Breaking Barriers: Celebrating Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to honor and celebrate women and women’s contributions to the world from the past and present. In 1978, Sonoma County, California, initiated the first-ever Women’s History Week. Two years later, President Carter issued the first-ever Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8th Women’s History Week, which began to catch on for years following. By 1986, 14 states declared March Women’s History Month. Finally, in 1987, Congress declared March Women’s History Month officially. 

To celebrate the trailblazing month, we want to shine a light on some women who have been pioneers in Urban Ministries of Wake County and serve as inspiration for the future. 

Sister Helen Wright was Urban Ministries of Wake County’s first Executive Director in 1981 and an inspiration to many.

Sally MacLeod Owens, a 1980s UMWC board member, recounted, “I was most impressed with how she related to persons with emotional, psychiatric, and substance abuse issues, and women (mostly) who had been abused sexually or otherwise.  To illustrate this, it is necessary to say that Sister Helen gave up a career as a concert pianist to become a nun who worked in programs serving persons facing poverty, abuse, and mental health issues.  If such a person was in her office or a shelter and was distraught or irascible, she gently took the person to a very battered piano. She proceeded to play a selection of classical music.  It worked like a charm innumerable times to calm the person so the underlying problem could be addressed.”

 In November 2001, our shelter was renamed in her honor.

Anne Burke, Former Executive Director: Anne Burke started volunteering in September 1981, a few months after UMWC first opened, and worked with Sister Helen Wright.  Anne would later go on to take over the position in 1986 and served as UMWC’s Executive Director until her retirement in 2012.

“I think it’s important to support an organization with a history of service in the community. An organization that has always operated with integrity and humility and is there for the people.

Dr. Nandini Murthi, Physician: “On July 9, 2023, I will complete four years as a board-certified physician specializing in Internal medicine, treating adult patients at Open Door Clinic /Urban Ministries of Wake County. Before this, I volunteered at Open Door Clinic as a volunteer physician from 2007 until 2019. 

My favorite thing about UMWC is that such an institute exists at all! Open Door Clinic was a smaller clinic located previously at Semart Dr and moved to its current location approximately fifteen years ago. Early on during my volunteering days there, I came across their monthly magazine publication (while I was waiting for a patient to be roomed in) that had this quotation– to find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others– and that resonated with my own belief and from then onwards”

Brittany Herron, Director of Volunteer Services: “My favorite thing about UMWC is the sense of community I feel with the staff and volunteers. When you join a group working towards a greater purpose, especially one that is close to your heart, I think the bonds form quickly and have more depth.

The most rewarding part of my job is when I see a gap, and I get to brainstorm on a creative way to fill that gap. Working at a charitable organization causes me to think outside of the box when presented with a barrier; I’m grateful to work for an organization that values my opinion and explores different ways of doing things.”

In the end, the reasons why we celebrate Women’s History Month are simple: to honor, appreciate, and respect women. March is just one way to celebrate all the work that women do in the workplace, in America, and worldwide.