by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — It started with a simple desire: Isabella Earp wanted to help women who were struggling get back on their feet.
Now, a short year later, the St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Overland Park, junior has given more than 500 women a helping hand.
“It really just warms my heart to see that I’ve been able to create a difference in so many women’s lives,” said Earp. “The smiles on their faces make all the hard work . . . feel like I’m actually helping people.”
The nonprofit she founded in 2020 is called Purses to Persevere KC. And its purpose is to provide women in need with a purse full of self-care products, like travel-sized toiletries, hairbrushes, lotion and makeup.
Earp got the idea from her Instagram feed, which featured a similar nonprofit in California.
She started out alone but now has around 30 general volunteers and a handful of board members. All are high school students.
Purses to Persevere relies entirely on donated purses and hygiene items.
Once enough are collected, volunteers meet with Earp to sanitize the purses and fill them with the items.
They often include a note of encouragement.
Volunteers like Ann Cole, a junior at Aquinas who started giving her time to the organization at the end of January, are moved by the experience.
“I often think about the women who will be receiving these purses,” she said, “and I pray that this organization can lead them in the direction to get back on their feet and start over.”
Earp said the women they help come from a variety of circumstances.
She finds them by reaching out to women’s shelters around Kansas City.
Most often, the shelters welcome the donations with open arms, and usually Earp gets to deliver them herself.
“Some of the shelters I go to, like battered women’s shelters, want to keep their residents confidential for privacy reasons,” she said.
“For almost every other shelter, I get to meet and interact with the women,” she continued. “They get to personally pick out the purses that they like, and I’ll talk to them while they’re picking out their purses and afterwards.”
It’s been eye-opening for Earp to hear their stories.
“Sometimes, [they’ve faced] the issue of getting involved in the wrong relationships,” she said. “Or it’s an unfortunate turn of events, like losing a job, and then they lose everything after that job’s lost.”
Earp always prays for the women on her way to meet them.
“I thank God for everything that he’s given me to be able to help these people,” she said. “And that he’s put this vocation and this drive in my life to go out and serve these people.”
Aquinas junior and volunteer Amy Long is also thankful for the opportunity to help women in this way.
During the Christmas season, she brings presents filled with food and hygiene items to homeless shelters in Kansas City. When she heard about Purses to Persevere during a purse drive at Aquinas, it seemed like the perfect fit.
“The experience that I have had is very moving and gratifying,” said Long. “It opens your eyes up to see what goes on in our world.
“It’s crazy to think how many people are in need, and seeing the people’s faces when receiving the items is so moving. It makes your heart extremely happy.”
For Cole, the experience has been “unlike any other.”
“It made me realize how often I take things for granted — simple things like personal hygiene — and it definitely has impacted my life in a positive way,” she said.
Seeing the impact Earp has had on the community in such a short time is “truly inspiring,” added Cole.
“Her care for these women is very motivating and makes me want to be a better person,” she said. “I cannot give her enough credit for all the work that she has put into this.”
Earp is grateful for the support of her peers and hopes her efforts inspire other young people to go after their goals.
“You can make a difference at any age,” she said.
For more information
To learn more about Purses to Persevere, visit the website at: pursestoperseverekc.com.
If you’d like to donate a new or gently used purse or self-care items, or if you’re interested in volunteering, send an email to Isabella Earp at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a financial donation, click here.