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Meet a Member: Spotlight on Evelyn McGovern

Evelyn McGovern is celebrating 28 years of service to Women of Colors (WOC). Evelyn, who co-founded the organization in 1993, has served as the acting president for the past 24 years! Today she reflects on some memories and lessons learned as part of our ongoing “Member Spotlight” series.

Evelyn feels she has grown immensely as a leader because she is always striving to be a better person. “I think I’m a much better person than I used to be because of the work and the experience that I’ve acquired with Women of Colors,” she says. “It has given me a passion and a humbleness that I never thought were in me. I’m just so blessed! People say we bless them, but I’m also receiving the blessing.”

To Evelyn, volunteerism makes life worthwhile. She stresses that all people, regardless of their socioeconomic background and other factors, can give back to others because giving is not necessarily monetary: “It could be giving of your service or even just listening to a person. Little things you do could mean a huge amount to someone else.”

Over the years, says Evelyn, WOC has adapted to meet new and evolving community needs. For example, in light of the pandemic, we began live-streaming our forums on six platforms, including five radio stations and WOC’s Facebook page. In doing so, we have vastly increased the reach of our events “How I Overcame,” “I Am Still a Man,” and “Time to Have a Conversation.” We now have individuals who are contacting us, wanting to be a part of our platform to educate, inform, and provide resources in the community. Evelyn feels joyful that WOC is touching more lives each year: “I hope that Women of Colors will become a nationwide organization one day because our mission is beyond Saginaw. This organization should be an organization that’s all over this country to form unity and love among people.”

Like all nonprofit organizations, WOC has shifted its priorities over time. “Today we’re taking the epidemic of substance abuse to heart,” says Evelyn, who delivers evidence-based programs focused on helping participants make lower-risk choices as part of WOC’s Prevention Team. “We’re also reaching out more to individuals who are hurting, who have barriers that need to be addressed in the community—and we’re trying to find out the answers of why we have systemic problems that cause all the disparities of homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. We try to address every issue that we can, and if we can’t figure it out, we try to find out who does have the answers so that this person or organization can help us help people.”

Evelyn, who started volunteering when she was 15 years old, says that although volunteerism has been in her bones since she was a kid, she never, ever dreamed of being the president or running a nonprofit. “That wasn’t in my vision for the future,” she admits, “but that’s where the Lord has led me, and I’ve accepted the challenge.” Evelyn is proud of herself because she never expected to accomplish all that has been accomplished with WOC: “I’ve proven to myself that I can serve my community well. It took me a long time to accept myself as a leader or president; now I accept my service for what it is—and it is what it is.”

Thank you, Evelyn, for nearly three decades of service to Women of Colors! Your volunteerism is an inspiration in the Great Lakes Bay Region and beyond!

WOC Past, Present, and Future

Since our organization was founded in 1993, Women of Colors (WOC) has maintained a record of outstanding service to the Saginaw community. If you have ever volunteered for WOC, thank you! In this article, we’ll celebrate the impact of WOC’s programs in the Great Lakes Bay Region so that you can see where and how your efforts have made a difference!

Twenty-eight years ago, WOC was a much smaller nonprofit that operated on the same mission and principles driving our members and volunteers today.

President and Co-Founder Evelyn McGovern recalls the range and focus of the original programming offered by WOC. “We wanted to get a diverse group of women with different ideas and backgrounds to come together to make a difference in the community,” she says. “The very first program that stands out to me is the Mothers Against Crime march.”

In the Mothers Against Crime march, WOC went into crime-infested neighborhoods to say “no” to crime and violence. “At the time, there were a lot of homicides and violence going on,” Evelyn explains. “We had the courage to walk down the middle of these streets even when the neighborhood wouldn’t come outside and march with us. We marched for them. During these marches, we also honored the victims that were murdered; for every victim that was murdered that year, we would raise a balloon in honor of that victim. It was very powerful! We held that event for about seven years.”

Among WOC’s most popular programming today, our community forums have increased our visibility and outreach to people in and beyond the Great Lakes Bay Region. These forums educate and empower both our participants and our listeners! WOC also offers a popular training program focused on substance abuse prevention: “We have a couple evidence-based programs that we teach. The program Prime for Life helps individuals, especially our young people, consider how to make better choices as adults, to avoid making high-risk choices that would cause them to be addicted to substances that would ultimately harm them. WOC also teaches life skills in the Botvin LifeSkills program.”

WOC has pivoted in powerful ways to serve the Saginaw community throughout our nearly three decades in existence, given our volunteers’ commitment to meet new or evolving needs in the Great Lakes Bay Region. However, a set of key values has remained consistent throughout WOC’s entire history as an organization: respect, trust, integrity, and diversity.

With new members and communities comes expansion! Evelyn is excited about the variety of marketing strategies WOC has used to reach more people who may be able to give back through or benefit from these programs: “We’ve been through United Way Volunteer Match. We use our website, our social media platforms, word of mouth, flyers. You name it, it seems like we’ve done it to try to reach people! We’ve even had annual meet-and-greets where we invite the community to come out, meet the members, and find out what we do to spark some interest.”

