Coleen’s story: Finding opportunity in every difficulty

Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, overcame numerous challenges in order to complete the Economic Empowerment Program. Hear her story.

The following speech was delivered by Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Coleen’s story. 

What if I were selected to speak at graduation?

It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you and address all of the guests in attendance tonight and my graduating class. Before I proceed any further, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to a few people who journeyed with me along this path.

The first person I would like to thank is Ms. Deborah Lee who afforded me the opportunity to participate in this empowering and uplifting program. To you, I will forever be grateful and indebted.

Secondly, the reason for me standing here delivering this charge, my classmates. Thank you all for selecting me!

Lastly, to the staff of the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) for doing an amazing job with the graduates.

When I was selected to speak on behalf of the class just a few days ago, I smiled and chuckled to myself before positively responding. You must be asking why? Why did I smile? The average person would have been terrified out of their wits if they were asked to do [something] similar.

Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.

An opportunity to do better for myself and my children

Today, I wish to bring a message of inspiration  a message of hope and a message of continued perseverance. My journey with E.E.P. has been a bitter-sweet one and I say bitter-sweet for [a few] reasons. Upon my acceptance into the program I was overwhelmed, excited and of course clueless as to what was ahead of me. With these mixed emotions I hurried home to share the good news with my children.

We discussed for hours how things would change knowing the program was five days a week, 9 am – 3 pm, leaving just a few hours for me to work at the beauty shop. Being a single mother of three and having to provide for two households was not an easy task. I worried [endlessly about] how I was going to adequately provide for my children.

In the face of these adversities I still went ahead and gave it a try. I saw this opportunity as one to do better for myself and my children. I saw it as an opportunity that would only come my way once.

At the commencement of the program I was told that I would be given a monthly metro card, a stipend to cover my expenses and free daily meals. This support really made it possible for me to do the program, and provide for my family! Through this assistance, I was able to get myself to class. Even with the assistance [though], I still needed income to cover rent and food and bills.

It was a huge struggle, and I started to second guess my move. I questioned if this program was the right thing to do. But, as the days of training went by, I started to see the long-term benefits of being a part of this program.

It struck me that I had been afforded an opportunity to elevate myself professionally and personally – how could I not seize my best chance at success? When I changed my perspective and attitude towards my situation everything slowly started to work.

I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally

Over the following few weeks I acquired computer skills, developed my business communication and literacy skills. I saw major improvements in my work life, my professional life and my personal life. I was completely transformed. It continued to be a lot of work, but [I had no doubts].

I thought to myself, what would have happened if I had passed up an opportunity like this? As the program progressed, I was privileged to visit so many professional places, meet so many people and most importantly create friendships that will last after the completion of this program.

Apart from this, internally, there were so many times I felt like giving up  so many times I doubted myself, so many times I broke down and cried. I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. There were days [when] I was so tired from waking up very early to prepare myself for school and [my] daughter for the sitter, making lunch for her and juggling through the rain and sun to get to both places on time.

Other days I was so tired from leaving work really late to head home to do home-work, study and my basic housekeeping. There were times I got frustrated and angry at myself when I couldn’t get a problem or exercise right but I toiled day and night until I got it right. I constantly kept these words with me, “God is with her and she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5).

Be Relentless

With hardly any sleep and a heart filled with determination, I was able to persevere, overcome my shortcomings and most importantly, stand here before you. Together these were the challenges of Coleen.

There is so much more I want to say but in the interest of time I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with this message: be relentless! When faced with trials, be relentless – in the face of unpopularity, be relentless. In your darkest hours, be relentless! For “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I further charge you ladies today to be the optimist and be relentless in all your future undertakings!

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing program!

 

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.

Rebecah’s Story: Another chance at life

Rebecah, a Sanctuary for Families client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program has given her another chance at life.

The following speech was delivered by Rebecah, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Rebecah’s story.

Good Evening Everyone! Thank you all for coming and thank you to the Economic Empowerment Program’s (E.E.P.) staff and clients for this opportunity to speak today. With so many diverse and wonderful personalities I am sure the choice of graduation speakers was not easy to make.

So I would like to ask everyone, how was your commute? To my graduates, are you happy that you made it?

So am I.

That is what I have been saying since [I] accepted and [started] attending E.E.P. Today I am happy I made it, even [just] this far because this program has not only shaped my future better than any other program (all three of the ones I have done) but it has also given me a support system like no other.

In the moment of it all, I was alone

I walked through Sanctuary’s doors with just a few belongings and my son; with no one to express my deepening sadness or frustrations to. I felt alone and in the moment of it all, I was alone. None of my friends would have been able to fully grasp how I truly felt and words could not express the amount of disappointment I had withheld from them.

I was disappointed in having to rely on public assistance for our survival and had there not been a shelter for me to stay in, I would have been homeless with a newborn baby or stuck in an unforgiving and unloving home trying to escape every form of abuse.

If it wasn’t for Sanctuary for Families, there would be no Economic Empowerment Program to help rescue us from what seemed to be a downward spiraling series of unfortunate events. What would have become of my son?

Another chance at life

Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.

I just wanted to finish the program and make it into corporate America. I want my son to look up to me with “respeck”! I want America to look at me with the honor of a proud sensei whose student successfully completed every round in Soul Calibur IV. E.E.P. gave me another chance to achieve that, another chance at life!

During my intake, they welcomed me with excitement and more certainty than I’ve ever had or seen in a single room (literally). They broke down everything from what actually matters to employers on a resume, to how they planned to help me get a living wage job. They provided me with a community of women just like me, [all] with vivacious personalities. We helped each other along the way, bonding, listening, and fighting for our goals together. A fight that now we can say we are well on our way to overcoming.

