A circle of about 14 Magnolia women, most of them in their 80s, gather once a month for fellowship and to support Goodwin Connections, a nonprofit formerly known as the Seattle Milk Fund.

The Katherine B. Friele Circle has been providing support to Goodwin Connections since 1959, when the circle was founded as a fundraising arm of the Seattle Milk Fund.

The Katherine B. Friele Circle still holds an annual fundraising event each December, which raises hundreds of dollars for the nonprofit, in addition to the support it gives to Goodwin Connections’ all-city fundraisers.

Goodwin Connections was originally founded in 1907 as the Seattle Fruit and Flower Mission, and members took fruit and flowers to people in the hospital, said Goodwin Connections executive director Maggie Skinner.

Skinner said the organization is one of the longest-running charities in Seattle, rebranding as the Seattle Milk Fund in 1935.

“Back in the day, we would provide dairy products to…those who were affected by wartime.” Skinner said. “In the 1960s, we started giving out educational grants to the parents — families that wanted to go to school and get a college degree.”

Now Goodwin Connections, the nonprofit primarily provides childcare assistance to families with parents who want to earn their college degree.

Families have to meet 300 percent of the federal poverty line to qualify for the program, but once a family is in, Skinner said, they are supported until the parent graduates.

“I think what’s really special about our program is we support families from the day they walk into our program to graduation day,” Skinner said. “It’s a continual support for the families. The continuity of childcare allows parents to stay in school, get good grades, graduate in a timely manner, and at the same time, our little ones are getting a great early-education opportunity.”

Goodwin Connections provides support to families in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but was originally a Seattle-only charity.

Joy Goodenough, one of the founding members of the Katherine B. Friele Circle, is the only active member of the group who was around in its early days.

“Well, in the beginning, my mother had been a member of Seattle Milk Fund back starting back in the early ‘40s, 1940s.” Goodenough said. “She and her friends had a circle called the Town and Country Circle, part of Seattle Milk Fund, and they decided that they had a lot of daughters and daughter-in-laws who were newly married who needed to have an affiliation with something. So, they invited us to come one evening to learn about Seattle Milk Fund.”

In those early days, there was a woman who belonged to the circle that had a friend who died in a plane crash in Alaska. That friend’s name was Katherine B. Friele. The ladies of the group named the circle in her honor.

Goodenough said that if there was an out-of-the-box fundraising idea, the ladies of the Katherine B. Friele Circle likely already tried it.

“We put together key chains, and they were made out of round, colored balls that were kind of clear, pretty colors, different colors,” Goodenough said. “We got everything all disassembled, and we would sit at the tables at our meetings and use our little jewelers pliers that we all purchased, and put together these key rings. We sold gobs of them.”

The ladies even held a women-run salmon derby each year to support the charity.

In more recent times, the group held a Valentine’s banquet and auction that they called “For Love and Money.” Events like this not only raised money for the organization, they also provided a valuable social outlet for the circle’s members.

Paula Whitham, the Katherine B. Friele Circle’s youngest member at 72, found the circle after she moved to Seattle in 2002. Whitham said that while there didn’t seem like there was room for her at other circles in the organization, she did find a home with the Katherine B. Friele Circle, where her first job was to help the older ladies bring banquet dishes from a downstairs kitchen to an upstairs dining area.

“They’re just wonderful women,” Whitham said. “And I was new, and people claimed there was no ‘Seattle Freeze,’ but there was, and so these older women took me in and were ready to be friends. They had time to go to coffee or, you know, do something.”

Over the years, the members of the Katherine B. Friele Circle did more than financially help the families associated with Goodwin Connections, Whitham said.

“Someone needed a vacuum cleaner,” she said. “and one night she was just really frustrated, and we went out, got her vacuum cleaner and brought it over.”

The group has also been known to do things like bake cupcakes for a child’s school birthday party and other small favors to help the people in the program.

The Seattle Milk Fund rebranded as Goodwin Connections earlier this year. It switched into the childcare charity for students back in 2014.

“Because we no longer provided milk, we needed to change our name so that it reflected what our mission was,” Skinner said. “In looking at all the different possibilities of what we could name ourselves, we actually took a look back into our history, and one of our founding women of Seattle Milk Fund was named Goodwin.

And so we thought that her name really represented what we wanted for all families, which is to have a good win.”