Hope Notes offer "something to hold onto" for victims of domestic violence

When Liz Miller became a volunteer at Helpmate last year, she developed a project that connected her passion for collage and card-making with the organization's mission to work with the community to "eliminate abuse and fear."

Hope in the handwriting: Liz Miller decorates cards for Hope Notes, where members of the community can write words of encouragement for clients served by Helpmate. Photo by Philip Frazer

Helpmate, a local nonprofit dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence, offers a 24-hour crisis line, a safe shelter and counseling. And it's always looking for ways to encourage the women and children who turn to the organization for assistance. Miller's project, Hope Notes, invites the community to write brief and encouraging messages on a card, which will then be given to clients served by Helpmate.

"After Christmas, I stood outside of Greenlife for three days, selling the 300 cards that I had made for Helpmate," says Miller, describing the initial fundraiser that inspired the Hope Notes project. "I was wearing six layers of clothing and everyone thought I was crazy. I thought, 'This might be hard, but it's nothing compared to the [challenge that the] women I'm representing [face]: Women who fear going home every single day.'" The blank-but-decorated cards Miller sold raised $650 for Helpmate, motivating Miller to expand the project.

"I guess I'm old-fashioned, but I really value handwritten communication and getting letters in the mail. So, I drew from that thinking," Miller says. She then distributed cards to faith-based communities, area support groups, substance-abuse clinics and writing groups, asking that people take them home and write a letter (or even just a few sentences) for a woman entering the shelter or joining a Helpmate support group.

"Stay positive," is her mantra when distributing cards. "When a women in this situation has been stripped of all her control, the one thing [she] needs is encouragement."

Miller hopes the notes will help clients feel supported, while also spreading awareness in the Asheville area about the serious issue of domestic abuse in our community. "A lot of times, [women who stay at the shelter arrive with] low self-esteem, feeling [they're] unworthy of love; I wanted to connect the community with those women and children," which she hopes will empower their decision to reach out for help.

Artists are welcome to design their own cards for the project and a number of local card companies, including Blue Barnhouse, Masala Cards and The Great Cosmic Happy-Ass Card Company, have sponsored the project. In addition, a national greeting-card company called Papaya donated 300 cards to Helpmate and mentioned Miller's efforts on its blog (papayablog.com).

All Hope Notes collected for Helpmate will be on display at an upcoming benefit event called "Hope in the Handwriting," set for July 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Laurey's Catering (67 Biltmore Ave. in downtown Asheville). Guests will have an opportunity to write a note of their own, plus there will be an array of dessert and appetizers to snack on, along with live music and a silent auction. After the benefit, Hope Notes will be distributed to new clients as they arrive at the shelter.

"It's a greeting, a small gesture, but at least they will have something tangible to hold onto," Miller says. "If it helps one woman to believe in herself, then it's all been worth it."

Hope Notes will be collected through August. Send your Hope Note to Helpmate, P.O. Box 2263, Asheville, NC, 28802. To volunteer with the Hope Notes project contact: LMiller@leadershipasheville.org. For info about Helpmate: http://www.helpmateonline.org. For more info on the upcoming benefit and to purchase tickets: www.hopeinthehandwriting.com.

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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