Greenwood Women Care (GWC) members and 12 most welcome guests met on Tuesday evening, November 14, at the Arts Center. Our theme was “Serving the Community Through Second Chances” which resonated with all of us as we all have been the happy recipients of grace and forgiveness to experience second chances.
Mini sandwiches, vegetarian wraps, spicy chicken nuggets, and a wide array of delectable desserts along with a lively punch and wine awaited us. Our talented and dedicated volunteer GWC photographer, Catherine DiBenedetto, who we learned is also a gifted whistler, called us from our happy socializing and herded us to pose for a group photo.
At 6:00 sharp, we congregated together for our program. Rachel Strayer, Vice Chair of GWC’s Advisory Board, recognized our guest attendees and delivered a gracious welcome to all, along with a thought-provoking introduction to our program. Rachel noted: “This is a big topic that stirs different thoughts and feelings around the room. There is no pretending – we are human which makes us far from perfect. Sometimes people make bad choices that result in profound consequences. Other times being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in equally dire consequences. Neither of these scenarios should cause a person to become an outcast or have judgement passed against them for the rest of their lives.” She continued, “Bad choices or mistakes are a part of life. We have all been there in some manner of speaking. Thankfully, we have been shown grace and have been allowed, even encouraged, to succeed despite them. That same mercy should be offered to those engaging in reentry to society following incarceration”. Rachel concluded her remarks by thanking us “as always, for your interest in looking at topics we may not often encounter with an open mind.”
Sylvia Martin, Executive Director of the Arts Council and GWC member, generously welcomed us to the Arts Center. She expressed thanks for the GWC grant award last year that allowed outreach enrichment opportunities focusing on the Gullah Geechee culture that culminated in a beautiful exhibit of art by Jonathan Green and dance by the Columbia City Ballet, “Off the Wall and Onto The Stage.”
Debra Coleman, Programs and Education Committee member, introduced Denise Mock, Community Service Coordinator of Greenwood and Abbeville Counties for the Alston Wilkes Society (AWS). A multistate nonprofit organization, AWS provides supportive services to individuals with justice system involvement, veterans and their families, and at-risk youth and adults in our community. Denise also coordinates resources with other agencies for those who are transitioning back into their communities as productive and successful citizens. Denise described AWS services and then introduced Candace Adams. Candace is a successful realtor in Greenwood who gave us insight into the struggles and challenges faced by the formerly incarcerated as they reenter society.
Sabrina Miller, of the Programs and Education Committee, introduced our next speaker, Jerry Blassingame, Founder and CEO of Soteria Community Development Corporation. Soteria CDC is committed to empowering and assisting individuals to reach their full potential as citizens in the Greenville community. From financial-planning and goal setting to positive decision-making, job training, and affordable rental housing, their programs assist previously incarcerated individuals. For those who complete the 12 months training, the recidivism rate is 0! Jerry conceived of Soteria while he was an inmate charged with drug offenses. Six months after his release, Soteria CDC was incorporated. Residents attend classes, learn a trade, participate in weekly church services and meetings with mentors, and share in daily devotions. Soteria now occupies eight buildings in the neighborhood of his former home and of his mother’s murder when he was a young child. In the Q & A portion, Jerry explained that Soteria is the Greek word for “salvation”. (Please see this link for Jerry’s stirring presentation at TEDx Greenville in 2018.)
Helena Wardlaw, Programs and Education Committee member, presented two books to be given in honor of our speakers to the Children’s Collection of Greenwood County Library. Trying by Kobi Yamada was given in honor of Jerry Blassingame and Maybe, also by Kobi Yamada, in honor of Denise Mock.
Mary Woodiwiss, Chair of the GWC Advisory Board, ended our evening with gratitude to our Social, Programs and Education, and Communications Committees for their preparations for this reception and program and to the Grants Review and Awards Committee for “leading us though our fifth granting cycle with aplomb, resulting in 10 GWC Grant awards totaling $75,000! This year’s awards bring our cumulative total awards in 5 years of grantmaking to 51 grants totaling $331,800!”
Mary also extended heartfelt appreciation to our speakers, noting that the book given in Jerry Blassingame’s honor is “a story of persistence and perseverance to achieve works of beauty and meaning. For decades, you have persevered – in shaping your own life story and the stories of those you have served faithfully and well” and that the book recognizing Denise Mock’s presentation is “a story of hope and possibility. You have encouraged hope and opened possibilities for many who may have lost sight of these intangible necessities”. She added: “You both move toward the hard things in life, and lives are reclaimed and renewed because you do. You encourage hope in us as well by sharing with us your heartfelt work for the betterment of our community as a whole and for so many individuals and families within it. Thank you again for taking time to share your commitments and visions with us. We hope for every blessing for you and your organizations as you persevere.”