UNC Health Talk

From the YaYas’ Kitchens to SECU Family House, It’s All about Belonging

Media contact: Tom Hughes, (919) 966-6047, tahughes@unch.unc.edu

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For nearly 30 years, the YaYas have been cooking for each other’s families as acts of love and community.

That the eight women who are family by choice, not blood, share their culinary talents with strangers who are guests at SECU Family House is a no-brainer.

“We all know firsthand what a difference it makes to have a place of belonging when you are new to a place or situation or have no family nearby,” said Kim Gardner Duval, of Durham, human resources manager at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute in Chapel Hill and the self-appointed ring leader of the YaYas.

Duval coordinates the dinners with one email to the girlfriends a week or so before the night they’ve committed to provide dinner at the 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house minutes from UNC Hospitals.

Family House is the ideal home-away-from-home for seriously ill adults who may have daily appointments at the hospital or need immediate medical attention. It also provides the community and sense of belonging patients and family members alike need when faced with a medical crisis.

(For the record, in addition to Duval, the YaYas are Anna Cerqueira, Leslie Henson, Jennifer Hollander, Colette Myers, Kathy Sauls, Denise Wilson and Joyce Bailey. With the exception of Bailey, who now lives at Ocean Isle, N.C., the YaYas live in Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary.)

The women, now in their 50s and early 60s, met in the mid-1980s when they all moved into the Woodcroft community in Southwest Durham as young married women. Only two of the eight had family in North Carolina, and they grew to rely on each other as they raised their children together. None still live in Woodcroft and haven’t for years, but distance can’t break their bond.

“There was no formal initiation process,” said Duval, who named the group after reading Rebecca Wells’ 1996 novel The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, about four women who had a life-long sisterly bond that could fix anything.

“Whatever and whenever something came up, we would stop what we were doing and just be there for each other,” Duval said. “Always. When the kids were little and our husbands traveled for work, we’d put the kids to bed then play board games and talk and visit.”

So strong is their bond and its influence, that their husbands bonded as the YoYos and still meet every Thursday night for beers. Their children — 21 total and within 11 years of each other in age — are known as the Petites. Their children — the YaYas’ grands — now six with one more due on New Year’s Eve, and known as the PIIs, (pronounced P-twos), are within two years of each other.

“Collectively, we call ourselves The Village, as in it takes one, because often it does,” Duval said, noting that they still all gather for group dinners especially at the holidays, bridal showers, baby showers and football tailgates, where 27-year-old, multi-generation rivalries among Carolina, Duke and N.C. State are alive and well.

“And 10 of us actually spent a week together on a sailboat built to sleep eight,” Duval recalled. “No one got thrown overboard, and we’ve made that trip more than once. We are better than family because we’ve never had fights or had hard feelings. We think that’s truly exceptional because it is.”

The YaYas have been community service-minded all their lives, supporting a variety of causes through the years including the Durham Rescue Mission where The Village renovated and furnished a room.

Duval approached the YaYas about supporting SECU Family House after she wished for a hospital hospitality house when her father had an unexpected surgical emergency at the Medical University of South Carolina a couple of years ago.

“My mother, my brothers and I were with him during his hospital stays over a two-year period, and none of us lived in Charleston,” Duval recalled. “I realized firsthand the difference a place like Family House makes, especially for family members.”

Back home, Duval contacted Allison Worthy, the volunteer coordinator at SECU Family House, and discovered that providing meals for guests was a great need and a perfect fit for the YaYas talents and personality. Now, the YaYas provide an evening meal once every other month.

“Some cook, some shop, some give money if they are too busy to do either before the night we cook,” Duval said. “It’s all equitable and fair. Most everything is prepared before we arrive, but we get there early and end up moving the same bowl around the kitchen and walking all over each other, talking and catching up the whole time.”

They are known for their Mexican buffet, which includes seasoned beef, mojito lime chicken strips, yellow rice, homemade black beans, flour and corn tortillas for making tacos, guacamole, salsa, a layered spicy cheese and vegetable dip, and a Texas sheet cake, the latter thin like a brownie with equally thick chocolate icing.

“Colette is known for her layered Mexican dip, and she can’t not bring it when we are eating together,” Duval said. “I’m sure she pulled the recipe off the back of a package, but it’s her signature, and we have to have it. Same for the Texas sheet cake. And we don’t know why we call it Texas sheet cake. The recipe came from Ohio.

“We have completely shaped one another’s lives,” Duval said, refusing to divulge the divine secrets that must exist in the sisterhood.

“Let’s just say we have a divine friendship because we do,” she said.