WGIRLS comforts, lends helping hand
Since March, Diane Draper and her husband, David, haven't been able to rest easy.
They have split their time between their home in Wisconsin Rapids and Milwaukee as they support their daughter, Stephanie, who is recovering at Froedtert Memorial Hospital from a bone marrow transplant.
"We've had a couple of bumps in the road," Diane Draper confides.
But, along the way they have been comforted by the kindness of strangers offering the couple needed food and shelter during their long stays - among those kind strangers WGirls Milwaukee, a new nonprofit organization of young professional women who offer their time, talent and financial support to local groups needing a helping hand.
"Volunteers are critical," said Dick Vogel, executive director of Kathy's House, which provides free shelter to out-of-town families facing a medical crisis.
While the organization provides the shelter, supplying food "would be very costly," Vogel said.
That's where WGirls comes in.
The women, who range in age from 22 to 40, offer complete themed meals on a regular basis to families at the shelter. "It makes you feel cared about when you are in your particular situation," said Diane Draper, whose 22-year-old daughter is being treated for acute myeloid leukemia.
"They are always so friendly and warm," said Draper, whose husband is a major fan of Mexican Fiesta night, while she loves Cookout night. "They are your support system when you are away from home."
Leslie Colvin knows all too well the importance of having an expanded support system.
The Wauwatosa elementary school teacher, who's 32, started the WGirls Milwaukee chapter in the fall of 2009 after experiencing the first-hand impact of the group's New York City chapter.
At the time, Colvin's husband, Tony, was being treated for a rare form of cancer, Ewing's sarcoma, at a New York hospital.
"We would have to go for two and half weeks at a time for chemotherapy," Colvin said. "You are emotionally and mentally drained. You can't even think let alone decide what to cook for dinner."
When they returned to their home away from home after a grueling day they had a wonderfully prepared meal waiting for them.
"It was so nice to have one less thing to worry about. It was a small gesture to them, but for us it was a big deal," said Colvin, who was touched by the unexpected human connection. "It was so amazing; I knew this was something I wanted to bring to Milwaukee. I have always wanted to help people in some way and give back and do my part to make the world a better place."
She would discover there were more women out there waiting to make a meaningful impact in their community.
"I've always wanted to give back," said Michelle Meihsner, a sales representative for a local lamination manufacturer and a member of the group.
"We are looking outside of ourselves for the greater good of women and children," said Meihsner, 29, of Milwaukee. "We are stronger together than we are apart."
Inside of a year, the organization - also a social networking group - has grown from one to 30 women who have raised more than $20,000 through various fund-raisers, including a Bachelor-Bachelorette Auction, for a number of community groups from the Hebron House of Hospitality in Waukesha to the Playroom of Hope in Wauwatosa.
The 3-year-old national organization has also seen a rapid expansion fueled in large part by Facebook, said Amy Heller, 34, founder and president of the national chapter in New York City.
Heller, a project manager for a New York financial services firm, said the name comes from a shortened version of the day of the week each chapter sets aside to plan activities - Wednesdays.
Along with Milwaukee, there are now chapters in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
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