Some people buy a motorcycle or a snazzy sports car when they encounter life’s midpoint. Not Karen Haring.
Instead, Haring — wife, mother and former creative director at a large church in West Virginia — started a nonprofit organization, Libera Inc., with only two things. Her ears.
For her organization’s name, Haring chose “Libera,” the feminine form of the word “liberi” found in our state’s motto: “Montani semper liberi,” which means “Mountaineers are always free.”
Haring hopes Libera will empower West Virginia women and teen girls to live in freedom — one individual at a time.
According to a survey Haring conducted in 2014, many women in our state struggle with being emotionally, relationally and physically free. In addition, Haring knew West Virginia women tend to rank at or near the bottom of the list (of states) in terms of education, poverty, employment, domestic violence incidents/deaths and incarceration.
And so Haring went to work.
One of Haring’s favorite quotes (from David Augsburger) holds the key to Libera’s business model. “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Haring believes silence — choosing not to tell our stories and struggles — is a huge problem for many women. Conversely, sharing your stories and struggles in a safe environment can be the solution.
With this in mind, Haring and a small group of like-minded women created a six-session curriculum where women and teen girls, with the help of a trained facilitator, share their lives, identify their obstacles and get connected with resources that address their individual needs.
Two buses, “Libby” and “Lila,” have been purchased and outfitted in the state’s colors — blue and gold — to serve as mobile offices and counseling facilities. These vehicles allow Haring, her staff and the organization’s many volunteer “Listeners” to serve women and girls in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties. So far over 400 women and teen girls have journeyed through the Libera curriculum.
Recently, Haring began contacting various school systems around the state to discuss establishing Libera groups in middle schools and high schools. This move came after leaders of the Morgantown chapter of the national group, “Girls on the Run,” suggested Libera groups for the teen girls they work with.
Haring pursued this suggestion and earlier this year, when a school in Preston County gave Haring permission to work with a hand-picked group of girls (identified as “potentially at risk” by the school’s counselor), every single participant insisted no one in her life listens to her: not her parents, teachers, boyfriend, etc. The girls were hungry to be heard.
Further evidence of the need for Libera groups in schools was highlighted by an article in the Dec. 12, 2018 issue of the Register-Herald newspaper out of Beckley. The column stated: “It would take roughly $100 million for the state to employ the number of new mental health workers at West Virginia schools that health officials say are needed, a West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources official told state lawmakers on Monday.”
Haring and her volunteer “Listeners” are ready and willing to stand in this gap and serve the teen girls of the Mountain State.
With that goal in mind, this summer, several Libera “Listeners” will work with female students at the state’s Girl Scout Camp, as well as in Monongalia and Lewis counties. In the fall, Libera will meet with students in Lincoln, Preston and Taylor counties.
Listening, Libera’s foundational activity, gives new meaning to the saying: “How about them ears?”
For more information, visit LiberaWV.com.