Zonta luncheon proceeds to empower Project 16:49 program participants

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Shelly Birkelo
February 25, 2015

JANESVILLE—Brooklyn Smailes was homeless for four years.

From the time she was 14 until this past January, Smailes “pretty much couch-surfed between friends and relatives.”

Without Project 16:49's Robin House, a home for unaccompanied teen girls, she honestly doesn't know where she'd be.

“Since I've been here the stress is gone. I feel like a teen again and am focused on school and finding a job instead of where I'm going to sleep and eat,” the 18-year-old said.

Smailes attends school at Fresh Start, Community Action's education and job-training program for at-risk youth in Beloit.

“I graduate in June and am looking into a job,” she said.

Thanks to a donation from the Zonta Club of Janesville, Smailes will be able to get transportation to school “that always is a big barrier,” said Tammy DeGarmo, who leads Project 16:49.

Money raised during the group's International Women's Day luncheon Friday, March 13, at the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville, also will be used to help pay for food cards, independent living skills groups, group outings and operating expenses at Robin House, she said.

How much money is raised depends on those who attend the luncheon, said Tammy McCaslin-Krebs, Zonta board member and Women's Day luncheon chairwoman.

“We're going to ask for donations at the event, so the more people who attend the more donations we receive. Those funds will go directly to Project 16:49,” she said.

DeGarmo said she is honored that Zonta has been so supportive of Project 16:49.

“Just for our girls to see other strong women in the community supporting them is important,” she said.

DeGarmo also stressed the organization would not exist without community support.

“One hundred percent of our funding comes from the community. We receive no state or federal grants and are not funded by United Way,” she said.

Anyone is welcome to attend the luncheon, McCaslin-Krebs said.

“You can come individually, as a group, part of a business, men, women and children,” she said.

McCaslin-Krebs said the luncheon will feature inspirational speaker Sandy Sullivan, author of “Green Bay Love Stories and Other Affairs.”

“She was a pioneer in getting to know the Green Bay Packers during the glory days of Green Bay, when she befriended a lot of the players that we now know as superstars," McCaslin-Krebs said. "She was in a role that very few get that close to (the organization), let alone a woman in the 60s."

McCaslin-Krebs also expects the stories of several of Project 16:49's young program participants to inspire attendees.

“We have some struggles in our lives, but these young ladies and men, who are part of the nonprofit organization that serves Rock County's unaccompanied homeless teens, have really endured a lot," she said. "But they keep pushing forward and I think that will inspire everyone who attends the luncheon to do that in their own lives."

For those who haven't heard about Project 16:49, McCaslin-Krebs said the luncheon will offer information about what's going on in the community and how they can help.

In the past, funds raised at the luncheon were used to support Women with a Vision, a program that supports single mothers who are enrolled at Blackhawk Technical College and UW-Rock County, McCaslin-Krebs said.

Zonta also provides funding to ECHO, YWCA of Rock County's Alternatives to Violence program and Zonta International programs for service and education.

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