2024 Anne S. Leonhardt Award Honoree: Charlotte Suhler

Feb 21, 2024

Bringing Light & Hope to Fairfield County’s Women & Girls

In the heart of Fairfield County, a woman with an indomitable spirit has been quietly reshaping the landscape for women and girls. Today, we’re thrilled to announce Charlotte Suhler as the honoree of the 2024 Anne S. Leonhardt Award.

As one of the founders of the Fund for Women & Girls, Charlotte is a remarkable individual whose personal journey serves as an inspiration for countless women and girls in our community.

A Woman of Many Firsts
Hailing from the heart of the Midwest, Charlotte has been a force for change since her teenage years. Breaking barriers in the world of advertising and publishing, she defied societal norms and emerged as a trailblazer, setting the stage for her lifelong commitment to advancing gender equity.

Upon moving to New York in her adult years, Charlotte became a part of the first team of New York Magazine. Her journey continued, marked by milestones such as laying the groundwork for the idea of Ms. Magazine, a landmark publication that echoed the voices of women during a crucial era for women’s rights.

From New York to Fairfield County
Charlotte’s move to Darien would ultimately mark the birth of her involvement in what would become the Fund for Women & Girls. Initially, Charlotte served as chair of The Five Town Fund that she established with her husband, John. That fund eventually melded with others to form Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

Inspired by the community’s dire need for affordable housing, Susan Ross, the former president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, led the initiative to form the Fund for Women & Girls. Inspired by unmet needs of women in Fairfield County, Charlotte, alongside Anne S. Leonhardt and other key supporters, launched a program aimed at helping women in need of housing.

“Susan Ross met with several of us to initiate the idea of having a fund for women and girls,” said Charlotte. “The best part of the exploration process was the incredible amount of research that was conducted, asking residents what was the greatest need for women and girls in Fairfield County. We thought they were going to come back and say, ‘childcare,’ but we were wrong. Instead, they said, ‘affordable housing.’”

The data was clear: Even for women who reported having good paying jobs, they still weren’t earning enough to close the affordable housing gap on their own.

“This brought the issue of the lack of affordable housing in Fairfield County to the general public’s attention,” said Charlotte. “We learned that while women were able to find job opportunities, there wasn’t enough affordable housing available for them to be able to live here.”

Full of Heart
As a newly established fund, there were few dollars available to create an endowed fund for women and girls. But, while the funding was lacking, the organizers’ hearts were full.

“We basically had zero dollars, but a lot of good heart,” said Charlotte. “So, Anne S. Leonhardt and a few other benefactors joined forces and gave enough money that we were able to do something really meaningful.”

They knew they weren’t in a position to build affordable housing. Instead, they launched an innovative program that provided loans enabling women to secure their own apartments. The loan covered the significant amount of the first and last month’s rent that’s required to lease an apartment. And by functioning as a loan, the funds were able to be paid forward and continue helping women across Fairfield County.

“We also set up training programs to educate women on how to get approved for a mortgage and achieve first-time home ownership,” said Charlotte.

But Charlotte didn’t stop there.

With a keen understanding of the challenges faced by women and girls in Fairfield County, Charlotte spearheaded many initiatives over the years in affordable housing, education, the arts and healthcare. Witnessing the power of Title IX in transforming opportunities for young women in sports, she is also a fervent advocate for legislation that continues to shape the landscape for females today.

An Inspirational Message
As the Anne S. Leonhardt Award recipient, Charlotte sends a simple yet powerful message: Change starts with one person, but it gains momentum when individuals unite. Her advice to women is clear – speak up, investigate and be fearless advocates for change.

“Illuminate” is the theme for this year’s Fund for Women & Girls event – and it serves as a fitting word to describe Charlotte who has brought light and hope to the lives of countless women and girls in our community.

We invite you to join us in celebrating Charlotte’s incredible journey at the Fund for Women & Girls reception at the Greenwich Country Club on Thursday, April 11, and contribute to the Fund for Women & Girls.

Your support ensures that the legacy of female empowerment continues, creating a brighter, more inclusive future for women and girls in Fairfield County.

To support and be a part of this transformative journey, please visit fccfoundation.org/fwg24.