You are the one who got yourself to this place in time

Here we are 4 months later with certifications in Microsoft Office Suite, and professional skills that no one can ever take away. I am currently enrolled in school and working to get into Per Scholas, which provides A+ certification and networking class.

After [my Per Scholas courses] I will be looking for an internship to further develop my skills and then transitioning into a permanent career. So…I have my work cut out for me! But, there are things that I tell myself to help me keep pushing through, that I think would be good for us all to hear.

To all the clients who feel like they still have mountains to climb – remember all the people who doubted you, your deepest despair, and all the people who took you for granted or abused you. THEN, remember why you came to E.E.P., think of how very far you’ve come, and think of your children, and THEN you’ll remember that YOU are the one who got yourself to this place in time – all with the help of Sanctuary’s E.E.P. staff whom I would like to thank greatly for this opportunity to change my life.

Yijie’s Story: I am not a victim

Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program helped her reclaim her humanity.

The following speech was delivered by Yijie, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Yijie’s story.

I am honored to have the chance to speak with you on this special occasion. I would like to start by saying thank you to Sanctuary for Families and the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) Department for this life changing opportunity. I would also like to give a special thanks to Angelo, Sarah, Maggie, Jessica, Saloni and Eve for their dedication to this program.

Above all, I want to say congratulations to my classmates in the Office Operations Workshop (O.O.W.) program. We have worked so hard and learned so much over these past five months. It has been difficult at times, but all of us here are no strangers to difficulty. All here have been victims of domestic violence.

My participation in this program was not only an opportunity for me to improve myself professionally as an immigrant in a new country, but also a necessary step I needed to take in the process of reclaiming my humanity.

After two years of being a victim of domestic violence, I finally found the courage to leave my abuser. This is difficult for anyone in this situation. It is even more difficult when you are a stranger in a strange land. I felt like I was at the mercy of a system and a city I did not understand. As a single woman with no children, managing the domestic violence system was a constant challenge.

Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going.

This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again. I am not a victim of domestic violence. I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have taken my life back. 

Again, I thank everyone at Sanctuary for Families for giving us this opportunity. Your work is so important to so many. I wish my classmates the best of luck in their personal and professional lives. Congratulations again to all of you!

 

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.

An open letter to men: finding your fit in the feminist movement

Intern Adaiya Granberry asked men at Sanctuary how they strive to be allies and feminists.

Dear Feminist Men and Male-Identified Folks,

As a woman living in a country of systematic male supremacy and socialized male dominance, the feminist movement is relevant to me. When women’s inequality is sexualized, women’s pain is profited from, women’s bodies are dehumanized, and women’s lives are taken away, I get angry. That is my motivation for interning this summer at Sanctuary for Families.

Yet, as a developing feminist, I push myself to ask how I can involve myself in other movements that I don’t, at least on the surface, identify with. I recognize that the overarching systems of power perpetuate all of the inequalities within our society today, not just for women, but for the people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, and the poor.

Our struggles are, in my belief, inextricable because we are all the “othered.”

At Sanctuary, I am motivated everyday by the passion of those around me. This organization is dedicated to fighting against gender-based violence, and through that, fights against the institutionalized beliefs that women’s bodies are not their own.

I find it inspiring that the large majority of employees are women. We fight this fight because we live this life. We can easily relate to the experiences of our clients because we can see ourselves on the other side. We very well may have been on that side at another time in our lives.

But what about the men? And yes, they do exist at Sanctuary, but my question to these feminist men is, why? Why do you care? What motivates you? How do men involve themselves in a fight that may seemingly not affect them?

Who better to answer these questions than the men of Sanctuary themselves?

When considering how we can reshape power relationships in society, we cannot simply exclude men (no matter how much we want to.) “Men’s voices, unfortunately, are still necessary,” says Archil Sakhiashvili, an Administrative Associate in our Clinical Department.

I have to agree with Archil. In any social justice fight, the truth is that we need allies and we can’t do it by ourselves.

As an ally, it is crucial to know your role—know your boundaries, know your place, and don’t violate that line. As Mark Yrigoyen, the Director of DVIEP, says, a man’s role is “to listen for ways to assist.”

Men, as allies in this fight, you must do your part by first understanding what is needed from you. If you jump to conclusions about what needs to be done, you are taking up space and exercising your own male privilege. “It’s not a crusade, but an everyday thing,” Mark continues.

Kyle Dandelet, a Senior Staff Attorney in our Immigration Intervention Project, says men must do their part by “try[ing] to influence other men’s actions and expectations within their own spheres.” A key role men can play is leading conversation and introducing issues of gender violence into male-dominated spaces.

In these arenas, feminist men, it is your job, as an ally to women, to be an advocate. This is where you can, and should, exploit your space of privilege to take a stand against gender violence. We need men to take the opportunities to speak up where women cannot.

Lastly, I spoke with one of my supervisors, John Wyeth, the Director of Institutional Giving. “Men and boys must be self-reflective and conscious of the ways [we] act,” says John. Some may be “perpetuating abusive behavior” and this “becomes normalized and the fabric of [our] community.”

Men need to educate themselves. Men need to be cognizant of their own acts of violence and teach their sons and nephews and grandchildren the same. Men need to listen to women’s needs, and follow suit, because in this fight, our voices, thoughts, and ideas come first.

Men, you must understand why women are fighting gender violence, inform yourself about the too commonly shared experiences of women, and bring our words to the forums only you have access to—because as John says, “domestic violence and gender violence are not just women’s issues…they absolutely affect all of us.”

Yours Truly,
Adaiya

Adaiya Granberry is a summer intern at Sanctuary for Families. She comes to Sanctuary through Duke University’s Moxie Project