Armed with a bottle of wine and a $30 check, the women of a local charitable organization called Women Who Wine filled the room in the lower level of Flathead Valley Community College’s Arts and Technology Building at a July 16 fundraising event.
Women Who Wine Flathead (WWWF), a fund of the Flathead Community Foundation, hosts monthly events to raise money for local nonprofits. This month’s meeting featured the Montana Institute for the Arts (M.I.A.), a nonprofit founded by actor, writer and director Michael Polish, actress Kate Bosworth and Flathead County Sherriff Deputy Travis Bruyer. M.I.A. offers a two-week, intensive screenplay production course through FVCC.
Each WWWF meeting features a different local nonprofit, 11 in total per year. Funds raised at the meetings are awarded at the 12th event each year. A nice bottle of wine, check donation and generous spirit are the only requirements to join the gathering.
At the July 16 event, which raised a total of $3,200, donated bottles of wine topped every table surrounded by women who were networking, catching up and anticipating the arrival of celebrity guest speaker Bosworth, who is most well-known for her leading role in the 2002 film Blue Crush.
Attention turned to a small podium in the front, as the evening’s host Debbi Waldenberg introduced M.I.A. as well as Bosworth and Bruyer.
“You may be thinking, what does Kate Bosworth have to do with Montana?” Bosworth said with a smile as she stepped behind the podium.
Bosworth explained that her husband, Polish, who was unable to attend the event, has ties to Montana and introduced her to it.
“I was very lucky to be introduced to this state through love,” she said.
Bosworth, Polish and Bruyer founded M.I.A. to bring together their love of Montana and their love of film and the arts.
The unique two-week program, currently in its second year, offers students a full experience from “script to screen.” Students work with Bosworth, Polish and Bruyer to write and produce short films.
The students are encouraged to tell their personal stories through their scripts, which makes the program an intimate experience that offers more than merely filmmaking knowledge.
“It’s an opportunity to get in touch with the self,” Bosworth said, “and that’s what I think it means to be an artist.”
After Bosworth, Bruyer, who has also worked in the film industry, took the mic to describe his relationship with M.I.A. He said the program is designed to be a “safe place to create art” in the valley and gives him the ability to give back in a way that he can’t as a sheriff’s deputy.
“As a cop, I can give a ticket,” he said. “Here, I can give an opportunity.”
Lucy Smith, former executive director of the Flathead Community Foundation, closed the program with a story of her experience witnessing a “giving circle” in Kenya, Africa, which was a source of inspiration for WWWF.
Tears filled her eyes as she described watching in awe as women in the African village placed bundles in a pile and formed a circle around it. Smith explained that each woman in the circle took a turn telling her story, and at the end of the gathering, the woman the most in need at the time took the bundle home.
This idea helped spark the WWWF, which is in its sixth year of operation. The founders, Darla Harmon, Katy Croft and Laura O’Connor, in partnership with Smith, started WWWF as a way for local women to network, with a charitable twist.
The first meeting was small, with each founder bringing three friends. Now, the WWWF email list boasts 400 addresses and meeting attendance averages 30 to 50 women.
Since its founding, WWWF has raised a total of approximately $155,000 for over 100 local nonprofits.
After Smith’s speech, emotion in the room quickly turned to laughter and excitement as the night’s wine auction began.
The wine not consumed at every event is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sets of bottles went for anywhere from $200 to $400, which contributed to the night’s fundraising total, this year’s record. The money will be added to a pool, which will be divided between the 11 selected nonprofits and given out at WWWF’s yearly banquet.
Smith beamed with pride as she finished her speech.
“I am so proud of us,” she said. “And I am so proud that one of our new ‘sisters’ is M.I.A.”