Washington Women In Need is Changing Lives & Communities
by kristin bentley
In March of 2017, I attended a benefit luncheon that changed my life. At the time I was at a place between careers. I had been working as a Seattle real estate reporter, but life was taking me in a different direction.
My son was only six months old when my husband and I discovered we were pregnant again, and I knew I had to make some professional changes. Elise Victoria was born a few weeks after last year's luncheon, our only girl in a blended family of six.
Raising a girl has a way of changing even the softest heart; we quickly become feminists, if we weren't already, for all the right reasons. The first night in the hospital after my daughter was born, I held her closely till the sun broke through the white metal blinds. Her bright blue eyes had looked up into my tear-filled ones and I knew I had to realign my priorities. Life was no longer about fulfilling my goals, it was about making new ones to leave the world a little better for our next generation of women.
When we give of ourselves - whether it be our time, words, or resources - humanity, as a whole, is lifted. Society improves and becomes a better place for women everywhere.
2018's benefit luncheon marked 26 years that Washington Women in Need (WWIN) has been serving deserving women in our community and doing just that.
"Empowerment, opportunity, confidence and inspiration; these four gifts are our foundation here at WWIN," said Board President Bindu Sutaria on that sunny afternoon in downtown Bellevue. "By offering them to a woman along her journey, we're helping her shine that much brighter."
Thousands of women's life trajectories have changed because of this incredible organization. Educational grant recipients receive a team of women fighting in their corner, giving them the confidence boost they need to succeed. Not only does WWIN provide $5,000 to $20,000 grants, recipients are regularly engaged with the organization, receiving guidance and support to help obtain their goals. Other services available, depending on need, are grants for health benefits, changing not only the life of the recipient but also the lives of those around her for generations to come.
"To me, empowerment is about finding your place, then sharing it with someone else and taking personal responsibility for rising up communities together," says 2017 Grant Recipient Erin.
After surviving a chaotic time in her life, Erin says that she does not see herself as a victim, instead, she chooses to focus on where she's now going, and how WWIN is going to help her get there. An important part of recovery, she says, is self reflection and willingness to change.
Erin knew receiving an education would play a big part of her progress forward, which she admits was not easy. Mathematics was a real struggle in the beginning, but she is now pursuing a double major in Applied Computational Sciences and Statistics and in Mathematics at University of Washington.
Her success has lead her to be a speaker at last month's Western Washington Math Conference and to obtain an internship at Seattle Against Slavery. "My mathematical progress was not because I'm a genius or prodigy, but because I received the encouragement from WWIN and my professors," she says.
"An empowered woman faces her fears, because the small lights from many illuminate the darkness of the unknown," says Erin. "I am an empowered woman; and this new woman standing before you is a woman who is excited about her future and is looking forward to the women and people she, too, can impact."
Good will flows in a circle. Women whose lives are changed by the good deeds of others are the same women who return the kindness by reaching out to a fellow sister in need. The kindness we receive from others shapes our faith in humanity and has the ability to restore hope when it was formerly lost.
Deane, one of WWIN's earliest grant recipients in 1996, says her life has been forever touched and changed. The late 80s were not an easy time in her life. A homemaker for 17 years, she had found herself divorced, fully financially responsible for her two young children, and far from relatives living in eastern Canada. "It was a frightening time," she says. "A pervasive sense of fear and anxiety was with me constantly."
At the time, she says the only thing she trusted was that the sun was going to set and that it would be up again in the morning. She laid in bed at night and envisioned a small flame, as she slowly began to feel strong enough to fight. One of the doors she says she had the fortune of knocking on was of WWIN, a "benevolent and welcoming organization." And this door opened wide for Deane.
"I can't express how fully grateful I was, and always will be, for the welcoming inclusion into this program," she says. "I didn't want to be a receptionist, and I didn't want to be a secretary, I wanted to have one."
Our strength is one we find from within, it's what keeps us moving when we aren't quite sure which direction we are headed. But even the strongest and most determined woman needs a hand every now and then, if anything, just to show her which way to go.
"I learned that asking for help can be a frightening, humbling, and demoralizing experience," says Deane. "But this woman from WWIN was warm, non-judgmental, full of information and options, and just plain kind." Deane went on to complete a master's degrees in Speech Pathology at University of Washington, and worked for many years in this field before retiring. "I can finally say that I am past the part where my guts are always hot."
Of all her unforgettable experiences with WWIN, Deane says she most enjoyed having had the pleasure of meeting Founder Julia Pritt before she passed away. "Her generosity, foresight and care have lifted up and contributed to the successes of so many women."
I'm looking forward to attending again in a few months. As WWIN continues to change lives, they are also reshaping our community.