Any woman, regardless of her station in life, wants to feel feminine, clean, and pretty.
Tanya Diabagate came to understand this in a very visceral way when she was casting about for a topic for her senior capstone at Regis University. The capstone requires that students come up with a service project and then write about it. To get some ideas, her instructor suggested she go to St. Barnabas Church and volunteer for the Women's Homelessness Initiative.
"One of the women came out of the restroom and asked 'Where's the toothbrush?'" Diabagate said. "Not a toothbrush; the toothbrush. That's when I realized they were actually sharing toothbrushes, and that there was a limited supply of toiletries at St. Barnabas."
Two ideas came to her in that moment. First, she could do her capstone on the Women's Homelessness Initiative, and second, she could initiate a project to provide toiletry bags for homeless women.
Such a program would of course cost money – she figured $400 for 40 bags -- and she had no idea how to go about raising it. So she called a guy named Duane Taylor at Duane Taylor Productions who picked up the phone and said, "You got 10 minutes. Go!"
Those ten minutes turned into an hour-long conversation in which Taylor came up with the idea of doing a happy hour fund raiser at the Cherry Lounge in Cherry Creek, with a $10 cover charge to be donated to the project. The Lounge kicked in free drinks, and Taylor threw in 40 nylon backpacks and 100 T-shirts from another event.
"We raised $950 plus the T-shirts and backpacks," Diabagate said. "The FemiCare Project was off and running."
She went on a shopping spree at Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store and bought soap, baby wipes, tooth brushes, tooth paste, sanitary products, Chapstick, suntan lotion, hair brushes, hand sanitizer, and some adult diapers for seniors suffering from incontinence.
"I also wanted the women to have something to make them feel a little more feminine," she said, "so I threw in manicure kits and face cream."
Having been homeless herself, Diabagate knows a thing or two about the needs of women in transition. In March 2010, she lost her job as a wealth management service rep, a position she'd held for ten years. She went on unemployment insurance and started sending out resumés.
But with an unpaid bill of $2000, X-cel finally turned off her electricity, and then the mortgage company padlocked her three-bedroom Aurora home. When she was able to get back in, she discovered that her clothes and personal possessions had been carted off. She and her 19 year old son moved in with her older son and his family in their two bedroom, 900 square foot apartment.
"We slept on the floor for three months on air mattresses," she said. "After living on my own and supporting myself, it was so bad I sank into the lowest depression of my life. I thought I was being punished by God. It made me realize that many of us are just one paycheck away from disaster. The experience totally changed the way I look at homeless and disenfranchised people. Nobody wants to be there. People think you're homeless because you're financially irresponsible or you drink or drug it up, or that you wanna be that way. I was none of that."
A job finally came through as a resource coordinator at Mercy Housing, a non-profit affordable housing organization under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese. The job enabled her to get back on her feet, get an apartment, and begin taking classes at Regis. Diabagate has one more course to go before she graduates. She plans to pursue a Masters in Organizational Leadership next fall. She's also filed for 501-c-3 status for the FemiCare Project.
"It's amazing to be able to give back," she said. "I'd rather give than receive any day. Every morning, I thank God for life, health, and strength. I also thank Him for having a bed to call my very own!"
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A collection of Don Morreale's Examiner stories will soon appear in book form. Watch this space for updates