After September 11, 2001, Betsy Wiggins, a Christian, and Danya Wellmon, a Muslim, decided that the divides between various groups within Central New York needed to be bridged so that they could achieve their common objective — a safer, more hospitable Greater Syracuse Area. They established Women Transcending Boundaries (WTB) to nurture mutual respect and understanding among women of diverse beliefs and customs. Now more than 400 people strong, members often meet to learn more about each other’s cultures and faiths as well as volunteer together in a joint commitment to the local area.
A successful community-wide weekend of service already established in another city inspired the women to do something similar in Syracuse, but they did not know where to start. Soon after, five of the women attended The Leadership Classroom (TLC), a Community Foundation program designed to build leadership skills among neighborhood grass roots organizations. Taking away new insights on how to identify, plan and implement a project of their own, they felt confident that they could host a similar service weekend in Syracuse.
They set forth to establish the first A-OK! (Acts of Kindness) Weekend for September 11 and 12, 2010, in honor of the National Day of Service and Remembrance. Plans for the weekend have grown beyond their expectations.
Upwards of 1,000 volunteers are expected to work on various projects across more than 60 organizations — planting community gardens, serving meals at shelters, conducting health screenings, writing letters to servicemen, filling food pantries, repairing and building ramps for the disabled and much more. In addition to helping those in immediate need, the women hope that the volunteers who participate will take away the lesson: working together we can make Central New York a more compassionate community.
“So many people think they should do something, but don’t know what to do,” said Danya Wellmon, co-founder of Women Transcending Boundaries. “We want to show them that there are lots of options. There is so much good going on here.”
The women credit The Leadership Classroom with providing the concrete advice they needed to get the weekend up and running, including how to strategize and collaborate to make an idea come to life.
“The Classroom provided us with logical approaches to this monumental undertaking,” said Gay Montague, WTB president. “It pushed us out of our comfort zones and into directions we never thought were possible.”