Pat Leader wasn’t looking for her “thing,” but it found her anyway.
One day, while grocery shopping, Pat ran into a friend she hadn’t seen in a while, and something was clearly wrong. Her friend looked haggard and worn, with her children in tow. When Pat expressed her concern, her friend confided that she had left her abusive spouse. She and her children had quickly packed a suitcase and sought safety in a shelter for abused women where they lived while she worked to get back on her feet again.
When people hear “Northern Virginia,” homelessness doesn’t exactly come to mind. After all, Northern Virginia is home to three of the wealthiest counties in the United States–Falls Church, Loudoun and Fairfax. But poverty and spousal abuse know no boundaries.
HomeAid Northern Virginia, an organization formed by the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, builds and renovates emergency shelters and transitional housing units for the homeless. But housing isn’t enough. Government and private agencies and temporary shelters provide job training, counseling and food assistance, but many transitionally homeless families lack other basics, like clothing. So in 2007, HomeAid turned to the WIRMs—Women in Real Estate Marketing–a powerhouse group of women who make things happen.
Pat was a WIRM. Homelessness and women-at-risk weren’t just words to her. The problem had a face, and a name, and a story, and Pat heard it in the middle of Safeway and had carried it with her ever since. She didn’t know how to help her friend then, but this was a chance to help others like her.
The WIRMs helped HomeAid Northern Virginia form a task force called Women Giving Back (WGB), and Pat is their secretary/treasurer. In the last five years, they’ve grown from a handful of women operating in a HomeAid conference room to a non-profit organization with a warehouse full of donated clothing. Once a month, women from 125 shelters and programs come to WGB store for “shopping day.” WGB has distributed over 175, 000 items, aided by community and corporate volunteers that help sort clothing and staff the store.
Pat says that shopping day is exhilarating, emotional, and exhausting all at the same time. “There are moments when there may not be a dry eye among us. One day a mother and father with their two little girls came to find clothes. Not only were we able to help them–someone had donated two little tutu’s. You would have thought they hit the lottery! The girls were so excited and the tears of joy began to flow.”
WGB makes a difference. Pat says, “This past Saturday one of the ladies who had shopped with us on several occasions announced that she was starting a new job. Cheers erupted from us all and there were hugs all around. While my legs may be aching from the concrete floors, when that one person comes up and gives all of us a hug and thanks us for what we are doing it makes it all worth it.“
For Pat, it’s like being able to help her friend in a way she didn’t know how to years ago. At any given point in time, Pat and the other volunteers have a trunk full of donated clothing to bring to the store. They’ve used their network of friends and associates to keep the store stocked, and raise enough funds though their annual Cinco de Mayo bash to keep the organization running.
It’s one thing to want to help. It takes some women who rock to turn it into something real.
Are you a woman who rocks, or do you know one — let me know in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Click here for more information about Women Giving back and HomeAid Northern VA.