Have you ever heard of Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects, or SWOOP? It all started in September 1996 after Hurricane Fran, and ran all the way till the end of 2015, helping thousands of people in need throughout the course of 19 years. Even though SWOOP dissolved in 2015, their legacy remains, and today we are sharing their story as they are our inspiration!
The Origins Of SWOOP
Back in 1996, USA was hit by Hurricane Fran, the sixth named storm, fifth hurricane, and fourth major hurricane of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Fran left 27 people dead and $5 billion worth of damages in its wake. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and thus SWOOP was born out of the Hurricane Fran cloud. Despite major losses, women still found the strength in them to band together, and to help each other and others in need. LeAnn Wallace and Sandy Fitzgerald were the co-founders of SWOOP, the original Strong Women.
Strong Women Organizing Outrageous Projects (SWOOP) brought the collective power of women working together to overcome financial, societal, and physical challenges faced by people within their community. By inspiring others to join them in improving the lives of others, they were able to meet otherwise unmet needs in a spirit of cooperation, community, and purpose.
The needs of many communities were great and often unending. They envisioned SWOOP inspiring women everywhere to empower each other through dedicated service to the under served people, families, and organizations in their communities.
In their heyday, SWOOP had two main programs: SWOOPin’ Saturday and Ramp It Up!
SWOOPin’ Saturday was held on every second Saturday of most months, with the exception of January, July, August and December. SWOOPin’ Saturday was successful largely due to partnerships with agencies that valued the service provided by SWOOP and worked with them to fund each SWOOPin’ Saturday workday. Besides that, individual and corporate donors as well as grants (sometimes written in partnership with other agencies) helped a great deal by funding necessary materials and staff time.
Ramp It Up!
The mission of Ramp It Up! was simple: to provide affordable ramps for those in need and to enable individuals to live in their own homes with greater independence and with an improved quality of life. Ramp It Up! was finally established in 2011 in response to repeated requests from individuals, insurance companies, case managers, and health care providers to address the unmet need for affordable wheelchair ramps.
SWOOP has built ramps for families who could not bring a loved one home from the hospital or rehabilitation facility and for families who previously had to call for assistance any time they needed to take their family member in or out of the home. SWOOP has also constructed many a ramp for people who require the use of a wheelchair due to medical conditions and physical disabilities. Their ramps have been used as part of therapy sessions, and the entry platforms have been used like decks, allowing individuals to spend more time outside. With each ramp, they have helped improve the quality of life for a family in our community.
SWOOP’s Volunteer Impacts
Some of the skills volunteers have picked up include painting, landscaping and minor carpentry just to name a few. Volunteers could also indicate what they wanted to work as on workdays, such as painting, clean-up, photography etc. However, all these were secondary to the fact that they all went home with the greatest gift of all – knowing that they had contributed and helped someone else in need.
Due to funding difficulties, SWOOP made the tough decision to dissolve at the end of 2015, and this was what LeAnn and Sandy had to say then:
Dear SWOOP volunteers and donors,
On behalf of the SWOOP Board of Directors, we (LeAnn and Sandy) are writing to let you know that we and the other board members have made the difficult decision to dissolve SWOOP by the end of this calendar year. SWOOP has provided services to our communities for the past 19 years and will continue to complete pending projects through the end of this year. However, the increasing pressures of the ongoing search for funding have become greater each year and have led us to a decision that it is time to bring SWOOP to a close. As part of the dissolution process, we will be completing a couple of pending projects and then donating SWOOP’s remaining assets to local nonprofits who serve similar groups of people.
Over these past 19 years, we have felt and continue to feel extremely fortunate for all of the ways that you have supported SWOOP and allowed us to give back to our communities. It has always amazed us that you joined and supported SWOOP, without our having to advertise or recruit, and that you stepped forward with special skills or assistance just when they were most needed. We have been so grateful, too, for our passionate staff and our dedicated board members, several of whom served for terms well beyond their original three-year commitment. In addition to our workday volunteers, many generous donors have supported and continue to support SWOOP’s mission. So, we give our heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all of you!
When we started SWOOP after Hurricane Fran in September 1996, we never dreamed what SWOOP would become. We never imagined that nearly 1,500 SWOOPers would participate in the SWOOPin’ Saturdays and Ramp It Up! workdays and donate more than 35,000 hours of volunteer labor. SWOOPers have helped families in more than 50 individual homes, built nearly 25 wheelchair ramps, and assisted thousands of people who are served by the nearly 45 nonprofit agencies that have benefited from the more than 110 SWOOPin’ Saturday workdays. WOW! What an awesome accomplishment! SWOOP’s legacy is the multitudes of people helped, the many friendships forged, the new skills learned, and the consciousness raised as SWOOPers showed what outrageous projects a group of committed, determined, and organized women (and a few men) could complete in a single day!
Thank you all for your encouragement and continued support through the end of the year and for being on this amazing SWOOP odyssey with us!
LeAnn Wallace and Sandy Fitzgerald
Over the years, SWOOP had also accumulated a few awards, and these are the awards:
2001: Award for Outstanding Community Impact by North Carolina Inter-agency Council for Coordinating Homeless Programs for “exemplary service and commitment to homeless people in North Carolina”.
2005: Community Service Award by Human Rights Campaign for “being a welcoming and affirming service organization that demonstrates the power and commitment of the LGBT community to make a difference in the lives of those in need”.
2012: Community Builder Award by Passage Home in recognition of SWOOP’s partnership with Passage Home to build a playground and community garden at their Raleigh Safety & Community Club in Southeast Raleigh.
SWOOP Board Members
Last but not least, these are the women who held the fort at SWOOP:
LeAnn Wallace: President & Co-Founder
Lisa Nadler: Secretary
Leila Jabbar: Treasurer
Ginger Helms: Board Member
Sandy Fitzgerald: Board Member & Co-Founder
Major props and big thanks to these women!
Despite having dissolved back in 2015, SWOOP continues to inspire us, LaceyBunny, thanks to their never-give-up spirit and ploughing on no matter how tough it was. SWOOP started off as a few women banding together wanting to help others, and LaceyBunny shares the same sentiment in our mission: to enhance women’s quality of life.
LaceyBunny and SWOOP may not be doing the exact same things, but we’re here to empower women through education and content sharing. We believe that an informed woman is a wise woman, and therefore can make better choices for herself, in turn spreading good vibes to the people around her! Women are rising up everywhere now, and LaceyBunny is part of this movement, and invites women everywhere to be part of this movement as well! Rise, ladies!