Women to Watch Finalists–Education

Meet the 2019 finalists


Jessica Gaffney
Theater Department Chair
Cape Fear Community College

In her involvement with the theater program at CFCC, Jessica Gaffney has supported students through their academic and artistic journey.

“I love creating things. I love working with young people full of hope and love for the art,” Gaffney says. “In theater classes, we get to teach students skills that are directly applicable when working in the field. That kind of education is important to me. Helping the next generation go out into the field and succeed is important to me.”

She was appointed chair in February of the theater department, where she works to get the best out of students and faculty.

“I have really enjoyed improving and building up our program,” she says. “Getting the best out of our students and faculty is very rewarding, and being connected to UNCW allows me to see how our students succeed when they transfer to a university setting.”

Gaffney has long been an active member of the arts community, designing costumes for a number of plays, including Twelfth Night, Next to Normal, and The Glass Menagerie, as well as directing Proof, Hedda Gabler, She Kills Monsters, and Anatomy of Gray. She also designs costumes for a professional play company in Virginia during the summers.

Gaffney is also a mentor and has taken students to conferences and helped with their auditions to four-year schools.

“I am attempting,” she says, “to build a program with a strong reputation in the state. I think that community college is a good route for theater majors because there are more opportunities to be cast as a first- or second-year student. Approaching college from a fiscally responsible place is important for students who want to go into the arts so that they are not overwhelmed with debt after graduation, (and) community college can help with that. My goal for myself is always to be better, a bit better than I was yesterday – a better teacher, leader, mentor, and friend.”


Kellie Griggs
Assistant Professor
UNCW School of Nursing

Kellie Griggs is an assistant professor and maternal/infant course lead at UNCW’s School of Nursing. She is also a part-time clinical nurse educator at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. With her expertise, Griggs, who holds a doctoral degree in nursing practice, has been part of many efforts to advocate for nurses and women and infant health.

She has provided free community childbirth classes to families living in underserved communities and was part of putting together an event at UNCW on increasing awareness and advocacy for human trafficking victims. Her study on nurses’ views of fetal monitor safety, leading to improvements in staffing safety, was published in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing in August.

She was part of developing initiatives that reduced rates for cesarean sections rates at a local community hospital from 48% to 16% over the course of a year.

Griggs, who began her career as a labor and delivery nurse, later returned to school to earn a bachelor’s in nursing and master’s in nursing education and now holds a doctorate in nursing practice.

She was a part of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses’ Emerging Leaders cohort last year, is serving a second appointed term on the group’s national public policy committee, serves as the association’s North Carolina legislative chair, and is a candidate for the 2020 AWHONN national board of directors.

Griggs says her future goals include securing federal grant funding to support community-based programs that enhance “care outcomes for women and infants in disparate populations, along with addressing issues surrounding equity of obstetrical care through the use of home-based technology.”

“Additionally,” on her radar is, “collaborating with community partners and engaging nursing students to develop and deliver holistic community resources such as free childbirth education classes, hospital-based doulas, opioid education, and postpartum support.”

“I have always had a passion for inspiring and empowering women. As a nurse and educator in the field of women’s and infant health care, I have the privilege to be in a position to create positive change in the lives of others,” Griggs says. “My hope is to be an inspirational mentor and servant leader who creates a pathway to help others advocate for those in need.”


Darlena Moore
The Gilbert Scholarship Inc.

Darlena Moore started The Gilbert Scholarship Inc. for college students who were in foster care.

A former foster youth, Moore received support to go to college from her foster parents, whom the organization is named after. The nonprofit is financially supported by sales of Mountain Girl Granola, a business that Moore started about three years ago.

“I remember the years of aging out of the system well. You’re still without parents and money, and you don’t have that guidance that most kids have. It’s a really lonely time,” says Moore, who was orphaned by the age of eleven. “I was lucky to have Dick and Mary Gilbert to help me along the way, but even with that, I was still separated from my family, and my mother was gone. I have always been pulled to give back, and this felt like something I had to do. Figuring out what has caused you the most pain in life and alleviating that pain for someone else – that’s how you become whole.”

