UNH alumna to perform at benefit in Portsmouth

The New Hampshire — October 30, 2006

By Helen Hocknell

What do you do when life hands you lemons? You make lemonade. And when you’ve got people in crisis? Create a group that can help.

Oyster River Womenade is a local non-profit organization aimed at providing funds for women, children, and families in need.

“We’re there when you need a little money that you can’t get from a government agency,” said Roni Pekins, one of the co-founders.

Womenade originated with a group of friends in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and since then other local groups have been popping up all over the East Coast. “It is spreading,” said Heidi Kotlus, the driving force behind the formation of the Oyster River group, which serves the communities of Durham, Lee, and Madbury, and sometimes even people beyond that district. There are groups based in Portsmouth, the Hamptons, and Greater Squamscott, but there is no overarching national organization that supervises them.

“When you give to the Red Cross or one of those other organizations, the money goes out the door and you don’t know exactly where it ends up,” explained Pekins. Womenade is unique because the funds are raised and spent locally. “We’re a group of women getting together to help their neighbors and friends,” said Kotlus.

Womenade board members usually receive requests from reputable sources such as clergy members, social service workers, or school nurses, then discuss the request, and if it’s approved, spring into action raising funds.

“It’s immediate — somebody can’t pay their rent, the check goes directly to the landlord,” said Pekins, who received her master’s from UNH in wildlife ecology in ’84, and is co-president of the Oyster River High School Parent Teacher Organization.

Another UNH alum, comedian Cindy Pierce, is doing her part to support the cause — she’ll be performing her one-woman show, Finding the Doorbell, in Portsmouth on Thursday evening to benefit four Seacoast area Womenade groups.

Pierce was a theater major, but not a very active one.

“I was hardly in any plays,” she said. Instead she spent her time ski racing, playing soccer, and being a Freshman Camp counselor. “I had my hand in a lot of pots,” she said, attributing it to her short attention span and diverse interests.

Since then she has worked as an assistant coach for the UNH Ski Team immediately after graduation, a first grade teacher — “I was definitely tapping into all my theatrics to pull that off,” a stay-at-home mom, now an innkeeper with her husband at the inn she grew up at, and recently a sometimes stand-up comedian.

“My friends thought it was about time I started making money [telling my stories],” she explained. “Its everyone’s story, but I’m the only one willing to talk about it,” she said laughing. Her show explores the triumphs and complexities of being female and discovering one’s sexuality.

She was asked to perform for the Womenade benefit by a friend from college, and said she is glad to be of help for such a worthy cause.

“If everybody could give just 5 or 10 dollars, that could afford it, we could help so many people,” said Kotlus.

The Benefit will take place at the Frank Jones Center at 400 Rt. 1 Bypass, and tickets are $25 per person. For more information, go to www.frontgatetickets.com or call 1-888-512-7469.

Copyright © The New Hampshire

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