JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — First Coast News' 12 Who Care program honors community advocates who selflessly serve others. As a mother of seven and grandmother of five, Gwen Gallagher-Howard often puts her own needs aside, but she does so not just for her own family but for complete strangers as well.
Gallagher-Howard decided to start a nonprofit called Helping WIN after an eye opening experience.
"I didn't know how naïve I was," Gallagher-Howard said. "I didn't know what I didn't know."
Gallagher-Howard says she has gained a wealth of knowledge and understanding while volunteering with local groups.
"I began mentoring teen moms with a group called Young Lives," Gallagher-Howard said. "I got my first look at multi-generational poverty. I saw moms and grandmas struggling to raise these teens who were then raising their own children and it just occurred to me that it's not enough just to go to school and work hard and better your life -- because the playing field does not start out even."
Overwhelmed but not outdone, she created Helping WIN. The charitable organization provides a safety net of emergency cash assistance to women battling poverty in Northeast Florida.
The cash assistance is in the form of grants and never needs to be repaid. With referrals from partner agencies, Gallagher-Howard pours into strangers even on those days when she barely has any energy to give.
"I would like the work of Helping WIN to continue regardless of what my health struggles might be," Gallagher-Howard said.
On Jan. 9, 2021, Howard's father died. His funeral was held on the 15th, "And on Jan. 20 I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer," she said.
Gallagher-Howard says her experiences with women battling poverty helped her to realize that anyone can make a difference in the lives of others.
"A little thing can make a big impact and if we all felt empowered to do a little thing I think the world could be a much better place," she said. "I would say any opportunity you have in your life to serve in some way that inspires you in some area that is interesting to you, take that opportunity because you'll receive more than you give every time."
Helping WIN is funded by grants and donations. If you would like to help, visit Helping WIN.