Volunteer Spotlight: Tonia Alexander
Since 2008 Tonia Alexander has been a volunteer for The Women’s Initiative’s Challenge into Change Writing Contest, an annual celebration of women’s stories of hope and healing. As a member of the Challenge into Change Committee, she helps guide the vision for the program and the culminating event at the Virginia Festival of the Book, our largest outreach event of the year. A Senior Self-Sufficiency Specialist at the Department of Social Services, Tonia also continues to inspire her clients to share their stories in each year’s contest.
Tell us about how you got involved with The Women’s Initiative originally.
I have always found myself looking for resources that would serve my clients—something sustainable in the community that they would be able to access long after their time with me. I first found out about The Women’s Initiative when I was looking for a resource for a client who was dealing with major depression and I was trying to find a place that was very welcoming to her. The Women’s Initiative was nearby, so we were able to walk over and inquire about the services that were available. Charlottesville has a lot of resources, but it was great to have a resource directed towards serving women. We were able to make use of several opportunities available right from the beginning.
What inspires you to volunteer for Challenge into Change?
Over the years I have found that sometimes people will not be successful as they move towards self-sufficiency because of the additional stressors they’re dealing with. It has felt great to be there for these women—not only are they able share their stories in writing but their voices can be heard.
I have shared each year’s book with so many women who may have been facing some type of struggle. I wanted to show them they aren’t alone. I think it can be empowering to know that, ‘Hey, my sister, my friend has overcome these things, and if they can, so can I!’
How would you describe the impact of the Challenge into Change program on the authors who participate?
Every woman’s story is different, and it has made each book different over the years. Whether you’re sharing the first book or the most recent, there is always a woman that the book is able to speak to. Challenge into Change creates a connection between the authors and the readers that you can’t find in other books and I think that’s powerful. To be able to read the words of women from our own community, our own neighbors, to have an opportunity to share an encouraging word with a neighbor or a sister in a town that continues to heal, that is impact in itself.
All are welcome at this year’s Challenge into Change Celebration on Wednesday, March 20 at Carver Recreation Center.
This article is adapted from our 2019 Winter/Spring Newsletter.