Susie Everett founds women’s ministry teaching women how to improve their lives

By Stefanie Brazile

Four years ago, Susie Everett was driving in Benton and felt inspired by God to establish a ministry that would teach women practical ways to improve their lives. Worried that she would not stay true to the inspiration, she called a friend to hold herself accountable. From that experience, the ministry Women Equipped launched.

Everett has a friend who oversees a similar program in Paragould for women at crisis points in their lives. It’s called Christian Women’s Job Corp, and Women Equipped shares similar curriculum goals but is personalized to the needs seen in Saline County. This ministry is guided and accountable to the Women’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptists.

“You need to be called to this,” Everett said. “It’s a really challenging and rewarding ministry.”

Leaders and students who are part of the Women Equipped ministry in Benton develop close friendships during the 12-week semester. Far right, seated: Susie Everett who is featured on the cover. Far right, standing: Cindy Haltom who is quoted in the article.

Initially, she contacted numerous friends in other denominations, and about 20 potential volunteers attended an interest meeting. From that encounter, four women, including Everett, committed to being Site Coordinators, several women offered to teach, some to help with meals, and others to become mentors.

Developing the nonprofit as a legal 501(c)(3), writing curriculum, policies and procedures and finding a place to meet took about two years. Then they started seeking participants. The criteria are to be at least 18 and willing to attend classes for six hours each Tuesday and Wednesday for 12 weeks. 

There is no monetary cost, but the time and emotional commitment are substantial. The first class opened in the fall of ’21, followed by a spring semester. The 2022-23 year also saw a fall and spring semester. A formal graduation ceremony was held after the fall semester, and the current group of ladies will graduate on May 4. The results have been life-changing for participants and leaders.

Mock interviews are held so students can practice professional interactions.

“The age of our students has ranged from 18 to 60 years old,” said Frances Raley, a board member who teaches a relationship class and coordinates the mentoring program. “Their backgrounds have varied, and their present circumstances are often hard, but they seek to better themselves. Women Equipped is about building relationships.”

Each student is also assigned a mentor. “They serve as another layer of influence,” Raley said. “Their charge is to listen and guide them in a loving and nonjudgmental way.” 

The ladies, the leaders and the teachers are establishing friendships that will last long after the semester ends. “One of the greatest joys we’ve experienced is having many of our former students visit and stay in touch,” Raley said.

There are everyday needs that students have. “Women come through the doors of Women Equipped to find a better path for their lives,” said Cindy Haltom, the educational site coordinator. “Most of our students seek healthy relationships, financial stability and Bible study.”

A nearby mural was designed and painted by the Advanced Graphic Design class at Benton High School. It reinforces the commitment to make a fresh start.

Those needs played a vital role in developing the curriculum. Classes that teach how to have healthy relationships, money management classes, computer skills and Bible study are a few courses offered. “We also invite guest speakers to give hope and inspire change in the lives of students,” Haltom said. “It is important to focus on each person’s strengths and build a firm foundation upon them. This philosophy creates a positive atmosphere of learning and growing in every aspect of their lives. I dream that students become all they dreamed about when they decided to walk through the doors.”

The ministry meets at the former Care Center, which fed people in need for more than 30 years. Many retired men with building skills donated their time to update the space. Students receive breakfast and lunch each day. 

“I think this ministry is needed in every community,” Everett said. “I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of businesses, Sunday school classes and volunteers who provide meals. They are so generous!” One Women Equipped graduate told Everett that she didn’t have any dreams before choosing to attend three months of classes, and now she has a business venture.

Everett said the calling God placed on her life in 2019 has caused her to depend on Him much more and that He is developing her into a better leader. “It’s taught me to listen more, increased my compassion for their life’s situation and I have a new group of people to love. There’s a lot of blessing in the serving.”