LaDawnna Hudson is driven by a desire to help struggling women gain the skills and self-confidence needed to lead happy, productive lives. That drive comes from her own struggles to free herself from an abusive relationship, and the strength she draws from her religious faith.
Today Hudson helps hundreds of women through Women of Power International, a Mesa-based organization she founded and heads. Located in a portion of a former supermarket on the southwestern corner of Country Club Drive and Broadway, Hudson depends on grants, donations and a corps of volunteers to help her transform lives.
"We make a difference in helping women in crisis because we believe in what we do," Hudson said. "Everyone here has gone through something. We have learned that no matter what happens to you, you can pick yourself up and move on. You can feel good about who you are."
Through grants from Mesa United Way and other charitable organizations, during the 12-month period that ended June 30, Women of Power International provided a variety of educational, counseling, training and financial assistance services to 446 women. But Hudson said many sources of funding have dried up during the recession.
"We've had to cut our budget. We used to be able to help out more people who couldn't pay their rent or utility bills. We're constantly looking for new grants so we can help these women stay in their homes. It's a struggle."
Mesa United Way sponsors GED courses as well as a Child Watch Program that includes tutoring and counseling. Other programs provided through WOPI's Lighthouse Women's Resource Center include classes in computer skills, job training, entrepreneurship, self-esteem, self-defense and money management. WOPI also conducts annual community health fairs and baby showers.
Hudson said a comprehensive approach is essential to help women in crisis. "We don't just teach self-esteem, we also have a clothes closet and show them how to dress for success. We teach them the importance of inner and outer beauty. If they're in an abusive relationship, we help get them into a shelter. If they're having legal problems, we have a lawyer who can help them. If they don't have transportation, we give them bus passes so they can get to their classes and job interviews."
Mesa United Way President Dan Wollam described Women of Power as "an incredibly effective home-grown help organization that is operated by very dedicated, experienced people. We feel honored to be partners with LaDawnna Hudson and her staff."
Her mission to help others began to take off 14 years ago when she and her husband William started a small church in the garage of their Chandler home. Growth forced a series of moves, and last year their 150-member Shield of Faith Christian Center opened in the main portion of the former supermarket building.
The Hudsons are co-pastors of Shield of Faith, but Women of Power is a separate, non-religious, tax-exempt charitable organization run by LaDawnna and overseen by a board of directors. The "International" part of its name came from self-help conferences she conducted around the country, but she's concentrated her attention recently on the local operation.
"It's a challenge finding the resources we need to maintain our services," Hudson said. "But we're committed to this. We know we make a positive difference in women's lives. That keeps us going."
• Bob Schuster is a public information specialist for the Mesa United Way.