Christa Conley earns Service to Mankind award

Susan EspirituOur Town Neighbors, West Knox County

Christa Conley will be awarded the Service to Mankind Award by Knoxville Downtown Sertoma Club.

Christa Conley with Burak Er at nomination ceremony for Service to Mankind Award

Conley is the founder of the nonprofit Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause, but I first knew her as a precious, dark-eyed beauty playing the softball infield on my girls’ team. She grew to be an adventurous, philanthropic entrepreneur.

Christa says she used to do things a little backwards, making her life a little more difficult getting started into adulthood, but she’s grateful for the lessons those hardships have given her, because it has made it easier to put herself in others’ shoes.

Christa’s inspiration for Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause came from a benevolent venture she embarked on while residing in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She organized a women’s group called HHI Creative Women in Business, inspired by one of her dearest friends, Carmen Kayser.

Artist and clothing designer Carmen had never publicized her work, so Christa created the group on a meeting app. It developed into about 80 artists, handbag designers, authors, jewelry designers, photographers and clothing designers who collaborated and met quarterly with music, food and wine, and booths set up to sell items with a 20% donation to a group-chosen cause.

Some of those artists, including Carmen, sold their first piece of work at the first event and are still selling their work today.

After finding out she was pregnant with daughter London in 2014, Christa moved back to Knoxville to raise her around family. She decided to design her life in ways she had never done before. After enjoying a couple of years at home with London, she ventured into building homes and getting her real estate license.

In June 2022, she started Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause with about 20 friends, women she felt would want to inspire, empower and uplift others.

She said “from my experience leading the women’s group in Hilton Head, I knew I could create this in Knoxville. … We grew to 750 women raising money for a different cause each month. We love to raise money for individuals because individuals in urgent need don’t always get the help they need.

“Of course, we have raised money for larger organizations as well. It is up to the host of the month to pick the cause.”

Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause has expanded to other cities, with almost 800 women in Sarasota, another couple hundred in Nashville, and launching in Charleston and Hilton Head Island, and possibly Washington, D.C. This year, they are expanding the model a bit and throwing in more acts of service.

Christa says while the groups are giving back to the communities, they also are giving to themselves and one another. “It has become a lifestyle or perhaps a movement. I believe wholeheartedly that love IS contagious AND love always wins. So, while we are small, we are continuing to grow.”

Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause is a simple template. They meet monthly with rotating hosts. Christa brings her daughters so it’s become a part of their household routine.

Group friendships have helped overcome the divide that has been created over the years, in our nation and our world. Christa says she knew all politics and religion would be left at the door by these culturally diverse women, ages 20-70.

Challenges, Lessons, Insights

“The challenges come when you are wiped out, but you have made an informal promise to others and yourself to get up and keep moving. To keep the spirit alive isn’t necessarily difficult because we all lift each other up, but as the founder, the responsibility is on my shoulders to keep growing and reinventing. But it is a great pleasure to have that sort of pressure.

“The key lessons are pretty simple: The Golden Rule and keep love alive. Love big. Loving bigger is something I learned over the years with inspiration from friends like Linda Staffen, GNI4aCause leader in Nashville.

Christa with grandmother Pauletta Lusby

“Linda steps in wherever she is needed. For example, my older girls are going through a really tough time as their 15-month-old brother has been on hospice and passed away last week. He had spent the majority of his life at Vanderbilt (University Medical Center). Since Linda is in Nashville, she has always gone by the hospital or fed their dad and offered him a comfortable place to sleep when any of us cannot be there, and of course, we all stay at her house when we are there.

“The insights are basic: recognize where the best support and inspiration originate. I’ve lost one of the biggest loves and supporters of my life last year in my grandmother, Pauletta Lusby. There is a lot of inner-her within me. The love that I spread has a lot to do with her, as well. She was the proudest of me creating the women’s groups and also creating my art.”

The future is promising for Christa and her group as they grow into other cities. She is planning an annual retreat where everyone will come together for a cause.

Christa, Lydia, Celia and London

Although involved professionally in real estate, Christa wants to pursue her art and make it more of her focus, promising herself to do this very soon.

She says her biggest milestones and achievements are her children growing up to make a life for themselves. She still has one in college, Lydia, and one in third grade, London, but all three are amazing young women. The oldest, Celia, a UT graduate, is living a great life in Charleston, South Carolina, and is starting a chapter of Girls’ Night In 4 a Cause.

Christa Conley exemplifies her favorite Mother Teresa quote, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

She is a well-deserving recipient of the Sertoma’s Service to Mankind Award.

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