Women in Business

Connecting a community: Women of Waynesville make their mark

wib wowTurning onto North Hill Street in downtown Waynesville, you’re immediately greeted by overhanging maples sporting the latest in fall colors. Pulling into the Twin Maples Farmhouse, the picturesque property is silent, peaceful, as if pulled from some sort of Norman Rockwell painting.

And just as you take a seat on the tranquil porch an array of vehicles slide into nearby parking spaces. Numerous people soon appear, many holding plates of food, perhaps a bottle or two of wine. Before you can even get up to welcome these newcomers, they get to you first, offering a hearty handshake with a confidence and style akin to only one organization in Haywood County — the Women of Waynesville.

“This is truly a congregation of women,” said Nikki White, president of WOW. “Once you get to know these women, you’ll discover all these different parallels and depths — everything that makes them who they are.”

Started as a simple idea in 2011 between White and co-founder Michelle Briggs (who also runs Twin Maples), the nonprofit has taken on a life of its own. With roughly 50 members (30 to 35 who consistently attend their first Thursday of the month meeting), WOW brings together female business owners, entrepreneurs and community activists. It is the crossroads of empowerment and change, where actions speak louder than words, and these women can be heard from mountaintops far and wide.

“The women in this group are feisty and scrappy, they’re go-getters,” said Kristen Delliveniri, a WOW member and co-owner of Phil+Kristen Photography. “They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, they make things happen. They believe in value and purpose — it’s hard to be around women like this and not feel empowered to take over the world.”

In a club where the age range is 22 to 74, Delliveniri is one of the youngest. At 32, she joined WOW a year ago as a way to not only network and get her name out there, but to also truly connect with other women in business and around the community on deeper, more meaningful levels. 

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“I like being able to talk to women I respect within the community, who have their own business, who are movers and shakers, who are a few steps ahead of me,” she said. “I can ask them what those next steps are like, what to expect in those next phases of life and your career — it inspires me.”

At the WOW meeting on Oct. 1, numerous conversations swirl in the air. To the left, a handful of members are discussing the upcoming elections and their thoughts on the issues. To the right, a few are showing pictures of grandchildren, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters. You soon pick up the notion that WOW is more than just an ensemble of women, it’s a social club, support group and all-around positive influence on all who decide to swing by Twin Maples and see what all the fuss is about. 

“To me, it’s incredible to see what we’re created, it’s almost like a monster of women who want to do good for Haywood County,” Briggs said. “When you look out there, every single one of those women wants to be part of this because we do immense things for the county.”

And “immense” is the key word. In the last few years, WOW has raised over $30,000 for various charities around greater Haywood County. With a keen focus on women and children oriented charities, they’ve given to the Kids Advocacy Resource Effort (KARE), Resources Education Assistance Counseling Housing (REACH), and Big Brothers, Big Sisters, among others. In their most recent fundraiser, they presented a check for $10,000 to the local chapter of Meals on Wheels. They’ve also been the chair of the Power of Pink for the last three years, a breast cancer awareness event and fundraiser in partnership with the Haywood Healthcare Foundation, which will once again take place on Oct. 24 at the Haywood Regional Medical Center & Fitness Center in Clyde.

“It’s really important for WOW to not only provide a place for women to come and do something powerful within their community, but also be an impact in helping those in need,” Delliveniri said. 

And yet, within the last year, WOW had to dial it back, but just a tad. With a somewhat rolling membership, the group swelled from 23 members this past winter to over 60. In an effort to keep balance amid ever-expanding numbers and priorities, they began focusing more on developing friendships within the organization and fleshing out key objectives in moving forward.

“For the last few years, we were trying to drive this vehicle that is WOW, but now we were driving it with 66 people onboard,” White said. “And we couldn’t continue to do that, so we decided to get to know each other better, to find out what this army of ours is truly made of before we pushed ahead any further.”

As they call their meeting to order, White takes center stage. Soon, a free-flowing forum emerges, where hands are raised if they have a piece of news to note or perhaps a suggestion for the group to pursue. Some ask for prayers with recent health concerns, others throw an idea out for a future fundraiser. It’s a dialogue that is as open and honest as the voices that offer up whatever it is that’s on their minds.

“We’ve all become friends. We’re not just a group of touch-and-go women,” Briggs said. “A lot of members here are either new to town or moved here from somewhere else a while ago. WOW brings them into our community and makes them want to work for the community — they get to truly feel part of Haywood County.”

“There’s a platform established here by people that either found this place or were already here and knew how incredibly unique Haywood County is,” White added. “And now we have this physical platform where there isn’t a glass ceiling over women, where we’re in this place where you can come, create, and you’ll be supported by the community.”

When asked if what WOW has become is what White had initially envisioned, she pauses for moment, with a sly grin soon rolling across her face.

“If you plant a seed, and if you’re a believer in manifestation, this kind of thing organically happens,” she said. “You don’t need to dissect it, you ride the wave — this is exactly why the women that are here have continued to be pillars within the community.”


Want to go?

The Power of Pink fundraiser will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Haywood Regional Medical Center Health & Fitness Center in Clyde. 

In an effort to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer, the Pink Relay will kickoff at 9 a.m., with the 5K at 10:30 a.m., one-mile honor/memory/survivor walk thereafter. Proceeds go to breast cancer detection and providing mammograms for underserved women in Haywood County. Help WOW and the Haywood Healthcare Foundation eradicate breast cancer by celebrating and remembering those individuals who have battled this disease by supporting and participating in this event held during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since 2007, 742 women in Haywood County have received these life-saving cancer screenings.

To register for the races or to donate to the cause, call 828.452.8343 or click on www.haywoodhealthcarefoundation.org. To learn more about Women of Waynesville, go to www.womenofwaynesville.com.

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