MARTINSBURG - Freelance writer Sandra Gordon first met Dana Knowles at the 2010 National Publicity Summit in New York City.
"She mentioned she employed the unemployable," Gordon said in a telephone interview Friday. "I like to write about people doing good things in their community, and I was intrigued by Dana's story."
The Publicity Summit is a trade show-like conference that matches people with a story to tell, a book to sell or something to promote with television and radio producers, magazine and newspaper editors, "new media" representatives and writers.
Knowles, who owns and operates Day Javu secondhand shop and Dana's Tuxedo Rentals and Sales in downtown Martinsburg, was one of 100 who were selected to take part in the summit out of about 3,000 who applied.
About 120 media types sat at tables in the ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania in Manhattan while Knowles and her fellow summit attendees shuttled between two- to three-minute appointments, pitching their ideas.
She went primarily to promote her Kuphs knitted wristband and scarf fashion accessories as well as her mission to help battered women, homeless women, women with criminal backgrounds, women recovering from addictions - women who are unemployable.
Knowles hires women from the Bethany House women's emergency shelter in Martinsburg and for every Kuphs she sells, she donates $1 to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
She signed up for an appointment with Gordon because Gordon writes for several women's magazines.
With her interest piqued, Gordon pitched Knowles' story to AmericanProfile magazine, a national weekly newspaper-distributed magazine. The editors picked it up for their Hometown Hero feature. Titled Sharing Secondhand Success, Knowles' story appears in the magazine's July 15-21 edition.
"I visited the shop - I trailed Dana around," Gordon said. "The day was so amazing in her environment, hearing the women's stories. I got to see the underbelly of Martinsburg, the drug culture, the generations of poverty and drug use."
Gordon interviewed the women working at Day Javu, including their stories of homelessness, drug abuse and criminal convictions and how Knowles was giving them a chance to turn their lives around.
"Dana's a tough cookie," Gordon said. "Her tough-love approach really works. People really need it. The world needs more people like her. We'd be better off."
Gordon and Knowles attended a YoungLives fundraiser in the evening. YoungLives is a faith-based program that works with teenage girls during and after pregnancy.
"That was something, seeing all those pregnant girls," Gordon said.
She was glad the magazine sent her to do the interview in person.
"Martinsburg is so quaint, or it has the facade of quaintness," Gordon said. "I only had 600 words. It's only a snapshot. I'm thinking about what else I can do with Dana's story. It think it has legs."
Gordon, who lives in Connecticut, has attended the Publicity Summit several years. She has been freelancing for the past 10 years and writing professionally for 25. Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, her first job out of college was writing for Glamour magazine.
"It's my life," she said.
Since the story has appeared, Knowles has been getting phone calls and emails from all over the country to congratulate her, to make donations or to inquire about her Kuphs.
"The paper in Lower Burrell (Pa.) carries the magazine," Knowles said Friday. "That's my hometown and that's pretty neat."
She loves Gordon's article.
"The whole idea is to bring awareness to domestic violence, to help women, and a little bit goes a long way," Knowles said, adding the national exposure for her Kuphs products doesn't hurt either.
"I've had a huge spike at the Kuphs website," she said. "From a dozen to a hundred hits in a day."
Knowles' devotion to women in desperate straits comes from her own experience as a battered wife, living in a shelter, being homeless and coming to where she is now.
"You might be down, but there's no reason you have to stay down," she said.
- Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or [email protected]