Making a Difference
The annual Women of Vision Luncheon was held this week, and the view was fantastic.
In honor of adding new agencies in Avery County to the roster of organizations that are Appalachian Women’s Fund (AWF) beneficiaries, AWF decided to hold its fifth annual Women of Vision fundraising luncheon at the Linville Ridge Country Club, with its panoramic view of the High Country.
The event was held this past Thursday.
Another new twist for the fifth-anniversary event was that AWF did not name a new “Woman of Vision” to honor. Instead, it paid tribute to Marnie Werth, the former program coordinator for Watauga Avery Mitchell Yancey Community Action (WAMY) who died last December after a two-year battle with cancer.
“Today, as we celebrate the women in our lives, I have the honor of celebrating with all of you the life of a much-loved woman from Avery County: Marnie Werth,” said Patti Turner, one of the founding members of AWF.
“Marnie worked as a program coordinator for more than 20 years at the WAMY Community Action office in Newland in Avery County. She dedicated her career to improving the lives of local Avery County families mired in desperate poverty. She arranged for much-needed educational and technical training to improve their employment opportunities, and she helped struggling families attain better living conditions for their children.”
During Turner’s presentation, she shared a testimonial that had been given to her by Mariko Cerda:
“I met Marnie in the fall of 2007. I had just begun esthetician school. WAMY bought my school uniforms and gave me a monthly gas allowance. This initial help motivated and encouraged me.
“In the beginning of 2008, my life changed dramatically. I had to quickly find a place to live for myself and young son. I dropped by Marnie’s office to let her know how my school was going, and she immediately realized I needed more help to survive. She was determined to facilitate opportunities that would allow me to help myself and my family.
“By the end of February, I had moved my family into a modest home in the Cranberry community of Avery County. I was determined to never again be in a situation where I had no place to go.”
Cerda finished her schooling, became a licensed esthetician and now owns the home she had been renting.
“Marnie’s legacy of compassion and help for women continues through the important work of WAMY and the AWF,” Turner said. “We celebrate her life today and offer our heartfelt gratitude to a woman who loved the people of Avery County and beyond.”
According to Parker Stevens, executive director of the AWF, the organization has previously given grants to organizations that help women and children in Avery and other counties, such as WAMY, Hospitality House and the Community Care Center. Beginning this year, AWF will also benefit some strictly Avery County organizations, such as A New Day, a resource for battered or abused women.
Stevens also pointed to two women who inspired her to help others.
“In college, I spent half a year in Tanzania,” Stevens said. “While I was there, I met an amazing woman called Mama Hezekia. In Tanzania, all mother-aged women are called mamas, but this woman was the epitome of all things maternal. She cared for more than 20 orphaned children living in her four-bedroom house. Somehow, this woman, who was by no means wealthy, managed to feed all these children every day. She cared for them, clothed them and loved them.”
Stevens stated that in caring for the orphans, Mama Hezekia and her husband lived by the motto, “We cannot change their pasts, but we can change their destinies.”
Stevens also spoke about a High Country mother named Alice.
“Alice is an amazing lady,” Stevens said. “She’s strong, she’s kind, and she is a fierce mother. Although she does not run an orphanage out of her home, she does have two children of her own, who are now grown. She also adopted a young girl who was one of her son’s classmates in elementary school. This girl was mistreated and neglected by her own parents, but found a mother and friend in Alice.”
Stevens said that within the past two years, Alice lost her job and her home and developed some serious health issues that she can’t afford to treat.
“Yet, somehow, like Mama Hezekia, she always remains upbeat and positive and ready to help others. These two women live on opposite sides of the earth, with very different cultures, and they have both opened their hearts and homes to those in need, even though they both fight every day to make ends meet.”
In addition to the luncheon, the event featured a giant silent auction with donated items and gift packages from area restaurants, artists, adventure outfitters, hotels and other businesses. The luncheon and silent auction serve as the largest annual fundraiser for AWF grants.
AWF public relations director Cathy Williamson spoke about one of her favorite movies, “The Help,” and quoted from it: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
“Those nine little words are spoken by a black nanny to a pudgy, undervalued white baby in her care,” Williamson said. “The first time we hear them is when the nanny lifts the toddler from the crib and carries her to a rocking chair.
“That nanny has the foresight and experience to know the power of those words. And she makes sure they are the very first thing the child hears every morning, before her tiny feet hit the cold, hard floor.”
Williamson related the movie quote to the AWF mission and how each child should have the chance to hear those words on a regular basis.
“For the families we serve, what is it that gets in the way of that possibility being a reality?”
Williamson asked. “Too much poverty, too little education, too much substance abuse, too little support, too much violence, too little love.
“What a difference nine little words can make in the life of a baby girl, a blossoming teen or a grown woman.”
According to Stevens, the annual AWF Women of Vision luncheon, including its expanded silent auction, raised more than $65,000. That money will be used to fund grants given to High Country agencies that support women and children in need.