WOC has some exciting ideas for future programs and events in the works. One of our short-term goals is to partner with Families Against Narcotics to offer a support system for people impacted by an immediate family member’s substance abuse. “The partnerships that we’ve developed are just so awesome!” says Evelyn. “We have a lot of great agencies in the Saginaw community that are doing a lot of things. In the past, we haven’t always worked together, but I see more collaboration than ever before.”

As far as WOC’s long-term goals, “we want to grow and expand our organization and the services we provide outside the city limits, beyond the state, and eventually throughout the country,” says Evelyn. “WOC welcomes members of all colors, not just one color, which is a mission for any community.”

Practical Ways to Give Back to Your Community

Each of us can change our community and world in powerful ways. This power lies in the small action steps we can take on a daily basis in our own families and neighborhoods. Keep reading for some practical ideas on where and how you can start making an intentional difference in your community!

  • Join a club or community organization. Boost your productivity and happiness by bonding with like-minded people over a shared passion or cause.
  • Look up volunteer opportunities in your community. Many local nonprofit organizations would love to have you volunteer either for a special event or on an ongoing basis.
  • Support a friend or family member by giving advice or being a good listener. Your time and attention likely mean more to your loved ones than you know.
  • Make the world greener by planting trees or picking up litter. Consider paying a family visit to a local park and leaving it cleaner than you found it.
  • Pay it forward at the fast food drive-thru. What if your random act of kindness started a chain reaction in your community?
  • Help a neighbor. Introduce yourself to your neighbors if you haven’t. Greet them by name. Be neighborly in any way you can.
  • Help a senior citizen. Assist a senior citizen in your community with chores in their home or yard that are difficult for them to do. If they are a long-time resident of your community, ask them to share their memories of what your city was like in the past.
  • Give a gift or personal card to someone (anyone) during the holidays to make that person feel special. Surprise someone with a token of your appreciation.
  • Follow nonprofits on social media and share their content to spread the word. Get their message in front of people who may be able to contribute to or benefit from their initiatives.
  • Focus on how you can benefit others with your career path / talents. How can you serve others through your passion or profession?
  • Smile at, hold the door for, and say good morning to strangers. These small gestures can make a big difference in their day—and yours.
  • Take good care of your physical and mental health so that you can take better care of others. Build a life where you can thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

A Call to Continue the Conversation

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, on May 21, Women of Colors invited four panelists to have a conversation about mental health and suicide prevention. Hosted by Vicki Hill, Time to Have a Conversation featured powerful storytelling and a call to continue the conversation.

Mental health awareness is especially important today given the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Georgia Conic, L.L.P., who served on our panel, says that one of the major impacts from the pandemic was the impact on folks who are not normally considered mentally ill: “People who know they have a mental illness usually have a way of dealing with it. They have a therapist; they may take medication. They could adapt to the situation better than people who did not consider themselves mentally ill.”

Dr. Conic observed an increase in people struggling with 1) anger and 2) paranoia in the early months of the pandemic. “Many people were just really angry and did not know how to express that anger or deal with it [in a healthy way],” she says. “People were so afraid that they were going to get the virus and afraid of other people having the virus. Stress does cause an inability to cope sometimes, and I think that inability to cope is enough to get you into somebody’s office to talk about this and work out a plan.”

How do you know if it’s time for you or a loved one to seek professional help? According to Kevin Fischer, the Executive Director for Michigan’s branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, common warning signs include changes in behavior pattern, sudden or excessive fear and worry, excessive sadness, confused thinking, changes in appetite, changes in hygiene, disassociation from or loss of interest in activities that previously brought you joy, and increased risk taking.

Kevin strongly believes that stigma kills: “Stigma is the leading barrier that prevents people from getting the early diagnosis and treatment that leads to the best outcome. If you are not ashamed to have high blood pressure, cancer, or diabetes, then you should be no more ashamed to be living with a mental illness diagnosis than any other. A mental illness is a medical diagnosis; it is not a weakness of character. We have to fundamentally change the way we look at mental illness in this country because it is quite literally killing us.”

Early diagnosis and treatment are key. “For most people, when they receive that, they tend to go on to live very productive, very normal lives,” Kevin says. Just like a physical illness, the earlier a mental illness is diagnosed and treated, the better: “I can be diagnosed with stage-four cancer, or I can be diagnosed at stage one. If I am diagnosed at stage one, my odds of recovery are much improved than if I ignore it until it’s stage four. That’s what we tend to do in this country when we talk about mental illness. We ignore it until it reaches crisis. We ignore it until people become a danger to themselves or others.”

If you want to help destigmatize mental illness, consider sharing your experience(s) with others. Panelist Matisa Berry-Ellison, a survivor of suicide loss, believes in creating awareness about mental health and suicide prevention: “It’s my privilege to share my daughter Renee’s story. Renee was full of life, love, and caring. She enjoyed spending time with her family and friends. She had an awesome smile. There was nothing she could not do. She was very passionate about basketball, volleyball, and track and field.”

