In the decades since the Holocaust, the Jewish community has pledged, “Never Again.” Yet genocide, albeit on a smaller scale, has recurred numerous times in the intervening years. “Focus on the tangible,” says Mina Rush, outreach director of Jewish World Watch, an organization that fights genocide and mass atrocities through advocacy and high-impact projects that improve the lives of survivors. “Ending genocide in Africa isn’t going to happen today.”
Spreading awareness, raising money and advocating for change are tangible steps that Portlander Denise Wetherell and her daughter Anna have taken for the past three years. Pamper for a Purpose, the annual event Denise created in 2011, raises both the funds and awareness to help Americans aid people victimized by the atrocities in Darfur in western Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While it fulfills all of those goals, it also reminds people to slow down and care for themselves.
“Americans work pretty darn hard, and I don’t think we take time to pamper ourselves,” Denise says. “I think it’s important to allow ourselves the time to get pampered and to help those who don’t ever get pampered.
The people in D.R. Congo and Darfur are in survival mode 24/7. I can sit and look out the window at my beautiful backyard and see a raindrop hit a leaf … all the little things we can do in safety, they can’t do at all.” “I’m grateful I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach and all the support I need to think outside the box to help others,” she adds.
Denise and Mina agree that helping others does not mean denying ourselves. “People want to help, but they often ask themselves, what can I give up? But it’s not about lowering our standards, it’s about raising theirs,” explains Mina. Pamper for a Purpose, slated this year for 2 to 7 pm July 28 in Portland’s Director Park, brings together health, wellness and beauty practitioners who donate their services in exchange for a donation to support programs aiding victims of atrocities in Darfur and D.R. Congo.
Denise was moved to action by her then 12-yearold daughter Anna, who was preparing for her bat mitzvah at Congregation Neveh Shalom. After her Wednesday Night School attended a citywide program about the genocide in Darfur, Anna said, “Mom, we have to do something.” Anna explains that anything someone can do, no matter how small, can make a difference. “If you just tell one person, that person tells someone else and it spreads.”
When Denise had graduated with a bachelor of arts from Marylhurst University in 2007, she wanted to plan an art show to benefit the Darfur refugees. But life was busy, and the idea fell by the wayside. Then Anna reignited that passion. Initially Denise decided that one day a month she would donate proceeds from haircuts she gives at Shear Creations in Lake Oswego to JWW. So she implemented “Last Friday.”
She also joined the Never Again Coalition, which unites people from congregations Neveh Shalom, Beth Israel, Kol Shalom, P’nai Or and Havurah Shalom as a voice against genocide. And she talked to other health and beauty professionals. In just four months she created the first Pamper for a Purpose, held in Lake Oswego’s Millennium Plaza Park in 2011. On attending that first event, JWW Director of Outreach Mina Rush says, “Getting pampered while saving lives feels good. I think this is a model other people could use to raise money and awareness” to combat genocide and atrocities around the world. Mina says when people in other communities want to create a fundraiser she always tells them about Denise’s idea.
“It’s a brilliant idea everyone loves,” says Mina. But she notes that to date, no one has been able to replicate the project because they don’t have the connections in the health and beauty industry that Denise does. “I need a Denise Wetherell in every city.” However, Pamper has inspired people in other communities to likewise think outside the box and create “fun for a cause” events. For instance, Congo Line for Congo and Step Up for Sudan, two dance events that raised money to combat genocide in Africa, rely on that same concept of doing something for yourself and others at the same time, she says.
Denise says she felt overwhelmed when last year she sat on a panel the day after Pamper to discuss the ongoing crises in Darfur and D.R. Congo. “I’m not up on the news on a scholarly level; it was really deep into the politics,” she says. “I’m into action and doing. I trust those people (JWW) to know the politics.”
Coalition member Dale Oller praises Denise for bringing the idea of Pamper for a Purpose to the Never Again Coalition and JWW. “It is one thing to be enthusiastic about a new idea, but another to be disciplined and patient to see the idea through to completion. She had faith in the success of meeting goals of awareness, education and fundraising,” says Dale. “What may have appeared to be initial naivety turned into a wonderful program,” Dale adds. “I admire Denise’s imagination and understanding of what one individual can accomplish when the cause is near and dear to the heart.”
