Empowered women empower their community
In 2011, Nikki White and Michelle Briggs sat on a porch drinking wine, envisioning an organization by women, for the women and children of Waynesville. They conceived of a team of ladies that would assist the organizations and nonprofits on the ground, already doing the work to aid women and children in the community. Ten years later, Women of Waynesville has not only provided massive support to those existing organizations, it has also created its own philanthropy projects.
“It takes a lot of grit, determination and new ideas to create an organization and to see it through for 10 years,” said Executive Officer Katie Vanderpool. “We try to be constantly fluid and flexible; we don’t want to be stagnant. We want to keep supporting new ideas, ventures and projects.”
By its own terms, Women of Waynesville is an edgy and controversial organization committed to supporting the needs of the community. It is the only all women’s organization in Western North Carolina that functions the way it does — lots of wine and women empowerment. It is this “edgy,” inclusive way of serving the community that has brought so many women into the fold of WOW.
“We were invited to go to this fundraiser, the battle of the bands, that WOW was hosting,” said current WOW president Michelle Jacobs, recounting the night she decided to join the organization. “We went and watched this event and I saw all these crazy women running around with drinks in their hands and you could tell they just loved each other, and they loved what they were doing, and they were just cutting up and having a great time. I looked at them and I was like, ‘I have found my people.’”
Katie Vanderpool has been with WOW since the start.
“From the beginning, WOW always took pride in the fact that we were a group of women completely run by volunteer efforts and we supported anything that supported women and children,” said Vanderpool.
Since its inception, the group has supported local nonprofits by fundraising to provide financial support and volunteerism to provide the womanpower necessary to get things done.
“Maybe there was a small nonprofit and they just didn’t have the bodies, boots on the ground to be able to do stuff. WOW would come and provide volunteer help,” said Vanderpool. “Or it might have been a small organization and they just didn’t have the means to do a lot of fundraising, or they were based on grant writing, so we would hold larger, out-of-the-box fundraisers for them and then donate all the proceeds.”
With no operating budget, WOW can donate everything it fundraises. Over the years, WOW has also been able to create its own philanthropy missions, one of which was coined the “stealth mission.”
The stealth mission is intended to provide immediate social or financial assistance to women in need. WOW started this program because through their philanthropic work, they often heard about urgent needs in the community. Assistance provided by governmental and nonprofit organizations can take time, but women and children in dire situations rarely have time to wait.
“With those stealth missions we’re just helping to meet a need,” said Vanderpool. “We would hear about a need in the community, a mom was escaping domestic violence and needed help paying a down payment or deposit on a house, or somebody needed gas to get to a job interview — little things that would normally fall through the cracks. We would put together projects or funds for that situation, where they might not qualify through another partnering agency. Or they needed it within the next couple of days and couldn’t wait to go through the channels to have to fill out paperwork or interviews or other things that sometimes other agencies required.”
One key to making stealth missions work is WOW’s partnerships in the community. Information and understanding about who might need a stealth mission regularly comes from the very nonprofits WOW supports.
Over the years, WOW has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to several local organizations. The Battle of the Bands fundraiser raised $10,000 for Haywood Meals on Wheels. WOW has been a Women Build sponsor and volunteer team for five years and assisted the Ladies Level Up committee that raised $60,000 for a Habitat build that was entirely women-funded. The group is a regular volunteer force and sponsor for Haywood Pathways Center, partaking in its annual Empty Bowl fundraiser event.
WOW has supported both the Power of Pink 5k through the Haywood Health Foundation and the Girls on the Run of WNC. During one of Mountain Projects’ Share the Warmth Campaigns, WOW donated $4,000 that was matched by Champion Credit Union, creating an $8,000 impact through work with that community partner. One $500 donation to a peer support specialist in the local detention center provided for the purchase of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous recovery books and journals for female inmates.
The group has donated to the summer enrichment program at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center, volunteered when the building needed repairs following a break-in. Two of WOW’s members have won the crown at the annual Haywood County Schools Foundation Mardi Gras Ball for raising the most money for the foundation that year. In total, WOW has raised $45,000 for the HCS Foundation. Additionally, WOW established the Lynda Chovan Memorial Scholarship through the foundation in memory of a founding member who passed away in 2017.
“She was on our board of directors and really had a heart for helping in the community,” said Vanderpool. “We lost her suddenly to a heart attack, so we developed a scholarship in her honor, and now we have the Linda Chovan Memorial Scholarship that we do fundraising for each year.”
Through this scholarship, WOW awards $2,000 each year to female graduating seniors in Haywood County who are pursuing a degree in the human services sector.
WOW doesn’t only project its helping hand outward. Central to its philosophy is the support and engagement of its own members. The group actively strives to empower the women who make up WOW, so that WOW can best serve its community. According to Vanderpool, most meetings begin with at least 30 minutes of social time, catching up, having a drink and checking in with each other before the ladies get down to business.
“Not only do we get to help women and children that are in emergency type situations, but we also support each other,” said Jacobs. “It’s been a substitute family for me in a lot of ways.”
“I attribute WOW to a lot of the reason that I stayed in Haywood County,” said Vanderpool. “I found a community of like-minded women who were supportive, nonjudgmental and welcoming.”
It is fitting then that to celebrate 10 years of service, WOW will be partying down with current and past members, as well as community partners.
“For me, I am most proud of the way we show up for each other as members and how we show up in our community,” said Jessi Stone, current WOW member and past president. “As an all-volunteer organization, we understand how important it is for our volunteers to be supported so that they can support others. I truly believe you can’t pour from an empty cup and so we’ve created this culture of sisterhood and volunteerism that you won’t see in other organizations. That’s what sets us apart and makes WOW more like a family.”
For more information about WOW visit womenofwaynesville.org .
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Thank you Hannah for sharing about our mission and history in such a beautiful way!!