New website makes WWISH for women's empowerment

Having hit bottom and literally learning from her experiences, Laura Cruikshank, 48, made a WWISH (Women's Wellness & Integrated Social Health) for an on-line, interactive clearinghouse for women's resources.

WWISH ( aims to provide resources for a variety of women's issues, including health care, domestic abuse, education, careers, financial planning, parenting, fitness and legal issues. It also will offer newsletters, chat rooms and forums that will serve as virtual women's groups in the near future.

"I want to give women the opportunity to connect with other women who have experienced adversity themselves and tap into others' experiences," she said. "If you're going through crises, like attracts like; it's an evolving nightmare. [But with resources like WWISH] the odds of coming out of it are faster and better.

"Our niche is women's wellness, and that can be anything to help women...heal from what they were and be what they want to be," she added.

A turn for the better

Cruikshank struggled through her own issues of poverty and depression after she left a verbally abusive 11-year marriage with little education and no earning power.

At 36, she said, she had no self-esteem, no confidence and no thoughts of her own. Her family and friends weren't supportive of her, she explained, because the abuse occurred behind closed doors: "The pressure was put on me to be better, so I was really confused. Bruises and black eyes are obvious, but with verbal abuse, it's not so easy to detect."

Yet, Cruikshank left her husband and took her two young sons with her. With no support and no transportation except for a Dodge Dart she later bought for $800, she sustained her and her family by waiting tables, working as a caterer and teaching fitness classes. She also waited in line with her sons for welfare assistance.

"It was scary. I realized I was $10 away from being homeless. [At that point] you know how vulnerable you are," she said.

Cruikshank subsequently suffered from clinical depression. "I was so sick, even my kids didn't give me enough reason to live," she said, remembering that she wanted her sons to be with their father should she kill herself.

"It wasn't about the situation but like getting the flu," she explained. "I felt myself getting sad and really falling into a hole. You lose all hope. It's just sadness, and there's not a reason for it. It's so important to find the right resources when you're going through this."

Seeking help, Cruikshank learned to trust herself again with therapy and medication. As she read more, she started to learn she could do things on her own, "which is far from where I was. I had [already] accepted abuse as a part of my life."

For four years in the Wenatchee Valley, Cruikshank also joined a weekly women's group to talk about subjects that were "not appropriate for cocktail parties," she said. "We were just women dealing with life. To hear their stories [about overcoming adversity] helped me learn that I could do it on my own."

A determined Cruikshank sought further empowerment through higher education. Though she was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child and earned a 1.7 grade-point average in high school, she enrolled at Wenatchee Valley College and later applied for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship. She was awarded one of 27 scholarships nationwide.

Sharing the vision

Cruikshank graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Washington in spring 2006 and started work that summer as an advertising representative for Pacific Publishing Co., this newspaper's parent company.

"It was not the vision I had of my life," she said of her job prospects.

But through her job, she met many female business professionals who were "doing what their passion was.... They'd quit their corporate jobs to find meaning, [yet] there was no way [for them] to connect with other women," she said.

Cruikshank shared her personal story with Spyros Pavlou, a retired University of Washington science professor, who had watched his two older sisters be refused educational and career opportunities in Greece's patriarchal society. So inspired by Cruikshank's story, Pavlou came up with the acronym WWISH and persuaded her to follow her dream of empowering women.

Now, Pavlou is vice president of WWISH, handling the company's finances. "I'm the cleaning lady," he described of his duties.

"WWISH's goals and ideas are compatible with my own," Pavlou said. "[For women] to get out of their situations and...feel competent - it's very intense for me."

Expanding resources

Although the website was officially launched July 1, Cruikshank plans to revamp it to have a more magazine-like feel, with new video profiles of providers every month.

She also has been networking with providers and potential advertisers, and she joined the Wallingford Chamber of Commerce, through which she met many female business professionals.

And WWISH will have its first Women Connect Event on Oct. 2. The event will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Nalanda West, 3902 Woodland Park Ave. N.

Cruikshank hopes to expand WWISH to Portland, Ore., and to other cities throughout the United States before ultimately taking WWISH internationally, with each city having its own "chapter."

And if the market calls for it, men may get their WISH, too.

"I have no doubt in my life, this is me," Cruikshank said of her WWISH. "I've learned a lot of humility from my experience. I'm proud of my life and what I went through."

Vera M. Chan-Pool can be reached at 461-1346 or WWISH Women Connect Event on Oct. 2, 5:30-9 p.m. at Nalanda West, 3902 Woodland Park Ave. N. $20 (includes raffle ticket) $5 raffle to benefit (Wo)Men Speak Out Register: or 605-3736[[In-content Ad]]