Widows of Opportunity encourages women to find life after loss

When Kimberly Richardson lost her husband in 2003, it could have been the end of her life. She was isolated and depressed, and very much in denial about what had happened. The love of her  life and father to her child was killed unexpectedly in a car crash on Oct. 17 of that year when he was just 27.

Kimberly Richardson, founder of Widows of Opportunity. (photo provided).

Kimberly Richardson, founder of Widows of Opportunity (photo provided).

At age 24 and with a 6-year-old son, life had turned upside down. After five years of denial and anger, Richardson came through her ordeal and founded Widows of Opportunity.

The nonprofit organization was created out of her own personal experiences with dealing with life as a widow. Richardson said that while family and friends initially surrounded her in the days and weeks after the incident, she did not have the consistent support she desired.

“When you lose your husband, you lose a big part of your life,” she said. “I knew that if I felt this way, other widows were feeling this way,” she said.

Richardson wanted to make sure women who had just lost their spouses could access an outlet to deal with their grief as well as be around a community of women that have shared experiences.

“I want widows to know that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and we’re here to listen to you,” she said. “There’s hope after loss.”

Widows of Opportunity provides support groups once a month in Columbia at the Long Creek Church of Christ located at 720 Longtown Road. She also offers a group in Atlanta and has traveled for speaking obligations as far as Texas.

Since Widows of Opportunity launched in 2011, the organization has gone from four women to over 100 widows worldwide.

Richardson also has partnered with organizations like the South Carolina’s Department of Public Safety’s Families of Highway Fatalities group to give widows who are financially strapped opportunities to develop job skills, fill out college applications and build resumes.

Beyond the workshops and support meetings, Richardson likes to get the women of the group back into the community by hosting outings like plays, spa days, movies and a monthly dinner.

These gatherings allow the women time to get out of the house, reconnect with society and support their communities as they did when their spouses were alive, Richardson said.

“These women are sitting alone in the dark depressed,” she said.

“There are so many widows in the world,” Richardson said. “When a widow stops working, the community is affected financially. We’re starting to put money back into community. That’s a win-win on everybody’s end.”

Conservations in the support groups range from topics on how to deal with the varied emotions that come with loss to how to interact with children who have lost a parent. She lets widows know that they are not alone in their feelings and their experiences are natural.

“Because I didn’t know any better, my son would act out, and I was just thinking he was acting bad and not realizing he is grieving too. This is how he is dealing with grief,” she said. “I tell them, ‘It’s not about you, they are missing their father too.’ ”

When widows ask about finding love again, Richardson advises them to take the time to reconnect with themselves.

Widows of Opportunity will hold a Valentines Day dinner this Friday to recognize widows.

Widows of Opportunity will hold a Valentine’s Day dinner this Friday to recognize widows.

“Get to know yourself and love yourself … and when you’re able to go on a date, do not compare your date to your husband. You’ll never find another person like your husband,” she said.

Richardson’s work has paid off. The women who come to her are wracked with pain and depression but eventually find themselves loving life as time passes.

Richardson was told by one woman that she received “the best Christmas present” when Richardson made a surprise visit to her home to check on her. Another widow came to Richardson extremely angry with the world and her situation, but after three months she began to cry and let out her feelings during a journaling session.

And there was a woman who cried hard for months, until one day during a meeting she burst out laughing and talking. These stories of hope, Richardson said, fuel her passion to reach out to women each day.

“You have a right to scream, cuss and fuss, but what are we going to do? We are going to live,” she said. “That’s my fuel.”

Through persistence and a consistent social media campaign, Widows of Opportunity has garnered the attention of local and state lawmakers and has expanded its base of widows to all parts of the country and internationally.

Richardson has met with and received support from state Sen. Joel Lourie, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Gov. Nikki Haley. Her support groups are made up of women of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages.

Richardson also has connected with women in places as far as Africa and Australia through referrals on Facebook and Twitter.

“We may speak different languages, but we are hurting,” she said. “We all share the same loss.”

Richardson will host a Valentine’s Day Dinner this Friday to help widows cope with the holiday. Richardson’s guests will discuss the future and spend time with a supportive group of women. The event begins at 5 p.m. and will be held at Longhorn Steakhouse located at 2760 Decker Blvd.

Richardson said Widows of Opportunity is funded by grants and donations from members of the community who want to support her efforts. Funds go toward workshops as well as to help widows who don’t have life insurance but who have children. Donations can be made online or by mailing a check made out to Widows of Opportunity at P.O. Box 292162 Columbia, SC 29229.

Information on how to partner with Widows of Opportunity or to connect with Richardson can be found at the Widows of Opportunity website.

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