Jane Stephenson is a model of volunteerism, service and in many ways, she is like AARP’s Founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. In 1987, Stephenson saw a need in Appalachia and sought a way empower low-income women in the region.
See Also: Create the Good Congratulates Win & Do Good Contest Winner
When she launched the New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) in Berea she had no idea that nearly a quarter of a century later, she'd still be going strong or win AARP’s Create The Good “Win and Do Good” volunteer contest. Her story of volunteer service netted $15,000 for her charity as part of AARP's contest honoring community service by or for people age 50 and older.
Stephenson’s story was selected from more than 1,800 volunteer stories submitted from individuals across the country. She was one of seven national finalists, and her story about NOSW, a career and leadership development program for low-income women in the central Appalachian region, received the most votes online by the public to become the grand prize winner.
NOSW built on its success in Berea and opened a second home in 2005 at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC. Jane is a Lees-McRae College alumna, graduating in 1957. Today, both sites provide a free, three-week program to teach women basic skills to continue their education or get a job, including computer, math, interview and leadership skills, and more. They also provide basic health services, place participants in an internship and offer cultural events, among other support.
Six additional finalists won $5,000 each for the charities of their choice. Voting in the Win & Do Good contest was open to the public.
According to Stephenson, the sweepstakes has drawn needed publicity to her cause, while reinforcing a key mission of the New Opportunity School for Women: volunteering. "And, it ties in so well with one component of our leadership development, because we are encouraging the women that come through our program to volunteer."
New Opportunity School for Women Executive Director Lori Sliwa is overjoyed by the exposure it's given the organization, as recruitment has been a major challenge. The program gives middle-aged women in Appalachia tools to improve their personal, financial and educational circumstances.
"It is giving them back their own power. Self-esteem is key; it's a core component to what we do. And we really help women re-ignite that fire within and realize their full potential."
Nearly 700 women have graduated from the program in its nearly 25-year history. And according to, Sliwa, there's a lot to brag about. "79 percent of our graduates are employed, in school, or both. And the really incredible statistic is that 80 percent have completed some form of higher education; everything from an associate's to a master's degree, and we even have, I believe it's two, with PhDs."
Mimi Castaldi, Vice President for volunteer engagement at AARP, says Stephenson's record of commitment with the New Opportunity School for Women is a model of volunteerism the national contest sought to recognize. Castaldi hopes stories like Stephenson's will inspire other older Americans to "create the good" in their own communities.
"She started it 24 years ago and she's been going strong every since. And, what a difference she has made in that time."
Learn more about the New Opportunity School for Women.