rules, but we do stress to people who come to join us that we have a lot of friendships and social events outside of our business activities," she said.
"We are a fun group of women, and we do good things with our fundraising activities," Caponigro added. "It sounds like a lot of work, but to be quite honest, we really enjoy doing it. We're happy to be able to give back to our local communities, and we're also thrilled that we can support the homes that were established by our organization."
Learn more about The Daughters of the British Empire in Northern California at dbenca.org .
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