This year’s fundraising and awareness-raising event moves into the heart of Portland at Director Park, at Southwest Park and Taylor. With the new central location, a co-chair (Alysha Atma of Atma Foundation), an organizing committee, logo and t-shirts created by Infinite Inks, and a public relations campaign and website developed by the WWW Group, Denise expects this year’s Pamper to be bigger than ever. In addition to the pampering stations, the event will feature a solar cooking demonstration; raffle; silent auction; live music by Gumbo Americana; a NIA dance event; Kids’ Lane with face painting, balloon animals, henna tattoos, a clay project and other fun things for children; and a row of advocacy and information booths.
Anna, who will turn 15 just before this year’s Pamper, says she never expected such a big response when she told her mother they had to do something. “I’m happy with what happened though,” she says. “It’s reall important. A lot of people ignore it. It’s good to get the word out, especially to teens.” With this year’s central location, Anna says she thinks it will have an even bigger impact. “It’s great to be in Portland,” she says. “It spreads awareness even if people don’t make a donation.”
“I love this event,” says Anna. “I love everyone’s kind heart.” Anna has taken an active role every year. Each year she makes silk flowers to sell at Pamper, a project that has become a treasured mother/daughter event. The first year she also recited the poem “At Age 13” with Amida Germine, a teenager who had moved to Portland two years earlier from a refugee camp in the Congo. The two alternately read from the poem that shares the horrors of one 13-year-old during the Holocaust and another girl the same age in the Congo. Anna and Amida still stay in touch via Facebook.
This year Anna will also do henna tattoos for kids, a skill she learned from Pamper co-chair Alysha, who co-founded Atma Foundation with her husband in 2008 to aid women in the Congo. Anna is a freshman at Clackamas Middle College, a charter high school affiliated with Clackamas Community College. “A counselor at Clackamas told me Anna has quite the art eye,” says Denise proudly. Alysha agrees: “Anna is incredibly artistic.”
It’s one of many ways Anna takes after her mother. She says she has a lot of her mom in her – with caring for others being perhaps the greatest gift. Anna says she would love to become a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner so she can help sick children. “We’re all proud of you,” says Anna, looking at her mom and speaking for herself and for her twin brother, James, and their older brother, Calen, 17.
While Denise’s sons and husband, Ken, are not involved in the planning, they do help out each year at the event. This year the Portland Pedal Power, a bicycle delivery company Ken cofounded, will carry ads for Pamper on its bicycles. Alysha, who met Denise when she attended last year’s Pamper for a Purpose, says she has seen such an outpouring as people become aware of atrocities through such events. “In the last three years I’ve seen incredible empowerment of the women (in D.R. Congo),” Alysha says. “It’s a testament to people around the world listening to what they need. … There is still rape and still conflict, but I have an incredible sense of hope that things are changing, that we are partners.”
Among the nine JWW projects that receive funding from Pamper, Denise and Anna are especially inspired by the solar cooker project for Darfur refugees and the Chambucha Rape and Crisis Center in eastern Congo. JWW distributes the low-cost solar cookers, which are assembled in the camps, to protect the women who were often raped and brutalized when they left the refugee camp to collect firewood.
“The solar cooking demonstration is a highlight of every Pamper,” says Denise, noting JWW provides low-cost solar cookers to four refugee camps in Chad, where women in the camp are paid to assemble the cookers for distribution to others in the camp. Anna explains, “It’s really dangerous for the women to leave the refugee camp. There’s a high chance they well get raped or killed.” With the solar cookers, women don’t need to leave the refugee camps to collect firewood. “It keeps them safe and that is all we want.”
Denise says the Rape and Crisis Center is important because, “The culture there is very different. Once a woman is raped, she is a social outcast with no support from her community. … If the center can help them start seeing the goodness of life again, that’s good.”
Anna adds, “It’s really good to help people who have been raped and gone through traumatic situations to get the services and help they need. It helps them heal.” Local community members are solidly behind that effort. “Denise should be an inspiration to us all,” says Lauren Fortgang, another member of the Never Again Coalition. The Coalition cosponsors Pamper and will have tables with background information on the conflicts in both Sudan and D.R. Congo, as well as actions that people can take. “She is an example of how one person really can make a difference if they put their mind to it.” At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
“I like seeing everyone come together to make a change,” says Anna. “The people who donate their services are so happy. I go to bed that night and think how awesome it is that we’ve just helped people in Darfur and the Congo.”
Pamper for a Purpose
WHAT: An afternoon of pampering, entertainment, education and inspiration
WHY: Take care of yourself for a day and take care of victims of atrocities for a lifetime
WHERE: Director’s Park, SW Park & Taylor, Portland
WHEN: 2-7 pm, July 28
Suggested donation: $20 per service including massage, haircut, pedicure, manicure, facial