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Washington women in need of healthy living

Just five years ago, Joy Trapp was 35 and homeless. The mother of four children and a high school dropout, Trapp was in the midst of a divorce and caught in a cycle of abuse that began when she was a child. Today, Trapp is earning a BA in Liberal Arts with plans for a Master's degree, and she works as a case manager and program director for women who are chemically dependent and need transitional housing. The dramatic change in Trapp's life occurred after she called Washington Women in Need (WWIN), a unique nonprofit agency based in Bellevue. There, Trapp received grants for education and mental health counseling.

"They were instrumental in helping me transition from a turbulent life to a productive life by allowing me to become educated and supporting that financially," says Trapp, who lives in Tacoma "It is an important resource because it empowers."

Founded in 1992 by Julia Pritt, WWIN helps low-income women in Washington by providing financial assistance for health care and education.

Pritt, the mother of three grown children, was a successful businesswoman when her life began to unravel. She had co-founded and managed a large software company with her husband of 27 years, but she unexpectedly found herself in the midst of a divorce, battling cancer and coping with the death of her mother. Thankful that she had the financial resources to maintain some stability, she wondered about other women in similar circumstances whose hardships were compounded by financial difficulties.

Pritt turned her painful situation into a powerful organization that has helped over 3,500 women since its founding. Pritt pays for all of the agency's operating costs, so every dollar raised goes directly to helping women.

WWIN provides grants in four areas: education (including vocational training), mental health counseling, health care insurance premiums, and health services/dental/vision/hearing expenses. Grant recipients are chosen based on their income and family size, and WWIN is able to help about 300 women a year.

The nonprofit is unique for a few reasons. First, grants are available for dental care and counseling, two areas in which women are often unable to obtain help. In addition, the women get to choose their provider.

"The whole premise behind this is to treat everyone with dignity and respect and allow them to make choices that work for them. They can go to the school they want and can realize their dreams that have been squashed for them. They can see the possibilities for themselves," says Donna Batter, Fund Development Director for WWIN.

WWIN serves a variety of women, but on average:

  • they have a gross annual income of about $10,000
  • 59% are between the ages of 26 and 45
  • 83% are single, separated or divorced
  • 38% have dependent children

"We are trying to make a difference so the women can get jobs that pay better than living wage. Minimum wage is not a living wage -- it is below our poverty level," says Batter, who notes that many of the women WWIN helps are working poor or living on disability paychecks.

And why does the organization limit its services to women?

"Women are generally the nurturers and caregivers. We often find that women take care of themselves last because they are taking care of others. It could be parents, siblings or children, but when funds are limited, they usually take care of other people," explains Deborah Cushing, Executive Director of WWIN.

Plus, there is a ripple effect. Joy Trapp is now helping other women through her work and is a role model for her children, who are now all young adults. She tells them, "Whatever the obstacle, you can make it." She is teaching them to create and achieve goals.

"I want to leave a legacy," Trapp says. And she has. With help from WWIN, Trapp has broken a cycle of abuse and opened doors for her children and future generations.

Information about how to apply for WWIN aid or to volunteer or donate is available on WWIN's Web site, www.wawomeninneed.org, or by calling 425-451-8838. Jolene Gensheimer is a Bellevue-based freelance writer and mother of three.

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