Poems in times of challenge and change


For National Poetry Month in April, we're celebrating poems that inspire us and speak to the work of our agency: empowering women in times of challenge and change. 

To begin, we are featuring "Where I'm From" by Rebecca Ballard, below, a poem included in the 2016 Challenge into Change Writing Contest, an annual program that encourages women to write and share their stories of transforming challenges into opportunities for change and growth. 

Stay tuned for more as we are getting ready to unveil this year's Challenge into Change book at our Challenge into Change celebration on April 18. We invite you to this special evening to celebrate the process of storytelling as healing.

Follow The Women's Initiative on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the latest.

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Hear Together: The Women's Initiative

Have you heard? The Women's Initiative is featured on WNRN's "Hear Together."

Executive Director Elizabeth Irvin, LCSW, spoke with WNRN about our affordable, accessible, effective mental health counseling services for women in our region.

"Wanting to reduce as many barriers as possible, we created walk-in clinics as a chance for any woman to come in and be seen same-day, confidentially, with a therapist, and begin the journey of healing," Irvin says.

Click here to listen to the full segment.

CranioSacral Therapy at Walk-in Clinic


CranioSacral Therapy with Amina Elizabeth Stevens is offered free during our Wednesday Walk-in Clinics at our main office.

CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle form of bodywork that can help relieve pain and stress. The practitioner uses light touch on the head, along the spine, and on the sacrum to release compression. Many people experience deep relaxation and increased physical ease during and after a CranioSacral Therapy session. At The Women’s Initiative sessions are done laying down on a massage table while fully clothed.

Sessions take place in our downstairs studio, 2-5 pm, Wednesdays.

See the flyer for this free offering.

Learn more about all our free walk-in clinics.

Free CranioSacral Therapy is a partnership between The Women's Initiative and Common Ground Healing Arts.

Verdigris fashion show to benefit TWI

We are thrilled to be the beneficiary of

Verdigris Clothier's Fashion & Trunk Show
Thursday, February 22
7-9 pm

The evening begins with a runway show at Old Metropolitan Hall on the Downtown Mall, and then continues down the block at Verdigris. Ticket sales and a percentage of proceeds benefit our vital mental health services for women.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.

"I am so pleased to partner with The Women's Initiative for this year's Fashion Show Benefit," said Mazi Vogler, owner of Verdigris. "As the mother of two young girls, I know it's important to support the invaluable service provided by The Women's Initiative. We all need help sometimes, and they aid women in our community regardless of their ability to pay for it. The Charlottesville that I live, work and raise my children in is strengthened by their important work. Because stronger women make a stronger community."

Understanding the impact of childhood trauma

Recommended reading: "What Do Asthma, Heart Disease and Cancer Have in Common? Maybe Childhood Trauma," from NPR.

Read this report and learn about the severity and prevalence of childhood trauma, also known as toxic stress. This public health issue affects so many in our community, including many of our clients.

That's why we are bringing greater awareness of all the ways to heal trauma—including therapy, movement, groups and education.

Welcome two new therapists!

We are thrilled to welcome two therapists to our Clinical Team!

Joanna Ajex, MA

Joanna Ajex, MA

Judith Curry-El, PhD

Judith Curry-El, PhD

Joanna is our Education Coordinator & Therapist. In addition to working with individual clients, she will be overseeing our Education Program, which provides evidence-based mental health and wellness skills to our community and decreases stigma around mental health issues. She will also be supporting survivors of trauma as The Women's Initiative's liaison at the Shelter for Help in Emergency. Joanna's passion is to provide holistic care and empower women from all walks of life.

Judith is a Part-Time Therapist who will be working with clients in individual counseling one day a week. She is passionate about helping all women have access to mental health services. Her interests include insight-oriented and mindfulness-based therapies.

Chair Yoga promotes strength & healing

Join us on Wednesday mornings for Chair Yoga, a gentle and therapeutic offering that promotes strength, flexibility, healing and mindful attention.

Chair Yoga is a part of our expanded Mind-Body Program to meet the holistic needs of women who have experienced trauma.

Increasing research testifies to the healing power of yoga and other mindfulness practices. Bessel Van Der Kolk, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and a leading researcher in traumatic stress, has found that frequent yoga practice over extended periods of time helps decrease symptoms of PTSD and depression in women.

Yoga and mindfulness practices can help us befriend our bodies and their sensations, release muscular tension instilled not just by everyday stress but by traumatic histories, and use our breath to regulate our nervous systems—all processes that trauma is apt to disrupt.

Katharine Scott Gilliam teaches Chair Yoga at The Women's Initiative, which is free and open to all women and all bodies. The class meets every Wednesday at our main office, 1101 East High Street, from 11:15 am-12:15 pm.



