Alexandria Newsmakers/Marga Fripp – Empowering Marga


Old Town’s Marga Fripp has been lauded by the New York Times for her “essential work” empowering hundreds of immigrant artists.

Add another fan to Marga’s portfolio of admirers.

Last month the Giving Circle of HOPE, a Reston-based organization which promotes volunteerism and effective philanthropy, gave Fripp and her Old Town-based Empowered Women International a $5,000 grant — its maximum — and the third in three years.

“Members like Marga seek to make a difference in the Northern Virginia community by contributing their time, talents and money to projects which encourage self-sufficiency and well-being among people in need.” said a spokesperson for the organization, which awards $200,000 yearly.

Said Fripp, “Obviously I’m thrilled and honored by this affirmation of what we do everyday for struggling immigrant artists.”  

But it is still a dream largely unfulfilled for Fripp, as she makes do with a yearly budget of less than $60,000 and a flood of new immigrant applications each month. Recently she had to close EWI’s gallery at 1307 King Street because of a budget shortfall. But she is nothing if not determined: “The art of EWI’s fine artists will be exhibited at the Lee Center, and one of the city’s galleries starting next month,” she vowed.

She began helping women in need in her native Romania, where she worked as a broadcast journalist, but because she was so outspoken, and an activist, she found herself barred from working in her profession, and left the country.. When she arrived in America, still another disappointment: despite her education and experience, she was unable to find a job. I felt like I was stranded in the middle of the ocean, she said. I went from being a name to a no-name. I was a career professional who found myself with nothing.

Fripp, empathizing more than ever with women needing help, became their champion here  just as she had in Romania, and set to work.

Shes a fireball,” said Ann Stone, former chair of Republicans for Choice and one of her earliest backers. Speaking of Margas dedication to others, she said “I love to hold her up as an example to my American friends who whine and complain. She had been in our country only one year, when the governor gave her an award as one of the top volunteers in Maryland.

But the best “award, as Marga is quick to tell you, comes from the goals she helps others achieve. Though a busy mother of two, she started Old Town-based Empowered Women International (EWI) in her home basement. Reaching out to women in immigrant communities, she created workshops focused on developing their entrepreneurial skills. By helping them revitalize abilities they had not had a chance to develop, she led them in translating successful experiences in their native lands to success in the U.S. 

Once inspired, the women learned to appreciate their own talents, and began to flower. EWI has helped hundreds of immigrant artists develop their skills while teaching them the business side of art, the marketing, financial and legal aspects they need to know.

She calls in local experts in various fields to share their knowledge: The Alexandria Small Business Development Center, WETA, The Alexandria Times and Creative Artisans, among others. EWI artists visit galleries and discuss marketing strategies with successful women entrepreneurs in the art fields, such as Carol Supplee of Old Town’s Imagine Artwear and Linda Brenda Hafer of the Art League of Alexandria. Many of the women sell their craft and art in local galleries and shops and participate in local art shows, buildlng a following as their art develops.

Marga’s online gallery and store can be visited at

Liberty’s Promise  
Another Alexandria grantee was Old Town-based Liberty’s Promise and its director Robert M. Ponichtera for his work on civics and citizenship.  

Ponichtera’s non-profit supports young immigrants in need while encouraging them to be active and conscientious citizens. “Our program’s aim is to make the immigrant experience an affirmative one for young newcomers while instilling in them a sense of pride and support for American ideals of democracy and freedom,” said Ponichtera, who earned a Ph.D. in East European History from Yale University and has taught at Yale, Quinnipiac College, and Albertus Magnus College.  

Currently an adjunct professor of history at George Mason University, Ponichtera and his family live in Alexandria, where he manages Liberty’s Promise day-to-day operations.