June 12, 2008 issue

Liz Murray Encourages High Country Women To Pay It Forward

Appalachian Women’s Fund Presents First Women of Vision Award

Story by Kathleen McFadden
Liz Murray (center) was the guest of honor at last week’s Appalachian Women’s Fund fundraiser and the recipient of the group’s inaugural Women of Vision award. With Murray are Appalachian Women’s Fund President Nancy Ashline (left) and her daughter Heather Ashline, the junior membership chair. Photo by Kathleen McFadden

You could hear audience members ripping open their complimentary packs of tissues during the screening of Homeless to Harvard last Thursday morning at the Hayes Performing Arts Center, as the heart-wrenching and inspiring story played out on the big screen. Hardly an eye was dry at the end of the film, and then the woman who inspired the film stepped onto the stage.

Her name is Liz Murray and she was in Blowing Rock as the special guest of the Appalachian Women’s Fund and the recipient of the fund’s inaugural Women of Vision award.

“Please give me a moment,” Murray said to the audience. “I’m a little overcome. I’ve only seen the movie once.”

Murray continued, “I never thought I had a story or a background worth sharing with people. I couldn’t believe it when Lifetime approached me. But as I’ve traveled around, I’ve learned that I’m not unique.”

Plenty of people attending the fundraiser for the Appalachian Women’s Fund would argue with that statement. The child of drug-addicted parents, Murray was homeless at age 15 in New York City. A misfit in school and a caregiver to her parents, Murray had only attended school intermittently during her childhood, but after her mother died, she learned about a special school for “problem” kids and talked her way in.

The man who ran the school and agreed to admit her changed her life, and she spoke often of Perry during her addresses to the attendees at the movie and the luncheon at the Blowing Rock Country Club.

“This women’s fund is doing something incredible. I want to tell you why that’s important from the other side,” Murray said. “They call me the bootstrapper; they said I did it on my own, but there were angels who helped me along the way.”

And local women helping local women, she explained, are angels too.
With Perry’s help and her own dogged persistence, Murray completed her high school requirements in two years and then applied for a New York Times scholarship. She won one of the six awards and was admitted to Harvard University.

“Had I walked into the school and he’d said no, I don’t know where I’d be today,” Murray said. “I’m a different human being because of the support that came into my life. I travel around the world giving of myself because people gave to me.”

Murray discussed her extensive volunteer work, her foundation that helps send people to college, her life coaching and leadership programs and her vision for a combination personal development, nonprofit and community center in New York. She also discussed her plans to create a website where volunteers can post their activities, the people those volunteers help can then post their “pay it forward” activities, and a web of interaction and help moving throughout the world will develop in a visual way. “I want to take the random out of random acts of kindness,” she said, “and have people experience themselves as contributors to this world. My vision is to be a catalyst for change around the world.

“I want you to see the bigger picture,” she continued. “We’re all interconnected; it’s a circle. People make the difference in people’s lives. A dream without support is a plane without wings.”

Murray spoke of her love for her parents and the importance of forgiveness. “The love they gave us was tremendous,” she said. “I know it looked bad [in the movie], but people can’t give you what they don’t have.”

Murray explained that she took a hiatus from Harvard to take care of her father after his heart surgery. That need led to another need and to another, she said, until she finally told her father she had to return to school. He moved to Cambridge with her and died in 2006. “He was eight years sober when he died,” Murray said.

Murray plans to take her final two classes at Harvard this fall and graduate in December.

Approximately 200 people attended either the morning movie or the afternoon luncheon or both.
Chetola Resort and the Inn at Crestwood donated getaway stays for the morning raffle. Several area retailers and individuals donated purses, bags, totes and carry-ons for the afternoon silent auction. And hotels from New York to Charlotte to Charleston donated getaway trips auctioned off during the luncheon. The fundraising total from the event was not available at press time.

The Appalachian Women’s Fund, founded last fall, believes that all women and young girls have the right to equality, safety and opportunity. Through fundraising and grantmaking, the fund’s goal is to create a community where all women and girls reach their full potential.

The Appalachian Women’s Fund is now accepting grant applications from nonprofit agencies in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. Programs must create social change for women in our communities. For detailed application information, click to appalachianwomensfund.org and click Grants.

The deadline for applications is Friday, August 1, 2008. Grants will be awarded at the grantee breakfast in December.

To find out how to join the Appalachian Women’s Fund—numerous giving levels are available—click to appalachianwomensfund.org.

Want To See Homeless to Harvard?
On Tuesday, June 17, at 7:00 p.m., the Hayes Performing Arts Center will host a showing of the movie Homeless to Harvard, the true story of Liz Murrary, a child of drug-addicted parents who overcame insurmountable odds to finish high school and win a scholarship to Harvard. Sponsored by AF Bank, the screening is free of charge to young adults under the age of 21. Other guests are invited to attend for a $5 donation, with all proceeds benefiting the Appalachian Women’s Fund. For more info, call 828-295-9627.