A celebration of transformation

Killingsworth Gala raises needed funds for women’s crisis ministry

By Jessica Brodie

COLUMBIA—About 400 people headed to Seawell’s Nov. 9 for the first in-person Killingsworth Gala since the pandemic.

It was a night of major celebration for the transformation Killingsworth brings to women emerging from crisis situations as they experience love, healing and support in the Columbia residential community.

“These ladies are my heroes,” said Susan Sirmons, Killingsworth’s interim executive director, in her opening remarks to resounding applause.

Sirmons noted the butterfly used in Killingsworth’s branding represents the efforts of many of these women to transform.

“They come to us with roots neglected or traumatized, and we hope to water those roots and eventually see some foliage,” Sirmons said.

The packed event served as a fundraiser for the United Methodist ministry. Sponsorships, ticket sales and a silent auction raised money to help operate the home and enable it to do even more for the women it serves. Within the eight-bedroom home, women find shelter and support while recovering from alcohol and/or drug abuse, incarceration, mental and emotional problems, violence and assault or family crisis situations. The program includes room, board, guidance and support for a nominal fee. Financial and vocational assistance is often available. Women are referred to Killingsworth from human service agencies across the state, the Department of Corrections and treatment centers as well as from churches and self-referrals.

Dawndy Mercer Plank served as mistress of ceremonies, and Jane Scott organized the silent auction.

The banquet speaker was the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, who drew from 1 Samuel 16, about how the Lord selected David—the youngest and perhaps least outwardly impressive of Jesse’s sons—to be the next king. Smith shared how we often focus on being dressed for success externally, but we need to remember God looks at the real person within us and sees who we can become.

Looking at the women of Killingsworth, as well as the room as a whole, she proclaimed that no matter what you have done or what you wear, “There is a God who loves you and rescues you.”

Being dressed for success, she said, is being adorned in the righteousness of Jesus and in the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Next, Brooke Ashley Costner, a current resident of Killingsworth, address the crowd. A native of Rock Hill, Costner entered sobriety in May 2021 and moved to Killingsworth in June 2021. She shared about her early life with an addict mother and a hardworking father, and how sports and partying made her forget all her pain.

“I became my mom, that addict who did everything you weren’t supposed to do,” she said. “All I cared about was getting high.”

After the trauma of rape and four attempts at suicide, she finally checked into a psychiatric ward in May 2021. Today she is a top student at Midlands Technical College working toward her Associate in Science in welding technology. She said Killingsworth helped her find a new path in life, and it also led her to a place of spiritual openness. She gave her life to Christ and now looks forward to a sober and Spirit-led future.

Sheneka Corbin-Boyles, a former resident of Killingsworth, also offered her testimony at the gala, sharing how after a childhood of sexual abuse she got pregnant at 14, dropped out of high school at 15, and had three kids by the time she was 19. She started drinking to bring relief.

“With that first sip I found relief, like it was the cure-all,” Corbin-Boyles said.

But then drinking took control of her life. Blackouts started, and consequences, including a driving-under-the-influence charge and a hit-and-run car accident. Finally, one day she hit rock bottom, waking up in the hospital after a drinking and driving accident with a concussion and remembering little about what happened.

She spent three months in rehab in Florida, then came to Killingsworth, staying there three years. Sober now for seven years, today she works at a well-known recovery center, helping people with alcohol and substance abuse issues. She is also the CEO/Founder of Unapologetically No LLC, dedicating her life to recovery and helping people set healthy boundaries for themselves.

“It is all about transformation. I was in a dark place, a cocoon, but I emerged, got my wings back and I’m ready to fly,” she said.

“It’s about process, not perfection. One day at a time,” she told the other Killingsworth residents seated in the crowd. “Have hope and hold on, because the pain ends.”

Music by The Palmetto Carolers and send-off from Azilee Dickey, Killingsworth board president, closed the evening.

For more on Killingsworth and how to help the ministry’s efforts, visit

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