Katharine Scott Gilliam teaches Chair Yoga at The Women's Initiative.

Katharine Scott Gilliam teaches Chair Yoga at The Women's Initiative.

Wellness Tuesdays at Jefferson School

Tuesday mornings are all about health at the Jefferson School City Center.

The Women's Initiative is teaming up with fellow Jefferson School City Center partners Sentara Starr Hill Health Center and Common Ground Healing Arts to expand the free wellness services we provide on a drop-in basis every Tuesday morning.

Now, in addition to free walk-in appointments with a counselor from 9 am-noon each Tuesday at our Jefferson School office, you can come in for physical health testing and referral including: blood pressure checks, blood sugar testing, weight checks and quick wellness and nutrition advice, all provided by Sentara Starr Hill Health Center.

Additionally, Common Ground will be providing a rotating slate of mind-body offerings including acupuncture, massage and mindfulness training. 

The Women's Initiative also offers free walk-in clinics Monday mornings at Westhaven and Wednesday afternoons at our main office. Click here for details.

Click here for the NBC29 story about Wellness Tuesdays at the Jefferson School.


We'll see you in the New Year!


The Women's Initiative will be closed from December 25-January 1 and will reopen Tuesday, January 2.

Our next available walk-in clinic will be Tuesday, January 2, 9 am-noon at the Jefferson School City Center. Click here for our full walk-in schedule

Additionally, see what other offerings are available at The Women's Initiative in January by checking out our January Offerings Flyer.

We wish you a happy and healthy New Year!


Support vital mental health care

"Winter White" by Ellen Hathaway

"Winter White" by Ellen Hathaway

Albert Camus once wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  For many of the women we serve—especially those struggling with depression, anxiety and trauma—this exemplifies the transformation that takes place when they seek services here. Support from people like you helps make this self discovery possible.

In 2017, we will reach more than 3,700 women. Following the tragic events of the summer, demand for our services is greater than ever. In response, we are increasing walk-in clinic offerings, hiring new therapists, and implementing additional outreach into some of our hardest hit neighborhoods. The road ahead is long, but our resolve to strengthen services, break down barriers to care and help women regain mental health has never been more determined. 

We hope that you will consider making a gift as the year comes to a close and we wish you warmth, laughter and love during the holidays. 


Elizabeth Irvin, Executive Director, and Louise McNamee, Board Chair

Deadline for Challenge into Change is Friday

This is the week! Be a part of an incredible celebration of women's strength and resilience: Submit your essay or poem today to the Challenge into Change Writing Contest. We're accepting stories of a woman in your life (yourself or someone you know) who has transformed a life challenge into an opportunity for change. Entry deadline is this Friday, December 15. 

Winners receive cash prizes and all authors are honored at the 2018 Virginia Festival of the Book

Click here to submit now.

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Check out the latest buzz about Challenge into Change ...

Charlottesville Family Favorite Award Winner

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We're thrilled to be the recipient of a CharlottesvilleFamily Favorite Gold Award in the Support Group category and Silver Award in the Counseling Service category.

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Thank you to CharlottesvilleFamily and everyone who supports our vision that all women in our community have access to innovative, effective, evidence-based mental health care.

All winners are announced in the December issue of Bloom Magazine.

Our counseling services include free weekly walk-in clinics as well as individual counseling on a sliding scale. Our support groups, which are free, include Women's Support Group, Separation & Divorce Support Group, Sister Circle, and Pregnancy/Infant Loss Support Group. Read more about our free groups.

After Divorce: Selections from Challenge into Change #2

In the lead-up to this year’s December 15 Challenge into Change deadline, we’re revisiting the stories of resilience, hope and growth writers shared with us in 2016-17.

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Challenge into Change is The Women’s Initiative’s annual writing contest honoring women’s stories of overcoming life challenges to find hope and healing.

In this essay, Sheila Boling shares difficulties and wisdom from an experience of going through divorce.


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Divorce Laugh to Keep from Crying

By Sheila Boling

Sometimes when you go through a divorce you just have to laugh to keep from crying.

When you get married to stand before God, family, friends and you vow to be with that person until death do you part. You say I do and things are going well. Then suddenly the things that brought you together are the very things that tear you apart. No matter how you tried to stay together you just can’t get past things that were done or said in anger. You may realize you are not compatible at all.

So you separate for 3 months or 1 year depending on your assets or if you have children, etc. During this time you try to put the pieces back together. You look at yourself and reflect on things that went wrong. You think about the things that your spouse/partner complained about can be changed. You decide if you can make the changes without changing who you are as a person. You even try counseling because in all honesty no one wants their marriage to end. You meet and try to work things out. However, you realize that you can’t work out the issues. More things are done or said to make it in impossible.

Now here is where the three stages of divorce come in the good the bad and the ugly.