Even from a young age, Moore took a leadership role on the issue. At fifteen, she gave speeches in the child advocacy community about her experience of being sent to different homes and being split from her four siblings, helping shift perspectives about keeping siblings together in the foster system. She has served a Guardian ad Litem, worked with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina to raise awareness of fostering to adopt, and mentored older youth in foster care.

The Gilbert Scholarship recently gave two CFCC students scholarships. By the end of this year, it will have given out ten scholarships, totaling $10,000 to students.

Moore points to statistics that show only 3% of those who age out of the foster care system go on to attend college. “Reaching more foster youth is imperative,” she says.

“I didn’t know where this journey would take me or how many scholarships I’d be able to give. But, I am pleased and proud that I’ve been able to help ten students from foster care further their education,” she says. “I wish it was more.”


Crystal Sutherland
Journey to Heal Ministries

Crystal Sutherland founded Journey to Heal Ministries in the spring of 2018 with the mission of helping women heal from past sexual trauma.

The organization provides different free services including mentoring and support groups offered at Port City Community Church and online. It also raises awareness through its #END1in10 campaign, which seeks to provide resources and education to families and communities to prevent child sexual abuse.

“We believe awareness leads to prevention and that it only takes one voice to ignite change,” Sutherland says. “Our goal is to inspire everyday people to be that voice in their generation.”

“I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse,” Sutherland says. “The impact of that abuse was severe and set me on a trajectory of choices that resulted in more pain and hardship both during my teens and for years into adulthood. It was through a relationship with Jesus Christ that I found hope and healing, and it is because of what He has done in my life that I feel compelled to help others find the same.”

Sutherland is also the author of Journey to Heal: Seven Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse.

The organization hosted its first annual Hope Run as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April that included 249 runners. Sutherland is also on her fourth year hosting the Hope Restored Women’s Conference, which is scheduled to take place November 1-3 in Myrtle Beach. She also says she would like to see other Journey to Heal support groups launch in other communities.

“We also want to develop more resources that will aid both in prevention as well as counselors, educators, churches, and individuals caring for survivors of all ages,” she says. “Finally, our ultimate goal is to secure a location here in Wilmington that will provide a haven and respite for women healing from sexual abuse, as well as provide space for us to host and expand our programs”


Kendall Tidey
Adult Transgender Support Group

Kendall Tidey is a facilitator with the Adult Transgender Support Group, volunteering with the grassroots organization that provides a support group for those in the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

“The mission of this group is to allow transgender and gender non-conforming people a safe space to meet for friendship and community, give and receive support during difficult times, and a place to talk about shared experiences both practical and emotional,” Tidey says.

The group was started by Nova Swanstrom twelve years ago, and Tidey has been leading the group for the past two years.

“I was at UNCW at the time and doing an internship at Delta Behavioral Health. The HB2 ‘bathroom bill’ had been passed a few months before, and I was very interested in knowing more about the transgender community,” Tidey recalls. “Nova was so incredibly warm and helpful to me. I attended the support group meetings initially with her, and her door was always open for questions and book suggestions. Nova started the group – she has a busy private practice and felt it was time to pass the baton. She is the leading transgender and gender non-conforming therapist in Eastern North Carolina.”

Tidey also recently received her master’s degree in social work and works as an outpatient therapist at Coastal Horizons, which is not affiliated with the support group that meets monthly.

“I’ve been able to see up close and personal what it is like to go through the discrimination and bullying they go through – not through something they have done but who they are. That is hard to witness,” Tidey says. “But, it is not all bad news. Many have had supportive family members, peers, and co-workers. It’s getting better, but there is still a long way to go.”

Currently, the group, which is run by volunteers, is developing a website and recently started a peer-support program. Members participated in the screening of TransMilitary during last year’s Cucalorus Festival and put together a panel talk about the documentary.

“The way we operate is purely volunteer, and it works great, but there are times I think if we created a nonprofit one day, we could potentially get funding for the big ideas,” Tidey says. “But, for now, we do our best with the resources we have. And, I think a big piece of that is educating the broader community on a lot of misconceptions out there”

To view the Women to Watch Awards Finalists main page, click here.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

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Categories: Women to Watch