Hand UP for Women, a 501(c)(3) non-profit has grown, developed and matured with time and love since its inception in 2001. The Knox County Association of Baptists assisted with the organization’s startup, but the real momentum came when Eva Pierce was chosen as Executive Director. The organization began serving women in 2003.

When Diane Gross was attending a Baptist church in East Tennessee, she learned about the organization and felt drawn to the program. At the time, Diane was a single mom who had been through challenging years in her own life and she saw many parallels between the women Hand UP was helping and in her own life.

Diane had safety nets between her family and church family and was grateful to not need the services herself, but felt moved to offer support for the many women who didn’t have the same support system she had.

Different From All the Rest

Several years later Hand UP for Women blossomed from the Women’s Christian Job Corps and became its own 501(c)(3) non-profit. The differentiating factor that makes Hand UP unique is the goal the women to do the work themselves in order to become self-sufficient.

That was the case for Shannon Kyle. One of the first graduates of Hand UP for Women who now lives in Nashville, TN, and works in food service at Skyline Medical Center. Around 2005 Shannon was in Knox County Drug Court. Homelessness, drugs and alcohol dominated her life. “If I hadn’t met them, there’s no telling where I should be, but I would be dead…probably,” Shannon said. Shannon recalls relapsing after she graduated, but because of the firm foundation of Christian ministry, career development and life skills classes, she was able to get back on track and is now more than a decade sober. “The program is amazing,” Shannon said.

Diane thinks the magic in helping participants, like Shannon, graduate and succeed comes down to the hearts of the people running Hand UP. “Eva is a strong personality and there were times I didn’t agree with how she handled things, but I have to say that a big, big part of the success of the program is her,” Diane said. She expressed how Eva has a unique gift for seeing which women genuinely want to change and which ones aren’t ready to make that commitment yet. “Her ability to speak the truth to the women without sugar-coating it is incredible. It has been a group effort and it takes a village,” Diane explained.

Merea Program

The village stems from the Merea program. Participants are assigned a mentor and in turn they are the Merea, which is the Greek word for companion and confidential friend. From the beginning “I always felt drawn to the mentoring aspect. I have 5 daughters and I’ve not always done the best job, but they claim to love me,” Diane shared. Mentoring has been the most satisfying aspect to Diane. “I have to learn it is not all up to me. They have to learn for themselves,” Diane shared. Diane feels she has the gift of mercy. “I think a lot of women could see themselves in certain phases of life through the Merea program,” Diane said.

Research shows that mentoring leads to career opportunities and advancement. Diane has helped women find and continue with careers, work to reunite with their children and helped them develop a relationship with God.

God’s Guidance

While not all participants are financially disadvantaged, Diane said, “I do believe that our success is largely or primarily because God has blessed us and I feel as though we have tried to be good stewards of the resources God has given us. We have had very generous donors who have helped along the way.”

Women learn about God and the Bible where many find character development anecdotes that help them grow. As an instructor, Diane said, “ I try to help the women turn to God and that He wants people to know Him or to turn to Him.”

For Shannon Kyle, she recalled not believing in anything before Hand UP for Women. “They taught me about Christianity and how to live life and how to do so like a normal person,” Shannon shared. Christ is still a part of her life to this day and she remains active in her church community in Nashville.

Through the years Hand UP for Women has grown in support with donors helping with funds to meet participants’ needs, new resources and Miracle Ridge at Buffat Mill allowing for expansion and more women to be served.

“Hand UP for Women did a lot for me. They impacted my life a great deal,” Shannon said. Her main advice for women who are looking for a long-term program to help their life get back on track is, “Anybody can experience God’s grace and mercy no matter what. Everybody is redeemable and I do feel very blessed with that every day of my life.”

To learn more about what Hand UP for Women entails, click here.