After a long, very stressful day at work I was at a much needed happy hour with my friend and fellow Saint Charles small business owner Jen Estes of Manestream salon. We were talking about how difficult it can be to run a small business and how demanding it can be to be everything to everyone all of the time…..a mom, wife, sister, daughter, boss and a friend. We talked about how busy life can be and how we always tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. It was that day, over cocktails, that the Venus Project was born. We wanted to start this tradition to focus on appreciating and empowering the hard-working, awe-inspiring women we all know and love and after enlisting the help of some very generous Saint Charles businesses we started our search for the winners of the First Annual Venus Project.
We asked participants to nominate a deserving woman in their community and include a short story about why they deserved a day of pampering. We received some amazing entries and it was beyond difficult to choose because so many of these women were deserving, but we were finally able to narrow it down to our top two winners. They were Kelly Belhman, founder and Executive Director of the Disabled Athlete Sports Association and Ashley Swip, founder of 3 Little Birds 4 Life.
Sisters Sonia and Christina Boirie nominated Kelly Belhman and here is their nomination letter:
I cannot think of a more deserving and selfless person who impacts so many lives in such a HUGE way. Kelly has a degree in Physical Therapy from Maryville University. She has a 17 year old daughter, Alex, and just recently adopted an adorable 5 year old boy, Kyle. Her family is her love and light! She cares for them in a way that is so heartwarming and something rarely seen in the world we live in today. My personal attachment to Kelly is not one of family but of utmost respect, love, and admiration as the coach to my niece, Amaris.
Kelly founded DASA in May of 1997. It has literally been a dream come true for her. Kelly dreamed of an organization that would provide athletic and fitness opportunities to children with physical and visual disabilities. As a Physical Therapist, she understood the need to stay fit. She also understood the need to give disabled children the same opportunity as others. She does not see those children any different as one who may have both feet, both arms, both legs, she sees them all as equals and helps the kids believe that themselves. Her commitment to her DASA kids has no limits, it’s not only about making them good athletes, she cares about the kids daily lives and their families. Her love and support does not stop with the child, she extends that same love, support, and compassion to the families of her children. She understands that her purpose is not just to make the kids see themselves as equals, which allows them reach their full potential, but have families and our community believe it as well.
Our family has witnessed her passion, love, and care for DASA athletes as well as for athletes that are competing against them. I was able to travel to see my niece compete Nationally this year and Kelly was not only supporting her own athletes but those trying to beat her own team. She was up and down those sidelines rooting everyone on, giving out high fives, and coaching anyone who needed her help. For her it’s not about the win … it’s about the support!! Though she might not realize it her support has an everlasting impact on that child’s life and their families as well. That “go, go, go”, the “great job”, or the simple high five means more to them than any medal on a wall or plaque. It is important to Kelly that all the children have the emotional, spiritual, as well as the physical strength to achieve their goals as an athlete and a person. Kelly embraces that with every interaction and her support means more to our family than all the medals money could every buy.
My niece Amaris is now 9 years old and has a strength, confidence, and heart bigger than we could have ever imagined. When you ask her about all her accomplishments, all the medals, all the trophies, and records she holds none of that matters to her. Through her time with Kelly what she has gained is a spirit of resilience. She has learned that she is special even though God didn’t give her two feet. She has taught her that she does not have to walk into a school and fear to be different. That her difference makes her beautiful and if you ask my 9 year old niece she says she is blessed beyond belief even with her foot. Her time with Kelly has helped her mature in a way that most kids don’t and has taught her to value life in a way that inspires us all. Our family is so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet Kelly and the impact she has made on our niece and family as a whole is an everlasting one. I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Kelly Behlmann!
Our second winner, Ashley Swip, was nominated by her sister-in-law, Krista Swip and here is her nomination letter:
In February 2010, my sister-in-law’s brother was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at the age of 28. While he was suffering from depression from the treatments, diagnosis and general lack of independence, Ashley wanted to do something special for him to help him forget for a day. Like we all do, Ashley went to Google in the hopes of finding an organization that could help her grant her terminal brother a wish. To her dismay, there were no organizations that helped the young adult cancer community. Ashley took it into her own hands, hit up some connections at the St. Louis Cardinals and gave her brother a day that did exactly what she wanted – made him smile. Tyler passed away a few months after that day but Ashley never forgot the experience.
A year after Tyler’s passing Ashley decided she had to help others in the same situation and started an organization called 3 Little Birds 4 Life (3littlebirds4life.org). In about two years the organization has granted around a 100 wishes all over the country to young adults with cancers in all different stages.
It is not Ashley’s accomplishments that drove me to nominate her, but rather her absolute and complete humility. There are far too many people that use non-profits or charity work as a way to prove themselves to others, but Ashley started this charity due to a passion and maintains a humility that is almost unheard of for someone who has done so many extraordinary things.
Both Kelly and Ashley received full cut and color plus hair & make up by Jen Estes of Manestream Studio and a photo shoot with me. Kelly received her fabulous dress, styling, and accessories by Beth Mohr of Lillian’s Boutique on Main Street and Ashley received her adorable outfit, styling and accessories by Nicole Moss of Moss Boutique on Main Street. Both women were also given a gift certificate for a night out in Saint Charles. Kelly’s was donated by Prasino which is located in the Street’s of Saint Charles and Ashley’s was provided Bella Vino on Main Street. We were so grateful for the amazing local businesses that came together to provide a complete day of pampering to the two Venus Project winners. We would like to thank those businesses, those who nominated the winners, and of course the winners for their service to the community.