Women helping women help themselves
by Whitney Weaver
Formed in 2007 by 24 women representing the medical, legal, educational, realty, insurance and banking professions, Appalachian Women’s Fund (AWF) has contributed over $300,000 in grants to women in need in the mountains of North Carolina.
On Friday night, Nov. 16, Kay McCloskey, member of the AWF board of directors, opened her home as a venue for a “Friend-raising” event.
The event’s purpose was to celebrate achievements of the AWF and bring women together to discuss women’s issues such as domestic violence and other forms of abuse, and the resources available to those who decide to assert their independence from damaging relationships.
McCloskey said she got invlolved with the AWF by attending a Women of Vision luncheon at which Liz Murray spoke. Murray’s inspiring memoir “Breaking Night” was the basis of the television movie “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story.”
“While women’s issues have always been important to me, this particular story just blew me away. This woman’s determination was so inspirational. So many women are determined, but just don’t get the breaks. The Appalachian Women’s Fund helps women get those breaks,” said McCloskey.
President of the Board of Directors Jean Brooks said, “The goal of the Appalachian Women’s Fund is to build a network of women who will work together to identify and address needs in all parts of the county….We would like to spread our influence through members in Ashe. We have huge ambitions for ourselves, and the only way we can make them happen is to grow membership here.”
Executive Director Parker Stevens said that the AWF serves eight counties and works closely with agencies for abused women, assisting them through grants and volunteer projects. Stevens gave statistics about the status of women in the area, beginning with the fact that 20 percent of women are living in poverty, which translates to one in five. “That’s pretty astounding,” said Stevens.
She went on to say 50 percent of single mothers live in poverty, on average, women in this area make 75 cents to every dollar men make, and the median income for a female head-of-household is around $21,000 per year. Also, the average childcare expenses are more than college tuition.
Parker said last year 2,000 women sought services from domestic violence and sexual assault programs. “The problems are vast and funding is limited, which is why it is so important there are organizations to address these issues.”
Last year, grants from the AWF funded many projects including building a women’s dorm for the Hospitality House, paying for extra staff in women’s shelters and providing summer school scholarships to first generation college students. “We take care to figure out where programs are making an impact,” said Stevens.
One of the agencies benefited by the AWF is A Safe Home for Everyone (ASHE), which provides services and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to help them escape and recover from abusive environments. Among the services provided by ASHE are crisis assistance, shelter, court advocacy and accompaniment, support groups and counseling services, educational programs and training and financial assistance for survivors to become self-sufficient.
Robin Falkner, program director for ASHE, said, “Our first priority is to serve the needs of women in the county.” She said ASHE served 218 clients during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, 173 women and 45 children. 167 of those served were new clients. The shelter served 23 women and 23 children.
“The fact that there are so many new clients does not mean that domestic abuse is increasing, but that more women are hearing that there is a resource. It is a positive thing that women are reaching out for help,” said Falkner.
Some of these resources might not be available without the help of organizations like the AWF. Falkner said, “We were able to pay the cost of the crisis line with grants from the Appalachian Women’s Fund. There were 114 calls last year just to the emergency crisis line.”
“What we do at ASHE is provide options and information. We’re the generalist that connects women to specialists and resources,” said Falkner.
Another source of funding for ASHE is the Threads of Hope thrift store located on East Main Street in Jefferson next to Becky’s Hair Boutique. Tonya Roark, supervisor of Threads of Hope, said it is not just a store, but a place to spread the message of what ASHE does. The store not only sells items to the public, but also donates clothing to ASHE clients. Roark described Threads of Hope as an upscale thrift store boutique. “Last year, we served 31 clients, giving them over $1,000 worth of clothing,” said Roark.
“The empowerment women feel when someone tells them they need to get something nice for themselves, then being able to go into the store and pick out items of their own choosing that look good on them is amazing. Being able to get clothes for a job interview or household items when moving to a new violence-free home is very important to them,” Roark said.
Falkner said, “Women come to us sometimes with just the clothing on their backs, and when we’re developing a plan for them, you hear the hopelessness in their voices when they think they have nothing. It feels good to be able to say to them, ‘It’s okay, we have a store where you can go and get what you need.’ Empowerment is an integral piece in their healing process. Making decisions for themselves without being controlled or given strict parameters is a big deal for abused women.”
Making a difference in the lives of women is what Appalachian Women’s fund does every day. For more information about the organization or for volunteer opportunities, visit www.appalachianwomensfund.org.
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