HOW Hanford
Catherine Koelewyn, left, of Helping One Woman (HOW) talks to Debra Brabant at her home on Wednesday. Brabant lost her husband to cancer in April. Apolinar Fonseca/The Sentinel

One woman giving $10 can buy another woman lunch. Ten women giving $10 can buy another woman's groceries. One hundred women giving $10 can make a real difference in another woman's life.

That's the motto of Helping One Woman or HOW, an organization founded in 2008 by two women, Brenda Critzer and Charlotte Bavaro of Fresno, eager to ease the burden for other women experiencing a time of loss or hardship. Every third week of the month members of the group select a restaurant to meet at and have dinner and give a gift to a nominated recipient.

The Hanford chapter's nominee for May is Debra Brabant, who will be honored this coming Tuesday at 6 p.m. during a catered tri-tip dinner at the Round Table Pizza Banquet Room at 820 W. Lacey Blvd. in Hanford.

Catherine Koelewyn was the second woman to be chosen by the Fresno chapter. Someone had heard about her daughter, Audra, who at the age of 3 was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Audra is now 10 years old and is in recovery, but still receives treatments to help regain mobility in her leg caused by the tumor's impact on her brain.

"I don't even know who nominated me, but I have never forgot how much that meant to me and how it felt," Koelewyn said. "And it wasn't just the monetary gift, it was the emotional support. The fact that all these women who barely knew me came together to help get me through."

Koelewyn said everyone who attends the dinner puts either $10 in cash or as a check written out to that month's recipient in a fish bowl. Then, once all the money is collected it is given to the woman nominated for her to use as she chooses.

During the dinner, members write down the names of women they know who are in times of hardship and put them in another fish bowl. At the end of the meeting, that month's recipient draws out the name of the next woman to be nominated for the following month.

"After being chosen and going through that amazing experience, I wanted to carry that on and make sure women in my hometown, Hanford, had a chance to be a part of this wonderful group," she said.

Koelewyn then rounded up some friends and started a local HOW chapter in June 2009. They have nominated and presented gifts to nine women so far, including a woman with chronic Lyme disease, a disabled woman who cares for five disabled children and a woman with breast cancer.

Brabant is the 10th woman to be nominated locally. She works as a supervisor for Kings County Family Support Services, negotiating for families in child support and paternity disputes as well as other issues. Brabant is also the wife of Wayne Brabant, who was a Kings County Sheriff's deputy for 30 years. He suddenly and unexpectedly died from cancer in April.

Brabant said the loss was absolutely devastating for her and her family. "My husband was a big, burly man always cracking jokes and full of optimism," she said.

"It was so hard to see him deteriorate like that and so quickly. To see a man break down is the worst thing in the world, especially a man who was always in control of his life and that's what hurt most; this was something neither he nor his family had any control of," Brabant said.

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Brabant's daughter, Caralissa, explained that her father had a very aggressive form of adenocarcinoma of the stomach, or stomach cancer.

"When he was diagnosed in mid March it was already at stage four. Adenocarinoma is very fast moving, and it just went downhill from there; within two and a half weeks my father was gone," Caralissa said.

And to make matters worse, on the day of the funeral it was raining and Debra slipped on the funeral home steps as she followed the pallbearers carrying her husband's casket to Mass - breaking her leg.

"It's been very hard, but everyone around us has been extremely helpful, from the amazing staff at the San Francisco hospital where my husband had stayed, to the funeral home and all our friends and family," Brabant said. "My husband kept telling me before he died, ‘Take care of business, keep holding on and don't lose hope.' He was more worried about how was I going to be through all this, so despite all this recent sorrow I will ‘take care of business' and keep my head up - for him."

Koelewyn said this is why HOW was originally created; to make sure these women never lose hope.

"As of now there are six chapters of HOW throughout the state, including Hanford; hopefully our message of strength, support and hope continues to spread and this organization keeps growing."

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427.

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