Q&A with BAWSE Founder Tika Smith

As a single mother to four kids, Tika Smith knows that life isn’t always easy. In 2017, she attended our 425 magazine Women to Watch event in Bellevue. When a speaker gave everyone in attendance $20 to “pay it forward,” she decided to start a nonprofit in Bellevue called BAWSE to help women and kids who need resources. She hopes that by empowering women, she will change her community for the better — and those women will pay it forward when they can, and so on and so on. One day she hopes to build transitional housing. Visit bawsemovement.org to learn more and get involved.

Q. Tell us about BAWSE!
A. Brilliantly Awesome Women Support Each other (BAWSE) is a 501 (c)3 nonprofit organization supporting homeless women and their children.

Q. What inspired you to create BAWSE?
A. Being a single mom, and having experienced some sort of homelessness in the past, I was inspired to help other women who might not have had the support like I did. I’ve never had to stay in a shelter, or a car, or in the streets. There was always a loved one to take us in until I got back on my feet. Empowerment conferences have helped me a lot, and I want to empower the homeless woman out there that had given up on life.

Q. Why do you think it is important for women to support other women?
A. There’s strength in numbers. When you educate, empower, and equip a woman, you’ve done (something great) for the entire community.

Q. Tell us about some inspiring connections BAWSE has made for women.
A. Our partnership with Sephora provides “Class For Confidence,” a 90-minute workshop that gives them that extra boost of confidence needed to face the world, to feel good about themselves internally, regardless of their current situation. (And) connecting these women with resources such as Dress For Success, where they can get professional attire when going out on an interview.

Q. Where do you see BAWSE in five years?
A. I see BAWSE as a shelter for homeless women and their children where we will provide programs and services in-house to educate, equip, and empower these women. After 10 months of our program, they’re ready to move on to their own place, connected with needed resources.

Q. Tell us more about you.
A. I am originally from Liberia, West Africa. My family came to the United States in 1987, when I was 13 years old, due to civil unrest in Liberia. I grew up on the East Coast in Massachusetts, where I graduated high school, and then the family relocated to Minnesota.

Q. Tell us about life before BAWSE and what made you take the leap to make your dream reality.
A. Before founding BAWSE, I worked as a lab tech for 24 years. After attending 425 magazine’s Women to Watch 2017, I was so inspired, I got home and hit the ground running. (Empowerment conferences) have really shaped me to be the woman that I am today. BAWSE is now a full-time job of mine.

Q. How can people get involved?
A. People can get involved with BAWSE by visiting our website and signing up to volunteer, sponsoring our events with monetary donations, and also partnering with BAWSE.

Q. What else would you like people know?
A. I need people to know the importance of having organizations such as BAWSE in our communities. With the homeless epidemic at an all-time high in Seattle, it’ll take organizations like ours to put an end to homelessness. I was inspired after listening to presenters at 425 Women to Watch, especially one in particular who gave everyone a $20 bill with a simple instruction: Pay it forward. BAWSE is now paying it forward, in hopes that the women inspired will do the same.

Equip Her — a second annual Women Empowerment Conference presented by the BAWSE Foundation — is Nov. 17 at The Riveter, 1517 12th Ave., Seattle. The five-hour event will showcase female guest speakers who will show attendees how to be interview-ready by brushing up their professional appearance, resumés, public speaking and interviewing skills, and more. Register at bawsemovement.org.

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