Betty Jean (BJ) Michelsen

Betty Jean (BJ) MichelsenBetty Jean (BJ) Michelsen was a founding member of The National Congress of Neighborhood Women.  She died on December 16, 2017. She was a dear friend and a powerful force for justice. Below is her obituary.  

Lebanon, N.H. — Betty Jean (BJ) Michelsen died on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 – peacefully and easily in the Green Street home that she loved with the care and support of family; good friends – both old and new; neighbors; members of her close-knit support group the “Hot Tub Chicks”; fellow UV United Unitarian Universalist Church members; and a team of compassionate, professional caregivers who traveled along in BJ’s journey. BJ was diagnosed with lung cancer two and a half years ago. She was a trooper and an eternal optimist as she challenged the illness. Continue reading

Caroline Pezzullo

Caroline Pezzullo

Photo by Martha Stuart Communications, March 1980

Caroline was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Her interest in social justice led her to join the Young Christian Workers in her youth.  Her experience working in development transformed into a commitment to empowering grassroots women globally. In the mid-1980s she became leader and board member of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women (NCNW), where she co-designed the Annual Institute on Women and Community Development. Caroline’s vision of a network of grassroots women’s organizations that would act and speak on their own behalf in global development arenas became Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Continue reading

2004 – The Kathleen Rider Conference at Smith College

Sharing Strategies:  30 Years of Grassroots Women in Community Development

“Coming from NY and Brooklyn, many of us who have built Neighborhood Women are people who have been raised grassroots, and didn’t buy into the American Dream (moving to the suburbs).  We are people who wanted to hold at the local level.”

Jan Peterson, NW Founder
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1995 – Beijing Conference and Huairou Commission


‘The founding members and leaders of the Huairou Commission (HC) came out of the global women’s movement, working relentlessly to advance women’s meaningful participation in UN conferences and other global processes.  Among them we find members of Neighborhood Women and GROOTS. Grassroots women’s groups were largely absent from these global processes  for years.  A common concern was growing among women committed to advancing grassroots women in development Continue reading

1985 – GROOTS


As grassroots women we learn from one another in solidarity. Let all policymakers recognize for once and forever that our concerns are part of increasingly larger agendas- so that our vision will positively impact the effects of development on the lives of everyone.’

GROOTS International Network News, Vol. 1 Issue 1, June 1992
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1982 – Neighborhood Women Living and Learning Centers

‘After thirty years in separate communities, we are ready to institutionalize the gains and insights of our local places. We’ve shared leadership support training and methodologies, annual institutes on community development and peer-to-peer exchanges. We have applied these learning to our community work. Our works are making an impact, our works have attracted partners. Our works, our style and our operating principles are being shared with larger numbers of local people. We are opening our doors to visitors, insisting that to learn from us requires submersing oneself in the community. Continue reading

1980s – Institute of Women Community Development


‘As grassroots women and professional women from outside the neighborhood find each other and commit to the support of grassroots neighborhoods, partnerships emerge. They have a shared perspective about the connection between global and local issues. They identify with the seed, with the base, with the beginnings of social creations.’

Marie Cirillo, NW Board
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1978 – Leadership Support Process

‘The education is that we had to change the nature of how women learned and make it communal and familial. We set up a community-based college because otherwise our education systems were draining all the best leaders away from the community, making them not appreciate their community and families. Then we created leadership support and women had to learn how to work with each other and support each other and not be competing with each other. They also had to learn how to do that. We established methods, tools and basic agreements on how women could work effectively to build and operate organizations. We saw that women leaders usually stayed in one place and they couldn’t delegate. They were leaders doing all the work and not learning really how to build real organizations, and learning to move within their communities.

Jan Peterson, NW Founder

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1975 – First Conferences

1976 National Conference

“For years we neighborhood women have been working to improve our communities. We have done it unrecognized, often unthanked, and almost always without the help we have needed to be truly effective… The National Congress Of Neighborhood Women wants to change that. COME TO OUR NATIONAL CONFERENCE AND SEE FOR YOURSELF!”

Flyer NCNW National Conference, Neighborhood Women a Call for Action, 1976 Continue reading

Marie Cirillo

Marie CirilloMarie Cirillo, a Brooklyn native, left her home at age19 to join the Catholic Order of the Glenmary Home Mission Sisters of America in Ohio. She worked in impoverished and rural areas as a teacher, cook and missionary. Marie was encouraged by the order to attend college in Chicago, where she demonstrated a special interest on rural outmigration and complemented her studies with extensive fieldwork in Appalachia. After 18 years as a nun, Marie left the order to form along with other former Glenmary Sisters the  Continue reading

Audio: Neighborhood College Program

Part 1

Part 2

Neighborhood Women members, Sally Martino Fisher, Dianne Jackson, Aline Copanelli and Florence Mansillo, share their experiences as students from the NW College Program. Jan Peterson, NW founder, and Christine Noschese, Ann Giordano, Ginger Maresco, Laura Polla Scanlon, as well as other former directors and teachers in the College Program, explain the relevance of the program as a tool to empower women so they transform not only their own lives, but that of their whole communities. This audio can be used as a guide to open a College Program in your own neighborhood.