Writer / Cindy Argentine
Zionsville Women in Network (ZWIN) started as an organization to support women in business. “We noticed a need in our town for women to get together to promote their businesses,” says Kathy Wood, co-founder. In 2013, Wood and another local businesswoman, Debbi Kuller, met for coffee and began imagining what a local networking group might look like. They wanted to help women grow socially and professionally, and they wanted service to be part of the group’s mission.
They brainstormed ideas, drafted bylaws, advertised their first meeting, and hoped ten people would join. When 30 women came to the kickoff in June 2013, Wood and Kuller were “blown away.”
Now, four years later, the group weaves functionality, fun, and philanthropy seamlessly together. Membership has grown to include over 50 women. ZWIN is showing that what is good for individual women is also a boon to Boone County.
Twice a year, the group schedules a social event where the main activity is community service. Last June, they threw a “Jewelry Bling Fling” at ZWorks. Prior to the event they held a jewelry drive—asking members, friends, and neighbors to donate stylish jewelry they no longer wore. The response was amazing. The night of the event, members sifted through mound after mound of sparkling adornments. They sorted them, cleaned them, and grouped them into ensembles—this gold necklace with these hoop earrings and that cuff bracelet, for example.
As jewelry sets were organized, ladies placed them into pink chiffon bags and attached hand-written notes of encouragement. Who were the recipients? The Caring Center in Lebanon and Birds Be Free Foundation. The Caring Center assists women facing domestic violence and other difficult situations. “The director was absolutely thrilled that she was able to give those gals something like this,” Wood says. Birds Be Free Foundation was started by a Zionsville salon owner, Cindy Crowe-Layne.
Kuller met her through a business connection and also heard her speak at a church event. Birds Be Free helps women who have been in jail or struggled with addiction by providing make-overs and support.
Crowe-Layne displayed the jewelry bags and asked ladies to pick out whichever set they wanted. One of the recipients wrote a special thank-you note telling what it meant to her. “This gal got a necklace that said ‘Believe.’ She was going through the most awful thing, and she was in tears. It touched her, even for that second. There are lots of stories like that,” Wood says.
ZWIN is continuing its outreach to women in need this December. They are partnering with Project Purse Indianapolis to donate purses filled with toiletries, bus passes, and first aid supplies to local women. Project Purse distributes the items at homeless shelters, schools, churches, and other venues. It’s a tangible, practical way to encourage struggling women.
Kuller adds that it’s really easy to do. “The response to our drives is amazing. People are like, ‘Gosh, I have so many purses I don’t use,’ or ‘I have so much jewelry.’ We are just the means for passing it along.”
The community can contribute to this December’s drive by donating new or gently used purses in very good condition. Additionally, people can donate travel-size toiletries, first aid items, beauty products (such as hair ties, nail polish, lip balm), or stationery supplies like capped pens and small note pads. All of these will be tucked into the purses to assist the ladies who receive them.
Community members may drop off purses or the small items suggested above at Century 21 Scheetz or Old National Bank, or they may give them to a ZWIN member. In December, the group will fill the purses and write notes to the recipients while celebrating the season of giving.
ZWIN is serving the community in other ways, too. This September, a team of nine ZWIN members led by Susan Albers erected the walls of a house built for a local mother through Habitat for Humanity. On October 26, ZWIN hosted an Appreciation Luncheon at the new Town Hall for the fire department, police officers, and other town hall employees.
ZWIN members served pulled pork and homemade sides and desserts while getting to know our public servants. In December, the group will continue its annual tradition of serving hot chocolate to shoppers at Christmas in the Village outside Five Thirty-One Home.
The giving extends beyond ZWIN events. Individual members use their connections within ZWIN to promote additional charitable causes. When the food bank at the Caring Center in Lebanon was critically low, a ZWIN member advertised the need on Facebook and boosted donations.
“What’s cool about this is when we have announcements at our meetings, most of the announcements are philanthropic-related. Leigh Ann Akard has something almost every time; there’s Habitat for Humanity; or someone has an event within their own company to announce. I love that,” says Wood.
Kuller and Wood knew that establishing a group to help women build their business networks would be valuable to those individuals. And as the founders hoped, it also valuable to the community.
Kuller says she looks forward to every meeting: “I get excited about everything about it—the friendships, personal support, community involvement. When we think about our initial vision and what has happened, Kathy and I just pinch ourselves.”
For more information about the organization and its upcoming events, visit the ZWIN website at zionsvillewin.org.