For 38 years, the YWCA Lower Cape Fear honored nearly 500 trailblazing local women with its Women of Achievement Awards. Later this month, the organization is retiring the program with a fitting farewell, allowing YWCA officials to shift their focus to new initiatives tailored to the current needs of women in the region.
Called Unforgettable Moments, the September 27 event will be a time to reflect, but also to look ahead, says ADRIENNE MOORE, a member of the event committee.
“We need to stop, pat ourselves on the back, and take a bow,” she says of the legacy that the Women of Achievement Awards has created, beginning in 1985.
It was Lois Steele, at that time the YWCA Lower Cape Fear’s workforce development director, who lit the spark for the new program, says the organization’s spokeswoman GRACE D’ANGELIS.
“[Lois] was traveling for a YWCA national event and met women from another YWCA affiliate that did an event similar to Women of Achievement,” D’Angelis says. “Lois loved the idea and brought it back to the team.”
After a successful first recognition event, Steele approached Adrienne Moore’s father, Jim Moore, asking if his firm would be a presenting sponsor of the program. He agreed, and James E. Moore Insurance Agency has done that every year since.
“Our family’s relationship with the YWCA goes back to my grandparents,” Adrienne Moore adds, noting that the insurance agency was founded by her grandfather. “I’ve been involved in the [Women of Achievement] for many years and I’m the third generation of us, as an agency, supporting the YWCA.”
But everything has a life cycle, and current YWCA leadership decided that the organization should celebrate the legacy of Women of Achievement and shift focus to new initiatives.
“We’ve recognized women who have made tremendous contributions to our community and to the YWCA Lower Cape Fear in our mission of empowering women,” says current CEO VELVA JENKINS. “We’ve had an amazing past, but sometimes you just have to make that decision, or look at history and let it be that legacy that we leave for others to admire and understand. “
Jenkins adds that it was time for the organization to assess other pressing needs in its four-county service area.
“We don’t take a national issue and run with it; we want to move the needle in our community,” she says, explaining that she and her colleagues have done a lot of listening, gauging the damage to vulnerable parts of the community by the pandemic, and discerning where their efforts are most needed.
It was the pandemic, Jenkins says, that showed more clearly the inequities existing in health care access and delivery across Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, and Pender counties. She was newly at the helm of the YWCA, after previously serving on the board.
“It became our strong desire to make our community a better place with regard to women, women of color, and families of color,” she says. “We need to make this a more equitable community when it comes to health access: shine a light on the needs. Women need to have better equity when it comes to self-care and health issues. We did the Health Summit in 2022 that danced around a lot of that; we had the desire to dig a little deeper.”
The need to know more led to Talk on Health, the organization’s virtual series exploring health and wellness topics with experts in specific fields and addressing health disparities. Participants responded with their own stories, highlighting needs for everything from transportation to appointments to money to pay for care. The stories also revealed the fear that some women of color feel about asking questions of their medical providers.
Through the Talk on Health forum, women asked questions they were afraid to ask their doctor, Jenkins says.
“We want providers to be more empathetic and understand the issues [affecting many women of color],” she says. “There are not many black doulas to help women through childbirth. Postpartum care is something women are dealing with. Some women of color think mental health is a taboo subject. We want them to know it’s okay to talk about it. We want to be that safe base.”
The theme of this year’s Health Summit, held in April, was maternal health and access to health care.
“How can we empower women if we’re not focusing on their health?” Jenkins asks. “That is where we are going to be spending a lot of our energy.”
Meanwhile, she and Adrienne Moore say, it’s time to throw a big party for Women of Achievement and what that awards program has accomplished.
“I’m super proud of the fact we found women in our four counties who flew under the radar,” Adrienne Moore says. “I want people to pause and think, ‘Wow! I didn’t know our YWCA did that.’”
Not only did the recognition program reach into many sectors, saluting women who made contributions in fields like education, environmental awareness, and the arts; it also broke ground when it launched the scholarship component, she continues. That initiative was good for older women as well as for the recipients themselves.
“Any time you’re around young people, you feel pushed and challenged,” she says.
The Unforgettable Moments event takes place at Wrightsville Manor. Awards program alumnae will be re-introduced during what Jenkins calls “a big party,” complete with female DJ The Midday Miss. Tickets and more information are available online.
“It’s not about the YWCA, it’s about celebrating women who accomplished great things and created a pathway for other women to excel,” Jenkins says. “Moving forward, we at the YWCA can walk in the path of those women who have been trailblazers.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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