L-R, Jenny Gentry, RCS Pinellas, Shalena C., Huddle client and education grant recipient, Cara Nobles, volunteer, and R’kyah (Shalena’s Daughter)
By Nicole Slaughter Graham, Staff Writer
SAFETY HARBOR — When Kayla Worthy relocated from Orlando to the Tampa Bay area, she started looking for a community service opportunity right away.
“I’ve always had a vested interest in working with young women, and especially minority and underprivileged women,” she said.
While scrolling through Twitter one day, she realized that Huddle in the Harbor, a small nonprofit headquartered in Safety Harbor, started following her. She followed back and then looked into the organization.
“I realized that their mission really aligned with my values.”
Not long after, Worthy started volunteering with the organization and then moved onto the board, and now she serves as Huddle’s vice president.
In 2017, Huddle in the Harbor began as a women’s advocacy group. Co-founders Kelly Nelson, Bev Hall, Jackie Shepherd, and Melissa Farrell volunteered with area organizations like the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center and Oldsmar Cares. Through that work, they found that local women needed more access to feminine hygiene products, healthcare education, and a way to build a better life for themselves through career training.
Not long after, the founders launched a 501c3, and Huddle in the Harbor turned its attention to directly filling the gaps for women in need.
The organization partners with other local groups and organizations like Oldsmar Cares, local women’s shelters, the CNA Academy, Black Nurses Rock and the Sonia Plotnick Healthcare Foundation.
“These organizations refer women to us when they think we can help them.”
That help, explained Worthy, comes in a variety of ways. Right now, Huddle in the Harbor has three dedicated programs to helping women: an education fund, a healthcare fund and access to feminine hygiene products.
Healthcare access and education, along with access to period products and funding for education, said Worthy, are basic necessities women need to help them thrive and create a sustainable future.
“We first learn about what our clients need, and then we work really hard to provide them with it.”
Most of the time, Huddle in the Harbor gives women money for necessary medical testing such as mammograms and STD testing, funds for period supplies, and grants for career training through career organizations like the CNA Academy.
But giving out money, Worthy said, is only a small part of the support the organization offers.
“We want these women to know that they are seen and heard and that someone really cares for them,” she explained.
Huddle in the Harbor staff and volunteers show their care by walking women through situations rather than just funding them. For instance, if a woman wants to partake in career training, the staff and volunteers walk her through every step of the process.
From contacting the school or program to filling out paperwork to meeting payment deadlines, Huddle in the Harbor works with its clients to fulfill the various requirements.
“Depending on the client’s needs, we sometimes have phone calls or in-person meetings as often as once a week,” Worthy said.
Right now, the organization is reworking its education funding program in an effort to provide women with more options. The organization currently partners with the CNA Academy and helps women get into the program there, but they’re interested in offering more career variety.
More pressing, though, is how COVID-19 has shifted client needs, something Worthy said the organization is working hard to address.
“Right now, our clients need help with housing funding,” Worthy noted. “Many women are losing jobs, and as a result, they’re also losing health insurance, so housing and healthcare are concurrent needs for many of our clients.”
Huddle in the Harbor plans to pivot as needed to ensure they can best serve their clients and their clients’ needs. Right now, Worthy said, that means housing is just as important as healthcare and period products.