Women of Woodside was founded 31 years ago as a charitable nonprofit organization to help Aiken. In the years since its creation, it has raised $1.3 million for the community, supports over 30 local charitable groups, and has given some of Aiken's residents a chance to connect with the place they call home.
"A lot of us in Woodside are retired, so it's time for us to give back," said Daria Carney, a board member of Women of Woodside. "This is our community, too, and we want to help. And over the years, these women have given so much to the community."
Carney said Women of Woodside (WOW) gives herself and her neighbors a chance to see the many sides of Aiken beyond the well-kept lawns, sprawling golf courses, and stately homes that form their gated community.
"I think we live in a bit of a bubble in Woodside," Carney said. "We call it the bubble. Helping and volunteering with charities gets us out of that environment and helps us to understand Aiken. I know personally, through volunteering, that I met so many wonderful people who were in need. I think it's opening our doors also, and we get a lot from it."
WOW is set up as a 501c(4) organization. Over 90 percent of dues collected from members go toward charitable works. They also throw the occasional social event for their members.
Women of Woodside hosts charitable events and programs throughout the year.
On Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19, volunteers will be stationed at the entrances of Woodside to collect monetary donations for It's Spooky to be Hungry, a Golden Harvest Food Bank fundraiser.
WOW also is launching a 2019-2020 capital campaign with the goal of raising $25,000 for the Community Medical Clinic of Aiken County, the Child Advocacy Center of Aiken County, and GEM (Guide, Encourage, Motivate).
Vicki Christopher is another WOW member. Despite making a career out of giving back to others (she is a retired third grade teacher) she joined the group very shortly after moving to Woodside with her husband.
The volunteer group was part of what made her new neighborhood feel like home.
"It was a leap of faith," Christopher said. "I thought, it's either going to be fabulous, or we're going to be very sorry... when I joined the Women of Woodside, and I met so many friends that way."
Christopher said anyone who finds themselves bored in Aiken with all the volunteering activities must be "a potato," and she especially enjoys a program where school children get to show off by reading books out loud to adults.
Theresa Schuster, who also volunteers with WOW, said the organization is sizable. This year, there are 406 members.
"We made a real big effort this year to get out there this year and to get everybody involved as much as possible," Schuster said.
Volunteering has left many lasting impressions and memories with the Women of Woodside. Schuster can recall seeing the rows and rows of food stored in a Golden Harvest Food Bank distribution center in the area during one volunteering event.
"Seeing all that food and knowing it's not going to last is remarkable," said Schuster.
Christopher can recall the happiness on the faces of seniors at a local assisted living facility when WOW went caroling there during the holidays.
"They were singing with us," Christopher said. "That's why it's so important to give back... So it's an hour out of your day. Who cares? It really makes their day."
The group fundraises for a multitude of local groups and causes, such as the Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons and Aiken Senior Life Services. They also participate in other forms of volunteer work and mentoring programs.
"There's a lot of charities out there, but there's a lot of people who need help," Charney said.
Despite the amount of work they pour into the community, the Women of Woodside feel like they are benefiting just as much as the people they seek to help.
"There's many smart, creative, talented women who are now retired who can use their skills to help all the charities now," Christopher said.
"There's nothing better than taking your time and giving back, and then for someone to acknowledge that they somehow appreciate you... those are the moments that make your day perfect," Schuster said.