BRADENTON -- Since it was conceived by Jan Entwistle roughly 24 years ago as a place where local women could come to grieve, learn to cope, reinvent themselves or just seek sister soulmates, Women's Resource Center of Manatee has impacted the lives of thousands.
The statistics are mind-blowing, says Executive Director Ashley Brown, who is proud to say that each month more than 250 women connect with the organization at 1926 Manatee Ave. W. to seek a career change, cope with a divorce or death or seek personal enrichment.
At Tuesday's annual Founder's Impact Luncheon at Renaissance on 9th, a crowd estimated at 300 heard Arlean "Lady A" Adekoya, famous locally for her homemade chocolate chip cookies, tell the story of how she reinvented herself after her marriage dissolved.
Adekoya was the single mother of an 8-month-old daughter in 2003 and the sole helper for her mother, who had become ill. A year later, Adekoya's mother died of acute leukemia, leaving her with no family in Bradenton other than her 20-month-old daughter.
"Women's Resource Center was instrumental in setting into motion
my journey to self-awareness, healing and transition into an entirely new life," Adekoya said.
Adekoya joined the WRC's Life Launch Program in March 2004, under the leadership of Jay Lemmel.
"Jay taught me, 'There are only two choices, fear or love,'" Adekoya said. "He also taught me that the source of peace is always present and available, our commitment shows in the results and God doesn't make junk."
Shortly after she completed Life Launch, Adekoya took a WRC computer class.
"WRC continued its support of me as the economy made it necessary for me to resurrect my New York cookie business," Adekoya said. "Everything has come full circle. I have filled orders as far away as Georgia thanks to business I have received from supporters of WRC."
'Roots and Wings' changed her life
The crowd also cheered for Susana Perea and her daughter, Susan Flores, who both told how, with the help of the WRC, they learned to love each other after not seeing eye-to-eye as mother and teen.
Four years ago, Perea decided to join the WRC's Latina Empowerment group, led by Maria Zavala.
"I met Maria when I was in the middle of balancing a very busy work schedule, being there for my teenage daughter and also looking for some help on ways to communicate better with her," Perea told the audience.
While in the "Latinas of the WRC," Perea said she learned to value and love herself, to follow her dreams, to believe in herself and to discover the "super power that I and every woman has within."
Perea told Zavala that it was a shame that young people had to go through hardships before they would accept the advice they needed.
From Perea's suggestion, Zavala crafted a new program called, "Roots and Wings," whose main focus was to help mothers and daughters, ages 12 to 16, communicate.
Perea and her daughter, Susan, joined.
"After months of my mother going to the Latinas Empowerment Group she convinced me to meet Maria," Flores told the crowd.
Flores ended up going to Roots and Wings.
"It not only changed the relationship between my mother and me but it changed me," Flores said. "It helped me understand not only my mother, but my father and why some things in the past happened."
Roots and Wings transformed into a Girl Scout troop and Flores became a troop leader.
"I'm doing things that two years ago I would never have imagined myself doing," Flores said.
Flores has not only graduated from high school, but also from Manatee Technical Institute's cosmetology program and is going for her AA degree at State College of Florida.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.