The Ascena Foundation's Awards Program: It Recognizes Impact By and For Women

In 1962, working mom Roslyn Jaffe founded the first Dressbarn store in Stamford, Connecticut. Along with her husband, Jaffe grew the company into Ascena Retail Group (stylized as "ascena," lowercase), a nationwide retailer of women’s clothing that owns a range of brands including Maurices, Justice, Lane Bryant, Catherines, and Ann Inc, parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT. While Roslyn is now director emeritus, the Jaffe family still plays a key role in Ascena’s operations: Her husband Elliot is chairman and son David is president and CEO.

On May 9, the firm’s Ascena Foundation opened this year’s nomination period for the third annual Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards. Prize recipients are the founders and leaders of local impact organizations that improve the lives of women and children, with a focus on low-income or lower middle-income communities. Since the awards started in 2014, grand prize winners have received checks for $100,000, with two runners-up receiving $25,000 each. This year’s nomination period ends on June 15, and nominations can be submitted via the awards website.

Aside from the Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards, the Ascena Foundation has maintained a low grantmaking profile. Much of Ascena’s giving supports its companies in their own charitable activities. Ascena also sponsors an impressive number of aid programs benefiting employees of Ascena companies. These include an emergency assistance fund, scholarships for associates’ children, and a matching gifts program to encourage charitable giving. Since 2015, in addition to its nonprofit awards, the Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards have recognized employees "who embody the spirit of the awards."

Jaffe giving isn’t confined to the Ascena Foundation. Since 1986, the Jaffe Family Foundation has supported a variety of causes, especially in medicine and higher education, focusing on the eastern seaboard and Washington, D.C. We’ve covered how Roslyn and Elliot Jaffe pioneered the food allergy funding field. In the 1990s, they bankrolled the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, which has received significant support from none other than David Koch. The Jaffe Family Foundation also co-sponsors Ascena’s associate scholarship program.

Related: Giving for Food Allergies is Anything But Peanuts Thanks to Donors Like David Koch

Another major source of funding in the Ascena universe is Ann Inc, which operates its corporate giving through AnnCares. Through its history, AnnCares has channelled over $23 million to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and over $28 million to St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Of course, Ascena only acquired Ann Inc. in 2015, but the two companies’ patterns of giving for women and children are already well aligned.

In contrast to Ann Inc., Ascena favors local, start-up, and direct impact organizations, typically with female leadership. That narrative, minus the corporate millions, mirrors Roslyn Jaffe’s own life story. Through the awards, Jaffe and Ascena seem eager to develop a kind of community, or spirit of support, among female social entrepreneurs operating directly and locally. In addition to Ascena execs and experts in women’s causes, the selection committee for this year’s awards includes four past recipients. Financial support for the awards isn’t confined to Acsena or Jaffe, though. The awards website gives us a long list of corporate sponsors, many of them from the apparel industry.

The winner of last year’s grand prize was All Our Kin, a Connecticut nonprofit that supports community child care providers. Runners-up were VolunTEEN Nation, an online platform connecting young people to helpful resources, and Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program, which focuses on creating opportunity for low-income young women in Chicago.