W.O.W. Project Workshop Empowers Women and Raises Mental Health Awareness

Participants of the Wellness of a Woman or W.O.W. Project workshop, which focuses on mental health challenges and depression among girls and women. The workshop, held on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Chase Bank Community Room, was the first of seven workshops.

Photo by Allison Ziemba

By Princess-India Alexander

When Chicago nonprofit grassroots consultant and inspirational speaker Yolanda Givens created the W.O.W. Project workshop, her guiding principle was simple, yet radical: “You’re not Superwoman, so take the ‘S’ off your chest, and realize it’s okay to not be okay.”

After moving to Chicago from Los Angeles with her family, Yolanda’s son was diagnosed with narcolepsy. Through dealing with this diagnosis and then both her own and her son’s depression, Yolanda recognized the importance of mental health. From there, she knew part of her activism would involve women’s mental health issues.

I think it’s my ministry to inspire women across the board,” Yolanda said, describing her motivation for creating the W.O.W. (Wellness of a Woman) Project. “And after going through what I’ve gone through in these last several years, it’s just important for ladies to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Like if you don’t grieve, how do you expect to get over it? You’re human. You get to have a moment to break down.”

Photo by Allison Ziemba

Yolanda Givens, creator of the W.O.W. Project mental health workshops for women, speaks on mental health challenges and depression among girls and women. The workshop, held on Saturday, Oct. 6 at Chase Bank Community Room, was the first of seven workshops.

Upcoming Mental Health Sessions for Women:

November 3, 7
December 8
December 29 (Summit)

For more information: contact Yolanda Givens at yagivens@gmail.com

Yolanda is one of 37 recipients of an Acting Up award from The Chicago Community Trust. The Trust awarded $150,500 to 37 projects that will support tangible activities to benefit neighborhoods and the public good. These ideas were sparked through the Trust’s fifth annual On the Table event at which Chicago-area residents came together on May 8 in mealtime conversations to engage in meaningful dialogue, develop new relationships and inspire action to make a difference in our communities.

Using her $2,500 award from the Trust, Yolanda created the W.O.W. Project, a series of weekly workshops culminating in a large summit on December 29. Each gathering focuses on the intersections of poverty and mental health and addresses the barriers women and girls face in accessing mental health resources. They do so through small roundtable discussions for mothers and their daughters.

The first of seven W.O.W. workshops was held on October 6 at the Chase Bank Community Room, 6650 S. Stony Island Ave.

Throughout the two-hour session, the 11 women in attendance slowly peeled off their “S,” or superwoman label, and stepped into the healing that comes with discussion and understanding. Conversations transitioned from opinions on Garrett Popcorn Shops flavors  to all of the real trauma black women face in their daily lives.

Photo by Allison Ziemba

Trina Jackson (left) and Tiara Epps (right) listen on as Ronisha Robinson speaks during the W.O.W. Project workshop.

Photo by Allison Ziemba

Porsha Dawson, creative assistant at the Black Depression Project, passes out handouts for an activity at the W.O.W. Project workshop.

Ronisha Robinson 35, who had previously never been to a roundtable discussion like this, opened up about her and her daughter’s experience with depression and how she realized mental health was nothing to ignore.

“It’s about being able to take the ‘S’ off your chest sometimes,” Robinson said. “We aren’t able to do everything, and we have to understand that and not just cope with it but deal with it. It’s about being able to find things to release that tension and stress to keep ourselves from being depressed. And if we are depressed, it’s about coming out of that depression.”

Yolanda creates these workshops specifically for women to have these moments of realization in a safe space. Even those who had been to mental health workshops before noted how this event created a uniquely intimate space where they felt comfortable sharing and empathizing with others.

Photo by Allison Ziemba

Kayla Dakota, creative director and founder of the Black Depression Project, leads an activity at a W.O.W. Project workshop.

“It felt empowering to be here,” said 26-year-old attendee Michelle Hawkins. “You know those ‘black girl magic’ moments? I felt that. I’ll remember the moments people shared their tragedies and the compassion that was felt and the shared mourning. Everybody was empathetic, listening and just being supportive.”

In the coming weeks, Yolanda hopes to expand on this concept and dive further into practical mental health applications, with the help of therapists in her upcoming workshops. She’ll also  focus on the link between financial wellness and depression for a summit that she’s hosting in December.

“We know employment plays a huge role in being depressed and being sad when your finances are not together,” she said. “Or, when you don’t know how you’re going to feed yourself or your kids. So, I’m reaching out to mental health experts and therapists to say ‘Hey, there are people out here who do want some help and want some counseling. How can you help them? How can therapy become affordable?’”

W.O.W. sessions are free and open to the public. Remaining workshops will be held on November 3, 7 and December 8, 2018 from 9:30-11:30 a.m.