February 9, 2012
The nonprofit W.O.M.E.N. supports women coping with HIV and other diseases by providing food, clothing, shelter, and additional services. The acronym stands for Women on Maintaining Education and Nutrition; Catherine Wyatt-Morley, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1994, is its founder.
Wyatt-Morley said that at the time of her diagnosis, very little information about the disease addressed her circumstances -- namely, a married professional African-American woman with three young children. "I didn't fit into the criteria of what we Americans thought was HIV," she said. Lacking support, she went into a spiral: Her church abandoned her, her friends alienated her, and she and her husband split up. "Everything that was precious to me was no longer part of my life except my three children," she said. "All of my friends, all my hopes, aspirations, everything. Gone."
This need for support drove Wyatt-Morley to start W.O.M.E.N. She has since traveled extensively: At a meeting in Switzerland, she shared her organization's story with representatives from 68 nations. "To be able to travel the world and give my opinion and recommendation and suggestions, not only regarding HIV, but women's health and women's rights, that's huge for me," she said.
Later this year, Wyatt-Morley will open W.O.M.E.N.'s House, a residential facility that will offer a holistic approach to care and services by using a behavioral research model. She hopes the facility, which is outside Davidson County, can house up to 18 women, with twice that number being assisted on a day-to-day basis.
"My life far exceeds the expectations I would have set," noted Wyatt-Morley.