You might think there are few things women in our city have in common. After all, people from all over the world live here, with innumerable varieties of experiences and abilities.
Still, if there’s one thing that’s probably safe to say about Dallas women, it’s this: Whether managing a career, family, relationships or all of the above, they’re busy.
And yet some women in Lake Highlands have chosen to add a few more items to their schedule. They’re members of Dallas Women of Vision (WOV), and their daily to-do list might look something like this: buy dog food, finish report, take kids to music lessons, get clean water to a village in Zambia.
WOV members are just normal, everyday women who aid impoverished women and children at home and around the world. They do it through hands-on volunteering, fundraising, child sponsorship and most importantly, education.
The group focuses on women and children because “they’re often the forgotten ones,” says Lisa Huntsberry, co-chair of Dallas WOV. “In many societies the man is the leader, and women and children’s voices aren’t heard.”
As a sub-group of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian relief and development organization, WOV has evangelical goals. But Tish Aldridge, a founding member of the Dallas chapter, says those goals are pursued much more through doing than telling.
“If you have a woman in Africa whose child is dying from malnutrition or starvation, you can’t talk to that woman about anything but her needs,” she says. “But if you respond to her needs, you’ve just preached a whole sermon. So you preach through what you do. It’s a ministry you live and practice.”
Like Huntsberry and Aldridge, many of the Dallas group’s 50-or-so members are from Lake Highlands. That’s not surprising, given that it started here. It began in 1995, when former resident Anne Miller decided to invite a group of friends to her home for a WOV-offered cross-cultural study.
For six weeks, Miller and friends gathered to learn about women facing daily hardships most of us can’t begin to relate to: decades of war, the lack of clean water, epidemics and extreme gender discrimination.
When they finished the study, the group decided to help, and so began the Dallas chapter of WOV.
“None of us really knew what we were doing,” says Aldridge. “But what we did know was this was going to be a fantastic opportunity, and if we were diligent and faithful, we could make a real difference.”
For Aldridge, it was a perfect time to get involved. Her youngest son had just finished college, and she’d quit her job to seek a new focus for her energies. “First I got all our closets and cabinet drawers cleaned out,” she says. “Not long after, I got the invitation for the cross cultural study.”
Among the group’s first projects was raising funds for women and children in Bosnia, then devastated by war and ethnic cleansing. The program continues today, though self-supported and run by locals, something the group had planned for all along. In fact, all of WOV’s programs are designed to eventually be taken over by those they help.
“It’s a hand up, not a hand out,” Aldridge says. “We don’t try to come in and revamp things. We walk alongside them until they can walk on their own. We’re literally trying to work ourselves out of a job.”
The group’s current international projects include supporting a village in Zambia, a country with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Africa. They provide wells, medical facilities and a school and host a sponsorship program for children. They also support a children’s homeless shelter in Mexico City, which they say has more than 14,000 street children. They regularly send funds and supplies and take groups there to see the needs firsthand.
It was through such a trip that Lake Highlands resident Tana Stampes got involved.
“On the first day, we went to a park where kids lived on the street nearby,” she says. “As soon as they recognized us, probably 20 to 25 children came out of nowhere. Most of the girls had left home out of self-protection, because Mexico doesn’t have the laws that we do to protect kids from abuse.”
Stampes saw abandoned and homeless children as young as 5 years old. She met girls ages 12 and 13 raising babies on the street. Many were using drugs. All of them, she says, were filthy.
“That started it for me,” she says. “I came back and said, ‘Ok, what do I need to do? How can I help?’”
She joined Dallas WOV and began volunteering at one of the group’s local projects, the West Dallas Community School, tutoring and helping with various school programs. And when the next leadership opportunity opened up, she took it. Starting as the group’s secretary, she’s now in her third year as chapter chair.
“I’ve learned so much more about children,” says the former teacher and mother of three. “I’ve especially learned more about girls and how they’re treated around the world.”
It’s a realization the group hopes to share with as many people as possible. “We’re so limited here about what we learn about other cultures, it really gives you a new perspective,” Stampes says.
One of the ways Dallas WOV educates others is through open-invitation cross-cultural studies like the one held at Miller’s house. When they’re not holding educational meetings or volunteering their time on local projects, they’re raising money for their international ones. It’s something they’ve become good at, having raised more than $700,000 in eight years.
Huntsberry spent last year as chapter treasurer. Being vice president and corporate controller for Interstate Batteries, she seemed a natural for the position. But coordinating a demanding job with significant volunteer commitments doesn’t happen easily, she says.
“It’s a challenge, but when it’s something you really love, you’ll prioritize your time to be able to do it.”
One of Huntsberry’s primary goals as this year’s co-chair is to get the word out about Dallas WOV and add to its membership.
“It’s a really cool thing when you think about it, how just a normal person here can touch people’s lives all over the world.”
To learn more about membership or child sponsorship, call Tish Aldridge at 214-341-4621.