Theda Blackwelder of Millsboro is one of a growing group of Village Improvement Association members with impressive employment and homemaker backgrounds as well as volunteer experience.
She was a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, met and married a Lutheran minister, and then, in addition to a volunteer role helping him with his ministry, she was hired to be director of the Delaware Lutheran office on public policy, traveling to meetings held at many places in the U.S.
Despite a busy schedule, Blackwelder found time to volunteer for the Wilmington Opera cause, gaining experience with fundraising events such as a fashion show and designer show house that would help her later on with VIA volunteer work in Rehoboth Beach.
Fast forward and Blackwelder, now an active VIA member in Rehoboth Beach, and soon to be its president in 2014, is appointed to be the VIA’s capital campaign chair to raise money to update the clubhouse off the Boardwalk.
“A core group of 25 members signed up to help me,” Blackwelder said. “And others are still signing up, whenever I need help.”
Their efforts are paying off. So far, there have been 25 special events for the capital campaign. By the end of this year, the VIA members hope to have raised the $320,000 needed to complete their capital campaign.
Their historic clubhouse is now renovated, and already they are seeing more rental uses. “In addition to meeting our needs, the clubhouse is bringing in some real income. We’ve continued our giving, even increased it, despite the capital campaign,” said Blackwelder.
By far, the 2013 VIA Designer Show House was the most financially successful capital campaign event, raising more than $30,000. Chair Rose Marie Patin had two co-chairs: Anne Jack and Joanne DeFiore, and more than 80 volunteers. Work on the event began a year before it took place April 22 to May 6.
“In December of 2011, we took possession of the house in Rehoboth Beach. We started off with an ‘MT’ [empty] House Party for VIA members and designers. I think this year’s event was a success because, as we knew they would, area people supported it,” said Patin. They had a regional marketing plan, and that, plus word of mouth, brought people from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and other places. “Some people were coming to get their homes ready for the summer season,” Patin added.
The VIA now plans to do such an event every other year. “When we told designers that we had plans to repeat it every other year, they were eager to sign up,” said Patin. “We already have the next house.” The 2014 event will take place the first three weekends of May, May 1-18. Patin will again chair it.
For others who want to feature an event this challenging, Patin said, “You have to do your research, get people to work with you, come up with the ideas and meet the challenges. You have to network to get things done. Don’t be afraid. You also have to have some seed money so you can invest in advertising and do the programs.”
VIA members are members of the national General Federation of Women’s Clubs and Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs. DSFWC President Jane Folz of Selbyville said, “The VIA is the largest federated club in Delaware.”
“There are 23 clubs in Delaware,” said Folz. “The Zwaanendael Women’s Club in Lewes is a good example of a small club [57 members] doing strategic planning. Recently, they filled five SUVs with tents, clothing and other things for homeless veterans in Sussex County. They are a small club, but they tackle big challenges.”
“We’re dedicated to helping others,” said JoAnne Koehler, Zwaanendael Club president. “We’ve been doing this since the early 1900s. Next year, we plan to help homeless women veterans, too.” The club has a historic clubhouse in Lewes and is always looking for new members.
Another smaller group locally is the DSFWC Women’s Club of Indian River with 28 members. VIA members Sandy Roberts and Jan Conant, along with Judy Kirkey of the Zwaanendael Club, helped get this group started. They are the newest club in the GFWC Delaware State Federation of Women’s Clubs. Muriel Pfeiffer is the president.