Michele Jiha, vice president of Wings for Women, says the organization's mission is to "empower homeless and impoverished women to overcome despair through basic living support, coaching and guidance to lead self-sustainable, productive lives." On Saturday, Sept. 21, the group will hold one of its two annual fundraisers — the 3rd Annual Gala, hosted by Mayor Jonathan and Karen Rothschild, at the Hilton East, 7600 E. Broadway Blvd. There will be a silent auction and proceeds will go toward the development of a drop-in center. For more information and to buy tickets, call 406-6345, or visit wingsforwomentucson.org.
How long have you been on the board of directors?
Almost from the beginning. Wings began in 2010 and I joined shortly after that. It was our foundation year getting people on board and in 2011 we started our fundraising.
How did it start?
With our founder and director Nadia Valle. One day she saw a report on CNN about Susan Burton who was one of 10 CNN heroes. Susan was working with women in California and Nadia admired what she was doing because she wanted to do the same thing. She went to California to meet with her to figure out how she could start a group to work with homeless and undeserved women and children in Tucson. What's interesting is that Nadia has been in social services for over 20 years and so have I. In our work we've seen that a lot of women don't get help because they don't meet certain criteria — they don't have substance abuse issues or domestic violence issues, and aren't rape victims. I knew that's what I wanted to do. I want to help all women regardless of what their situation is — you're a woman who needs help and wants to better her life whether she has children or not.
Some folks working in social services always see the areas where people don't get served.
That's exactly what she saw this hole that needed to be filled. It's really sad for some women, like those who wind up being divorced with children. They go to file for welfare, but are told, "You make $6 over the limit. We can't help you." Sometimes their only resource is to cut back their hours at their job if they can without losing their job or sometimes they are forced to quit their job and pray for a miracle.
What do you want to offer at a new drop-in center?
Right now we have a food pantry, we have clothes and two storage facilities. What we'd like in a drop-in center is to have everything in one spot and a place for groups to meet like life skills, literacy and computers to help women look for jobs and get them prepared. A place where women can work on whatever obstacle is in their way.
What other projects or services does Wings offer?
Right now we do one-on-one support and help women find jobs or hook-up with other resources in the community. What's great about our organization is that we take everyone on an individual basis. In the past when we've had the funding available, we've paid for daycare for women who were trying to get through school, paid for glasses so women can see if that was keeping them from getting a job, paid for car repairs because they needed transportation. It always depends on what they need. We have hygiene and food boxes, and we are always working with local businesses who hire some of the women we work with. We do a homeless outreach for anyone at Reid Park and we hand out lots of hygiene items, as well as food, clothes and shoes. We hear from people about other homeless, maybe a woman living in a car nearby with her children. There are many women who are homeless with children and they don't like anyone to know that for fear their children will be taken away.
What do you like about being involved with Wings?
I think what's great about Wings is the flexibility and we are solely run by volunteers and we don't have a lot of bureaucracy in our organization. We also ask women we help to give back in some way. This isn't just a handout. As an organization we are always doing something in the community and working with other organizations — always giving back. We don't force it on these women, but we encourage it. Some of our strongest women volunteers have been people we've helped.