Stage 1: The hurt that your marriage failed and you are getting a divorce. You have to listen to what people are saying. The typical things I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Oh what happened? The favorite he or she wasn’t the right person for you but I didn’t want to hurt you. You looked so happy. You cry and cry some more because it didn’t work out.

Stage 2: The anger and rage because it has ended. You are mad be-cause of the mean and hurtful comments. You are mad because people keep running to tell you that they saw him or her and they were with someone. You are mad because when the holidays come around you think about the engagement or the marriage. You reflect on the goods times because it was not all bad. Then you are even madder. At times you are mad when any man or woman even tries to talk to you. You chew them out and spit them out. Then you laugh because otherwise you will be crying.

Stage 3: Moving on… The ink on the divorce papers have dried. You are done with the hurt, anger, rage and tears. You do things that make you happy. You regain your confidence that you lost. You regain your self-esteem. You realize you are better than you give yourself credit for. You look back and you just laugh at what you did or the way you acted. You are no longer the deranged divorcee. You pick up the pieces and you move on. You ready to go on with your life. You have moved on when you want your ex to be happy and meet someone. You have moved on when you know you may not have been the right person for them.

People think that women should wear divorce on their forehead like a badge of honor especially if you have been married more than once. They will say third time a charm, haha. So you smile and say you never know. They repeat themselves and you smile and say the same thing. You really want to say something mean. You laugh to keep from crying. You have moved on when you open your heart up to new adventures, new people, and new desires.

So don’t think of divorce as a bad word.

Define - Don’t let divorce define who you are as a person
Independent - Newfound independence
Vibrant - Vow to be you, vow to change if it brings out the best in you
Opportunities - The opportunities are endless
Romance - Romance will come your way when you open your heart
Courage - The courage to move beyond divorce, rage, hurt, tears. The confidence in knowing you beat the label tattooed on your forehead
Enjoy- Enjoy everything that life has to offer, Empowered to move forward

Divorce laugh to keep from crying

How our judges and readers responded…

  • You have come through the trauma of divorce and are now on the other side. Your story will speak to so many. There is encouragement here for women considering, or currently going through, a divorce.
  • The DIVORCE acronym helped to pull the author’s writing together, taking a word that can include much hurt and sorrow and using positive, uplifting words to define it.
  • In this piece, the author reflects on the challenges of divorce and the stages by which one may overcome these.
  • The prose moves confidently and powerfully, taking the reader vicariously on a journey of frustration, despair, and into redemption and confidence.

About the author...

I live in Covesville, VA and was a twin. I lost her to breast cancer so I run the Women's Four Miler because of her. I enjoy running, gardening and gathering with friends and family.

Trauma-informed care discussion draws 700 attendees


The Greater Charlottesville community came together Tuesday morning to commit to addressing trauma as a major public-health issue. 

Theresa Caldwell, left, and Dr. Allison Sampson-Jackson.

Theresa Caldwell, left, and Dr. Allison Sampson-Jackson.

Dr. Allison Sampson-Jackson and Theresa Caldwell lead a conversation entitled “Trauma: How it affects you and every member of our community” at the Paramount. More than 700 people were in attendance.  


The Women’s Initiative was a co-host of the event in partnership with Adiuvans, the Greater Charlottesville Trauma-Informed Community Network, ReadyKids, Piedmont CASA, the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition and the Early Education Task Force.

Toxic trauma is the result of prolonged or multiple exposures to adverse childhood experiences, abbreviated ACEs, such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse. A landmark study in the 1990s established that these experiences are common and can impact many aspects of physical and mental health, even leading to early death. Additional research is also connecting multigenerational trauma and historical oppression of minority communities to negative health outcomes.

Theresa Caldwell, left, and TWI Board Member Beverly Adams, PhD.

Theresa Caldwell, left, and TWI Board Member Beverly Adams, PhD.

A recent study, for example, found that 61% of mental health conditions that caused a disruption in work or other activities for 14 days or more were related to ACES.

“People are dying, going to jail, suffering...we have to be able to talk about it,” Sampson-Jackson said.

Sampson-Jackson and Caldwell also stressed that resilience—the ability to bounce back from difficult experiences—can be built and nurtured in individuals, families and communities.

The Women’s Initiative is committed to being a leader in trauma-informed care in Central Virginia. TWI Executive Director Elizabeth Irvin, LCSW, is on the steering committee of the Greater Charlottesville Trauma-Informed Community Network and is co-chair of the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition. And, as a part of our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, The Women’s Initiative is creating a comprehensive trauma program to bring greater awareness of all the ways to heal trauma—including therapy, movement, groups and education.

To learn more or become involved in the Greater Charlottesville Trauma-Informed Community Network, email Trauma@PCASA.org and include your name in the body of the email.