Christmastime sparks a spirit of generosity as people look to spread joy to others or find ways to provide a hand up. But for some women at Hand UP for Women, all year long they choose volunteerism. Why? Because their soul yearns to help others. There are a few faces at the Christian women’s ministry that may go unnoticed but their work certainly does not. 

Barbara Golec Demonstrates a Heart for Mentorship

Barbara has been working with Hand UP for Women for about 15 years. She learned about the Knoxville non-profit in her last job before retirement, and she thought when she retired she would come to the organization to see how she could help. Executive director, Eva Pierce, interviewed her and gave her a list of tasks to checkmark that she’d be interested in assisting. Barbara checked off a bunch, but not mentoring. Eva asked why and she explained she didn’t feel comfortable with doing so. But she sat in a class that night to see the organization at work. The class moved her so much that on her drive home she cried the entire way. Within a month, she began mentoring participants.

“Sometimes mentoring works and sometimes it doesn’t,” Barbara explained. She’s helped around a dozen ladies over the years. Some keep in touch, others continue their journey without Barbara. But for those who stay in touch they know they have a mentor and friend by their side.

Barbara enjoys finding needs to fill. That’s why she started the Barbara Bucks program. Participants can earn these “bucks” by doing their homework before class, showing up to class, and in other ways to show they are excelling in the program. And then from the market located upstairs in Duncan House they can use their Barbara Bucks for personal and feminine hygiene items that have been donated. This especially helps women who are on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since those just pay for food and not other products needed.

Betty-Lou Simpson Provides a Helping Hand

Around 10 years ago Betty-Lou’s daughter was teaching Bible study classes at Hand UP for Women and she attended. “That’s all it took was one time,” Betty-Lou shared. She recalled Barbara serving bologna sandwiches on white bread before classes and thought she could help Barbara put sandwiches together as well as help with anything else needed. And she’s continued ever since.

“We try to love on them every week twice a week and let them know who they are in the eyes of God,” Betty-Lou said about working with the participants.

Karen Mills’ Commitment to Serving Others

Karen is more involved with the participants because she is in class with them twice a week. As the program coordinator, she’s also their first point of contact since Karen reviews all the applications and then calls each potential participant to see if the program is what she is truly seeking. Karen is often seen doing anything and everything at Hand UP for Women because of her unwavering support and commitment to give back and serve others.

“Karen is the glue that holds this place together,” Betty-Lou said.

Karen also believes when it comes to mentoring to “never to be more vested in helping a lady than she does in helping herself.”

Three Friends and Their Compassionate Journey

These three friends have been the heart of this organization for so long they can complete each other’s sentences. While Karen is on staff, Barbara and Betty-Lou say they each spend about 10 hours a week helping Hand UP, truly being the “warm-hearted elves” of the organization.

Betty-Lou said, “It’s become second nature for us.” She shared that people thought she was paid because she was talking about Hand UP for Women all the time.

“Sometimes I feel that this is my family,” Betty-Lou explained, “These ladies absolutely light up when they see adults walk into the room when we don’t accuse them or judge them.”

“I enjoy it. I’m retired and don’t want to sit and do nothing. It’s a part of my life. And my family and friends know that,” Barbara expressed confidently.

Volunteers’ Hearts Reach Beyond Hands

Betty-Lou shared that while some women seek this permanent solution after detoxing, leaving a domestic violence situation or search for a fresh start, other women join the program due to being under-employed and are looking to gain job skills. And that’s another reason why Hand UP can help. To provide computer skills, work on self-esteem and character development and even help with professional manners. Women can use these strengths to find lifelong careers and thus become self-sufficient to provide for their families.

“They end up helping us,” Betty-Lou said. “Our hearts reach beyond our hands and we touch other circles of people to the center which is at the core to do what we do with these ladies.”

This pair also notices who may need an extra meal from the meals brought in on Tuesdays and Thursdays ahead of classes. Every night after class Barbara and Betty-Lou pack the leftovers to give participants to take to their families.

They always look for ways to give back. If they see a participant in class who needs a winter coat, the next time there’s class there’s a winter coat in her seat in a plastic bag.

Get to Know Our Program

Their acts of kindness add up to help each participant feel welcomed, supported and loved. Some view these ladies like a mom they never had or an aunt who is always rooting for them. Hand UP for Women provides hope, help and healing and these women are just a few of the key contributors to making a difference. To learn more about our life management and career-readiness program click here.