Matisa believes that by telling the story of her daughter’s battle with mental illness, she can help other families experiencing a similar situation. “I found myself, about a year after Renee’s passing, asking God why,” says Matisa. “I told God, ‘I did everything that a parent should do. I was there. I supported her. I don’t know why this happened.’ And I got my answer. A certain peace came over me and said, ‘This is not your story. This is her story. I want you to go tell it. I want you to go tell her story to save another child.’”

If you struggle with a mental illness, get organized and educated about what resources are available to you before you need them. Barb Smith, the Executive Director of the Suicide Resource & Response Network, recommends that people who experience suicidal thoughts always have the number for a 24-hour crisis line. “When you have those thoughts, in that moment, just say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to do it right now,’” she says. “Call your crisis lines, your friends, or your support person. Most people do not go back to suicide if we can get you through that crisis and help you find someone to ease your pain.”

If you don’t know what to expect when you contact a crisis line, of course, you may hesitate to make the call. Barb explains how the process works: “Very few times are paramedics or law enforcement called when people call those numbers. That number can often get people to stop and think and come up with another plan. When you call 1-800-273-TALK, you’ll first go to a local crisis line center. You’ll listen to a little bit of music, and when you get connected, an individual will just ask you, ‘Tell me why you’re calling today. Let’s talk about what’s going on today.’ They will hear you, get a sense of where your pain is, and give you some local numbers and resources.”

Next steps:

1) Share this article with someone who may need encouragement to take care of their mental health.

2) Listen to the full conversation on the Women of Colors Facebook page.

3) Save these important numbers in your phone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or Crisis Text-line: 741741
NAMI: 800-950-6264

A Message to Moms on Mother’s Day

Thank you for loving your sons and daughters unconditionally, teaching them about their place and purpose in the world, and modeling the values of faith and forgiveness.

Thank you for instilling joy and gratitude for life in your children.

Thank you for serving as an example of service by practicing volunteerism in and beyond your community.

Thank you for inspiring your children to use their gifts and talents to build a better world.

Thank you for pushing your sons and daughters outside their comfort zones to help them grow into the best versions of themselves.

Thank you for treating the people you encounter with respect, dignity, and love so that your sons and daughters may be moved to touch lives in the same way.

Thank you for teaching your children—directly or indirectly—about selflessness and sacrifice.

Thank you for lending a helping hand, a listening ear, or a compassionate heart when you meet someone who needs your gifts.

Thank you for changing the world in loud and quiet ways.

Thank you for armoring your children in courage, compassion, and conviction.

Thank you for strengthening your children with love.

Thank you for helping others without agenda or judgment.

Thank you for being your kids’ lifelong cheerleader, for believing in them, and most importantly, for teaching them to believe in themselves.

Thank you for blessing your children with the world and for blessing the world with your children.

 

Written by Allison Stein Consulting, LLC

Meet a Member: Spotlight on Lula R. Woodard

Lula R. Woodard is celebrating more than two decades of service to Women of Colors (WOC). Lula began volunteering for us in 2000! Today she reflects on her amazing journey working with like-minded women to benefit communities in and around Saginaw.

Lula has watched firsthand as WOC has expanded our programming to serve more people and to serve them more effectively. One of the first programs WOC launched was entitled Great Empowering Motivational Sessions (GEMS). This program focused on teaching young people social and life skills. In addition to WOC’s continued emphasis on mentorship and skills training for youth, including children and teens from underserved families, WOC now promotes three forums to mothers, fathers, and community members as part of an even more holistic approach to community building. Each forum series embraces powerful, transparent storytelling, and the topics range from “How I Overcame” to “I Am Still a Man” to “Time to Have a Conversation.”

Lula is happy with the many partnerships WOC has cultivated over her two decades of service. “Many variants have transformed our group through collaboration with other Great Lakes Bay agencies,” she says. WOC has remained firm in our values but flexible in our approach in order to respond to community needs. Based on increased demand for substance abuse prevention education in the Great Lakes Bay Region, for example, our organization now administers two evidence-based programs, Prime for Life and Botvin Life Skills, which serve middle school students and adults.

Like other nonprofits, WOC tackles old and new community challenges alike. Lula feels well-equipped to tackle those challenges as a community thanks in part to the training and support WOC provides for our members: “Women of Colors strongly believes in professional development training for its members. We have attended many leadership trainings, and the Prevention Team is required to complete at least twelve hours of training for certification each year.”

Great leadership more often than not requires individuals and organizations to adapt. In 2020, WOC ran a drive-thru Warm a Child for Winter coat giveaway, coordinated virtual forums, and created take-home science kits for youth in the Students and Future Technology program. “My perception of how far Women of Colors has come is due to the leadership and volunteers as we have learned to pivot during this pandemic since last year by doing remote sessions,” says Lula. “WOC has shown fastidious decision making during the highs and lows that many nonprofit organizations experience.”

For Lula, WOC embodies the values of spirituality, unity, and accountability. She finds hope in the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the thoughts and plans I have for your life.” In the future, Lula envisions WOC expanding to other counties within Michigan and even other states to become a national organization to help more women, children, and families.

Thank you, Lula, for your varied and vast contributions to Women of Colors! Your commitment to lending a helping hand in the Saginaw community has touched our lives and many others.