Every Christmas season, Leola O’Bear Smith remembers the pain she felt after her divorce nearly 20 years ago.
“I hurt so bad after the divorce,” she said. “I never thought people could hurt so bad.”
So each year on the Saturday after Christmas, Smith throws a party for all women — especially those who are hurting, alone or depressed.
“I want women to know that they are not alone,” Smith said. “That’s the big thing, that somebody really cares for them.”
In the late 1990s, Smith, a 58-year-old counselor and mental health professional, created Women Bringing Women, to give women a chance to encourage one another.
Last Saturday more than 60 women gathered at City Café in Baton Rouge to trade gifts, hear inspirational speakers and watch religious dance troupes. But most of all, they shared camaraderie.
“Every time I go, it’s like I receive more healing,” said Trudy Douglas, 41, a hairstylist and dance instructor who has attended for several years.
After Smith divorced, the neat world she knew disintegrated, she said. She described herself as “dressed up on the outside but messed up on the inside.”
Money was tight and her self-confidence was low. Over time, she recovered, but Smith said she never wants to forget how she felt during those years after her marriage fell apart.
“I want to keep some of that so I can still have feelings for other people,” she said. “Sometimes you move past some things and you forget. It’s a natural thing, you do forget.”
In the late 1990s she started her after-Christmas party at her home with a few friends. She would buy gifts and encourage others to bring things.
Then Smith began looking for women who could use encouragement during the holiday season. Other women started donating money and gifts to brighten someone’s holiday.
“Then I encouraged women to look out for other women who were going through things like a loss of a job and whatever,” she said. “I would like for them to reach out and get their nails fixed or get their hair done.”
When the party grew too large for her house, she moved it to a restaurant that had a special events room. In the future, she plans to find a venue that will allow her to have a potluck dinner so guests will not have to buy a meal.
Women of all ages attended the Women Bringing Women event last week.
Angel Bailey, a 21-year-old LSU student, came for the first time. She was feeling a little depressed about some personal issues, she said, when her mother invited Bailey to come along.
It felt like Christmas Day all over again, she said.
“The people speaking were all gifts to me that I received,” Bailey said. “It really touched me, and it’s something I can take with me for a lifetime.”