CINCINNATI -- Teresa Washington knows all too well how scary it is to be young, pregnant and alone.
She had her first baby when she was just 17 and graduated from high school pregnant with her second.
If it weren't for the help of a nonprofit organization in Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up, Washington isn't sure how she would have become the successful business owner she is today.
That's why she started Ladies Night Out With A Purpose. Now in its sixth year, the event brings women together for an evening of fun that raises money for local organizations that help women and teen girls.
"I just believe in helping other women because someone believed in me and helped me," said Washington, who is now 46.
The event raises between $5,000 and $7,000 each year. This year's theme is "Purses For a Purpose." Guests of the event are encouraged to bring a new or gently used handbag filled with everyday essentials for women.
The purses -- and the money raised by the event -- will be donated to Women's Crisis Center in Northern Kentucky and two Talbert House programs for women. Talbert House's Freeda Kay House is a residential program for young women who have been victims of domestic violence, and Freeda Kay II is a supportive housing project for homeless women and their children. The other Talbert House program that will benefit is the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Partnership Treatment (ADAPT) program, which provides services for adults charged with drug-related felony offenses.
The donated purses and the money the event raises will be a big help at Talbert House, said Amy Orr, Talbert House vice president and a friend of Washington's who has been involved with the Ladies Night Out event from the start.
"Any amount can make a difference to these types of programs because these women often come to us with nothing," Orr said.
Orr especially likes the purse theme for this year's event because she expects the women who attend Ladies Night Out With a Purpose will fill their handbags with sweet-smelling soaps, shampoos and other niceties.
"It's like a little luxury," she said. "It's the nice things when everything else in your day might not be so nice."
'No living without giving'
The Ladies Night Out With a Purpose started with 45 people its first year and has grown to nearly 300 annually, Washington said. She is hoping this year's event will be even bigger to collect more purses and raise more money to help women and girls in need.
Sadly, there are plenty of them who need help.
In 2015, Women's Crisis Center served 1,500 individuals who went to the group's outreach offices or who sought help through St. Elizabeth Healthcare emergency rooms, said Marsha Croxton, the organization's executive director. The nonprofit's clients are primarily women, although it does serve men, too. Women's Crisis Center sheltered a total of 252 families in its two emergency shelters, she said.
Talbert House's Freeda Kay residential programs are much smaller. The program for survivors of domestic violence has four units, and the housing for homeless women and children has six.
ADAPT is larger, however, and served 101 women in Talbert House's residential program last year.
Washington designed the Ladies Night Out event to give back in every possible way, she said.
A portion of all raffle ticket sales is donated. Vendors at the event donate 10 percent of their sales to charity.
"I truly believe that there's no living without giving," said Washington, who used to own a women's clothing boutique in Montgomery. "I hold women very near and dear to my heart, and I love bringing women together."
Washington now works as an image consultant and actually lives in Chicago. But she has continued to plan the event in Cincinnati each year with the help of her planning committee because of what the city meant to her when she moved here from Dayton in 1990 for better opportunities.
Washington said there was a time that she was embarrassed about her personal story and afraid of being judged. But she began to see the power of opening up to the teen girls that she mentors.
"I share my story in hopes of helping and inspiring other women and other teen girls," she said. "That life doesn't end there."
This year's Ladies Night Out With a Purpose will be held from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Contemporary Arts Center Downtown. Tickets can be purchased online. More information is available on the event's Facebook page.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.