MOUNT VERNON — When Kelly Brenneman helped launch the Knox County chapter of Women United, she knew it would be a force for good in the community. But the speed and enthusiasm of the fledging group exceeded her expectations.
“It’s everything and more that we envisioned,” said Brenneman, the executive director of United Way of Knox County. “We knew the power of women getting together and what we could accomplish, but I truly had no idea that it would take off so quickly.”
Women United is an affinity group of United Way that brings together women who are passionate about helping others. The group was founded in 2015, with the primary goal of addressing the need for recovery housing for women and children in the county. The group’s focus has since expanded to help people at various stages of life — from babies and children to young parents to senior citizens. At this year’s Power of the Purse fundraiser, Women United raised a record-breaking $75,000 to pour back into the community.
On Thursday, the group celebrated with its annual luncheon.
“For a county our size and a town our size, it’s truly amazing that women came together and raised that kind of money,” Brenneman said during the luncheon. After the meal was served in the upper dining room at the Alcove, United Way’s Program Director Elizabeth Doolittle announced the organizations and projects that will receive grants from Women United during the upcoming fiscal year.
Recipients ranged from established organizations like the YMCA and TouchPointe to grassroots initiatives like the Sew Special Network, a group of knitters in Danville that makes items for children and those living in hospice or battling cancer.
The Knox County Health Department received grants for multiple projects, including the Cribs for Kids/Safe Sleep program, Baby & Me Tobacco-Free program, fifth grade “Puberty 101” presentation and student hygiene supply packets.
Jo Helton served as the guest speaker. Helton shared two original poems about the challenges of addiction and the triumph of recovery. She also expressed her gratitude to Women’s United for supporting The Freedom Center, a behavioral health treatment center for those in addiction recovery. Helton said The Freedom Center has been a huge support in her journey to recovery.
“They teach you how to find yourself again, how to live sobriety. They get fun activities involved that you can do sober. They teach you about what’s going on within yourself and why addiction is a path that you’ve walked down and help you stay away from that path,” she said. “It’s a completely new lifestyle. Recovery is something that you have to live daily and they help you with that.”
Women United also offers regular support to Naomi’s House, a recovery home for women. Resident manager Nadine Wysinger attended the lunch along with the home’s two current residents.
“There are a lot of things we wouldn’t be able to have if it weren’t for the generosity of Women United,” said Wysinger. When the home opened in March, Women United members came to decorate the house and make it a home. Since then, they’ve donated toiletries, towels and other linens. They even purchased a piece of medical equipment for one of the residents.
Women United member Krys Mortellaro said the group is happy to help places like The Freedom Center and Naomi’s House.
“The road to recovery is hard and it’s one day at a time,” she said. “It’s important to be there and help anyone who wants to help themselves.”
The luncheon ended with a book bag stuffing. The ladies packed 200 backpacks with school supplies. The bags will be distributed by the Salvation Army.
The full list of grant recipients includes the Chris-Fit Program and Chris-Fit Community Restorative Yoga, Girls on the Run, the Knox County Career Center’s “Believe It or Not I Care” (BIONIC) team, the Senior Awareness and Personal Safety project, TouchPointe’s KnoxWorks program, New Directions Shelter, the Baby & Me Tobacco Free program, clients of Centerburg Senior Services, the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, The Freedom Center, the Sew Special Network, Backpacks of Hope and the YMCA Family Bonding Events and the Knox County Health Department.
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