Expanding a program can be daunting, often seen as both a financial and time-consuming investment. Yet, for the dedicated team of staff and instructors at Hand UP for Women, extending the program from one year to a year and a half felt like the natural next step in transforming women’s lives.

Program Evolvement Over the Years

For more than a decade, Karen Mills has been the driving force behind Hand UP for Women’s program coordination. Alongside Eva Pierce, the executive director, they review curricula together. “When I started it was a year-long program,” When Mills started, the program was one year, but the said classes have evolved in tandem with the transformation of the women they serve.

Current classes include life management, career readiness and spiritual development. More specifically, these classes teach goal-setting, character, computer skills, car care, Bible studies and much more. Even these classes have adapted over time. Since much has changed in the last 20 years, so have skill sets and how instructors teach. Some classes are a lesson or two, and others last for weeks. Each instructor sets the class length based on subject matter and the time needed to absorb the material.With 15 instructors, there’s no shortage of knowledge.

Participants Are Up for the Challenge of a Longer Program

“They came in knowing that their time here would be 18 months,” said Mills.
These new ladies who have come in are very committed. We have a 28-year-old and all the way up to 65 years old,” Mills.

New participants such as Christine McGrath, who began in March, are prepared for the year-and-a-half-long program. What started as an online search for group therapy led McGrath to apply to Hand UP for Women and get accepted. “It’s amazing. The program has already pretty much changed my life and I’m not even halfway through yet. I’m excited to see how much better I can become,” McGrath said.

McGrath was searching for an opportunity to meet new people, learn new things and heal herself. So far, Hand UP is meeting and exceeding her expectations. Just a couple of months in, she’s already checking off goals she had for herself, including earning a new job as an apartment manager for two apartment complexes in Loudon. “They helped give me the confidence to go for it.”

She’s aware she has a long time until graduation in the fall of 2025. In that time, she’s hoping to learn even more and feel more camaraderie. “I can’t wait for our future classes because there’s one about forgiveness. It helps me think of things in a different way,” McGrath said.

New Classes Offer New Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

A variety of new classes will be added thanks to graduates sharing ideas for new topics. One of the ideas is a cooking class with an instructor who is a chef. There will be a women’s healthcare class to focus on female-health and wellness. Another class that is forming will be a home maintenance class teaching women how to hang pictures, change a lock and work with toilets and appliance issues. There’s been heavy interest in doing a housekeeping class as well as explaining the ins and outs of mopping the floor, dusting, vacuuming and the order in which you clean. Mills shared they are also working to find a volunteer to teach a self-defense class. Lastly, a couple of people are interested in doing an additional Bible study on the Book of Job.

Those classes wouldn’t take effect until March 2025. Any graduate can come back to any class to either refresh their skillset or learn something new.

“It’s wonderful,” Mills said when asked about the expansion, “It’s the most unique organization I think that is in Knoxville. There are a lot of halfway houses and homeless shelters. But we are really the only organization that does what we do. And it was designed that way.”

Mills shared how Hand UP is the next step for women who are ready to make a change and become self-sufficient.

“To see some of the women come in here so terribly broken and leave here with good jobs, get their children back, get a home and a car… they grabbed ahold of what we’re about and they did it, that’s the whole point,” Mills said.

“I’ve already learned to value myself more,” McGrath shared. She said her son and others have noticed how, because of Hand UP, she has become more positive in her thoughts and words.

“We don’t do it for them, they do it themselves,” Mills said.

To learn more about the current classes offered, click here. If you are interested in teaching a class on a subject you can get in contact with Karen Mills at [email protected].