Bridging the Gap

Elkhorn’s Womenade group helps families

Womenade of Elkhorn was born from a simple equation: Children in Elkhorn needed support and a community of women wanted a way to offer help.

“Everyone could be a day away from a tragedy that could put their family in need,” said Robin Heller, a longtime Womenade of Elkhorn member. “We are here for families that need to get through a couple of rough years and get on their feet.”

Womenade started in 2004 with a handful of women who worked with Elkhorn elementary school principals to help families with a specific need. When an Elkhorn family lost a father in a motorcycle accident, Womenade was there to bring supplies to the widowed mom, help with cleaning, and organize tutoring for the children. When another child needed a new pair of shoes during a financially tough time for his family, Womenade was there to help too.

Ten years later, Womenade has grown from a small group to a network of more than 600 women working together to support children. The program has expanded from two elementary schools to schools across the district. “As our community is growing, our need is growing, and so our program is growing,” Heller said.

While Elkhorn Public Schools may be more affluent than other districts in the metro area, there are still many families who struggle to make ends meet, Heller explained. According to the Nebraska Department of Education, about eight percent of Elkhorn students qualified for free and reduced meals in 2012-2013. For some families, purchasing school supplies or winter coats can be a challenge.

“As much as you think it’s not happening in our area, it happens every day,” Heller said.

Womenade initiated multiple programs to address the needs expressed by Elkhorn’s school counselors and principals. Its backpack program offers backpacks and school supplies to about 80 families in the district. Womenade members purchase supplies by the hundreds over the course of the year and organize a day for students to pick out their own items.

“That whole experience of going back-to-school shopping when you were a kid is a big deal; it’s part of the connection with education being a positive process,” Heller said. “We want to make sure kids that receive the backpacks have a positive relationship with going back to school, and that it’s not a stress for families.”

The organization also coordinates an annual Celebration of Giving event that brings over 1,000 holiday gifts to the district’s children in need. The program works like an angel giving tree; Womenade creates a list of needed gifts, and the district’s parents, staff, and community members can then choose a gift to fulfill. Gifts are distributed discreetly to families with the goal of relieving some of the financial burden and stress of the holidays.

Throughout the year, Womenade organizes clothing drives, responds to emergency requests, and helps high school students with the cost of school activities.

Heller shared that families helped by Womenade come from diverse situations. Some families are struggling after the death of the family breadwinner. Other families are experiencing financial hardship because of divorce. Some parents are making sacrifices to end the cycle of poverty.

“There are parents who are trying to break the cycle and live in Elkhorn because they want their children to get a good education,” she said.

Womenade of Elkhorn is in the process of acquiring 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit. Heller hopes the organization will continue to bring women together to support the next generation of children.

Heller praised Elkhorn’s community of women for their willingness to answer the call to help children and families in need. “If we say we need it, they spring into action,” said Heller.

Learn more

To find out more about Womenade of Elkhorn, call Robin Heller at 402-289-0055.

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