Utah organization celebrates 10 years of empowering local womenDec 15, 2021 10h33 ● By Hannah LaFond
Members of WoWUtah’s board with founder Judee Guay and husband, Lewie Guay, at the center. (Courtesy of WoWUtah)
By Hannah LaFond | [email protected]
On Nov. 13, guests gathered at Venue 6SIX9 in downtown Salt Lake City for a black-tie gala to honor nine outstanding women. Those celebrated women were the 2021 graduates from WoWUtah.
“WoW” stands for “Women of Worth,” and the Utah-based nonprofit works to help women who have overcome difficult circumstances such as addiction, abuse or disease. The women selected for the program go through a year of workshops and training to help them gain self-worth and give them the tools they need for a fresh start. Each of the women is paired with a mentor, a volunteer who is there to help through the entire journey.
Along with teaching them valuable life skills, each participant is given a makeover. According to WoWUtah’s Facebook page, they are gifted a collection of business attire and casual clothing selected by a team of stylists. “So she can feel confident and beautiful in her personal and professional life.” They also give each graduate formal wear and shoes for the gala event.
While the program usually spans a year, the graduates at Friday’s event had been with WoWUtah for two years. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, workshops and classes that usually would have taken place in person switched to online. As a result, WoWUtah decided to keep the same participants for another year so they could better experience the program.
Gala attendees enjoyed watching videos made by the 2021 graduates to highlight their achievements. Following their video, each graduate walked across the stage, just like in a classic school graduation. Then they were invited to say a few words about their experience, all of them finishing with the proclamation of “I am a woman of worth.”
Barbara Moeller, who graduated from the program in 2012, now sits on WoW’s Chair of Mentees. Speaking about her experience, she said, “WoW helped me to find out how amazing it is to be myself. I had gotten lost under the pressures and circumstances in life. The program gave me the tools to defend myself against challenges that eroded my self-worth. The magic is being paired with a mentor for a journey of self-discovery. I not only found my worth again but learned to be responsible and accountable for how I comport myself.”
Along with honoring the 2021 graduates, the gala also celebrated the 10 years WoWUtah has been in operation. Judee Guay, who founded WoW and now works alongside COO Marie Jess to keep it running, spoke about the organization’s beginnings.
She started WoW after she got a second chance at life. Guay recalled her years spent in an abusive marriage and how hopeless she’d felt. Hopelessness, only made worse by autoimmune diseases she was suffering from at the time. But, slowly, she was able to put the pieces back together. She left the abusive marriage, lost 100 pounds, and started to heal.
Going through such a life-changing experience made Guay want to help other women overcome their struggles. So, she started WoWUtah in 2011. Though she had a vision, Guay said their first gala was nothing like the event that evening. “If anybody had told me that 10 years later this would be here, I wouldn’t have believed them,” she said, looking out at the crowd.
The guests were also invited to participate in a silent auction to raise money for WoW’s continuation. The auction included prizes such as theater tickets, gift baskets, romantic getaways and several cakes. The evening presenter and a member of WoW’s advisory board, Ty Bennett, joked that he’d won several cakes that his children had bid on for him.
Speaking of how WoWUtah has operated and will continue to operate on donations, Guay said, “[WoW] has been supported by volunteers, including the directors, executive board and advisory board. No one has received remuneration, and it will stay that way with all donations going toward the women being served now and in the future.”
After presenting the graduates, Guay and Jess took turns presenting awards to those who’d helped WoWUtah throughout its 10 years. One of the award recipients included Chad Hymas, a highly respected international speaker who is also on WoW’s advisory board. Hymas was given the Inspiration Award.
Sheri Thompson, who’d come all the way from Arizona for the event, was given the Soul Sister Award. Guay told The City Journals, “Sheri's incredible connection with her WoW sisters and the mentees is why she is so deserving of this award.”
They also surprised Bennett, the presenter, with the Legacy Award, for being with WoW from the beginning.
Guay finished by surprising her COO Jess, and her husband, Lewie Guay, with the Founder’s Awards.
After the awards, they finished the evening by inviting the women of WoW to perform a special musical number. They stood on the stage to sing “Breaking Free; Becoming My Best Me,” WoW’s official theme song, written by Nina Angela Lee, the president of Wow’s Executive Board.
WoWUtah will be helping another group of women in 2022. Each year they select from a pool of candidates; if you think you or anyone you know would benefit from their program, they’ll be accepting applications at wowutah.org/applications until Dec. 1, 2021.