Annual Celebration, “GWC: Attitude of Gratitude”, at Greenwood Community Theatre, March 18, 2024

GWC’s 2024 Annual Celebration was indeed a glorious one! The entirety of the evening exemplified our theme of GWC: Attitude of Gratitude. Appreciation for our blessings, each other, our organization, our community, and Greenwood nonprofits filled the air. Upon arriving in the Uptown Courtyard for the reception, members were encouraged to write something that they appreciated about GWC. In our program portion in Greenwood Community Theatre, each speaker and segment reiterated cause for gratitude for our organization, this community, and the people and places we share within them.

Let us begin by giving thanks to Betty Adams and Martha Ann Davis of our Membership Committee who welcomed members and guests at our sign in table; followed by heartfelt appreciation to our Social Committee Co-Chairs, Holley Coyle and Courtney Christensen, who, assisted by Cindy Logan and Carol Harley, truly outdid themselves to set a celebratory tone for our special evening. Shrimp, mini-quiches, wraps, petit fours, and more were elegantly served and enjoyed along with a flavorful punch (tinted GWC green), champagne punch, and wine. A veritable feast in the lovely environs of the Uptown Courtyard – thank you to all you made this happen for us!

Greenwood Community Theatre once again extended their gracious hospitality to us and provided a perfect meeting place for our Annual Celebration program. We were graced with the presence of at least 59 of our 150 members, some of whom are also among the nine GCCF Board Members who came, and no less than 30 other guests. Approximately 90 delightful souls were in attendance! The stage was (literally) set by Ryan Hewitt, GCT Artistic Director and, appropriately, was bathed in green light. We all knew we were in for a visual and sensory treat.

Mary Woodiwiss, Chair of GWC’s Advisory Board, delivered her opening remarks in her typical gracious and eloquent manner, welcoming members and guests and recognizing the GCCF Board members who joined us and reminding us “We are150 women, over a 70-year age range, and from many walks of life; 150 women: to build a Granting Fund with, to learn alongside, to get to know, to expand our understanding of ourselves and each other, to help each of us foster an attitude of gratitude.”  Mary closed with, “I truly believe that we come to love what we give attention to. May GWC continue to be a fellowship in which we can foster attention toward this place we call home so that we may learn more about her, give for her flourishing, and grow more abundantly as women and community members.” Truly, inspiring words.

Ryan Hewitt extended a warm and lively welcome to GCT. Mary then presented a children’s book on behalf of GWC in appreciation of Ryan for his help and support entitled, Eyes that Speak to the Stars, authored by Joanna Ho and illustrated by Dung Ho. This book will be donated to the Greenwood County Library in honor of Ryan and GCT.

Tyra Murray and Morgan Bates of Next Level Lifestyles spoke of their gratitude to GWC as a 2022 GWC Grant recipient and noted that GWC awarded one of Next Level Lifestyles’ very first grants. Tyra also recounted the fact that her prospects in school did not seem very positive, as some of her teachers and school counselors discouraged her from attempting a college education. Tyra overcame their short-sighted expectations and has obtained both an undergraduate and a master’s degree. Her story illustrates the value of investing in and encouraging the development of youth, as exemplified by Next Level Lifestyles. Tyra then introduced Morgan Bates, another Next Level Lifestyles mentor who is helping younger students embrace the tenets of the program. What a beautiful story of “passing it on”!

Door prizes of delicious and decadent treats from Charming Gourmet Sticks, created by Helena Wardlaw, and handmade journals from Main & Maxwell, provided by Laura Bachinski, were delivered by Helena to members guests as our grantee speakers each drew two names submitted by attendees.

All were then reminded of what a wonderful organizational life GWC experienced in 2023 through a slide show filled with engaging images and meaningful quotes about gratitude (with accompanying music) 2023: A Year of Gratitude, created by Laura Stowe and edited by Mary Woodiwiss. You may view this slide show (without the music) here.

Nancy Hart Wicker, mother of Willow, then spoke movingly about GCT and The Penguin Project. This program pairs children and youth with one or more of an array of disabilities with peer mentors resulting in a full, beautiful stage production of a musical. Nancy Hart described how this program has greatly benefitted her daughter, Willow, and provided a brief video of Willow joyously dancing and singing with her mentor. What a gift the Penguin Project is to those performers, their families, and to our entire community! GCT has received three grant awards from GWC in support of this extraordinary program.

Our attendees then raucously enjoyed GWC’s version of  “Family Feud”, created and emceed by Laura Stowe. Special thanks to our two extremely capable and fun GWC members/scorekeepers, Rowan Pallis, and Taylor Haigler. This was followed by a poignant slide show recognition of our seven “Families Within Our GWC Family”, created by Rachel Strayer.

Lauren Boyd and Dana Baca represented Connie Maxwell Children’s Ministries, also a three-time GWC Grant award recipient organization. Their 2023 grant was for the development of the MaxFit gym for their young residents and staff. Lauren spoke of how the equipment was specifically selected to help participants deal with anger, anxiety, and trauma. These include rowers, push sleds, ski machines, slam balls, and ropes. Establishing the MaxFit gym was a three-year vision for Connie Maxwell but, in part due to the GWC grant, they accomplished this feat in one year! Dana Baca is a current resident of Connie Maxwell, an enthusiastic beneficiary of the new Max Fit gym, and a recipient of an acceptance letter from The Citadel!

Debbie Coesens and Jan Puzar highlighted GWC’s 2023 grantees and gave an overview of our granting history since our first grant cycle in 2019 in the segment “Granting for Good”, which included a slide show compiled by Mary Woodiwiss. Their inspiring presentation was followed by the fun and organized chaos of our Grant Number Shuffle. $331,874 total to Greenwood County nonprofits through 51 grants in just five years of GWC Grant Awards!

Rachel Strayer, Vice Chair of GWC’s Advisory Board, delivered closing remarks suggesting we make room for more gratitude into our daily lives; “Instead of saying, ‘I have to’, try saying ‘I get to!’  i.e., ‘I get to see my friends and family.’ ‘I get to exercise’, ‘I get to experience new things’”, etc. She incorporated several of the comments of gratitude written on paper slips by members during our reception. Rachel ended her remarks by saying, “Personally, I am grateful for this group and the wonderful work we facilitate in our community. Imagine how much more support we could provide if we DOUBLED our membership! I challenge each of you to bring at least one guest to a GWC event this year. Let’s share our gratitude for what we’re a part of by introducing it to others!”

What a fantastic way to end a great celebration! The entire evening was emblematic of a grateful organization. Thank you to all who worked hard to make this a joyous and fun event for our members and guests!