By L'Oreal Thompson
6:25 PM EDT, April 19, 2012
When Heather Ziehl lost her job in sales and marketing operations two years ago due to the failing economy, she became a “true housewife.” And what started as an inside joke about the “Housewives of Bel Air” amongst friends, quickly developed into a full-fledged nonprofit organization helping people build professional and personal connections.
“Our mission is basically to bring people together and create awareness about nonprofits and charities. We want to give back to the community,” says Ziehl, 34, of Bel Air. “I’m a very positive person, and I start each day with a positive quote. I want True Housewives to be a positive impact on the community.”
In August 2010, Ziehl sponsored her first “netplaying” event at Liberatore’s Italian restaurant in Bel Air.
“Netplaying is a fun, light take on networking,” she says. “It takes the ‘work’ out of networking.”
Since then, True Housewives has hosted various events, as well as numerous fundraisers to benefit charities. The organization receives sponsorships from Advanced Eye Care and NVS Salon and Spa, both in Bel Air.
True Housewives members also host guest bartending nights at local establishments, such as MaGerks Pub & Grill, Looney’s Pub, and Main Street Tower, where a portion of the proceeds is donated to charitable causes.
One charitable cause Ziehl holds close to her heart is the Special Olympics of Maryland. Her stepdaughter, Brianna, 14, attends Bel Air High School and has Down syndrome.
“We participate in the Polar Bear Plunge every year,” says Ziehl. “Last year, we raised $2,500.”
To raise even more awareness for the Special Olympics and other charities, Ziehl competed in her first pageant last year and was selected as runner-up for the Mrs. Maryland America pageant. She represented the Northern Chesapeake region, which includes Harford County.
True Housewives also partners with the Bel Air Downtown Alliance, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, as well as Harford Family House, which provides transitional housing for homeless families, and Welcome One Emergency Shelter, the only full-service emergency homeless shelter in Harford County, among other nonprofit organizations.
While True Housewives has inspired spinoffs across the country and even as far north as Canada, Ziehl has remained focused on Harford County. “I believe that if you start local, you can really make a difference,” she says. “I never imagined True Housewives would do the things it’s done.”
“Losing my job really changed me as a person, and I would not change a thing,” Ziehl says. “A lot of women have reached out to me and say that I’ve inspired them. That’s what makes me want to do more.”
Ziehl, along with her friends Melissa Gabinet, Cheryl Gabinet, and Angela de Brigida, make up the core group of True Housewives along with about 30 regular volunteers. But you don’t have to be a housewife, or even married for that matter, to participate in True Housewives events. The organization is open to women and men of all ages. All you have to do is became a fan on Facebook.
“We’re not the women on TV,” says Ziehl. “We’re women of all ages and different situations–single, married, tall, short. There’s a variety of women, and we welcome everybody.”
For more information about True Housewives, please visit truehousewives.net.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun