“Stephanie’s” Story: Because of EEP, I know my strength

The following speech was delivered by “Stephanie,” a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Winter 2019 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 52 graduates in this year’s fall class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

Here’s “Stephanie’s” story:

There are very few things in life that create more meaningful change than the discovery of one’s innermost source of strength. For me, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) was the path that led to this rediscovery. More than obtaining my bachelors from a prestigious private university, more than moving abroad and working overseas in China and South Korea, this program has been the single most impactful experience of my life.

You may see the immediate tangible results of this program as we stand here before you today as EEP graduates, but the unseen and intangible value is priceless and will forever bear fruits for us as women and individuals, for our children and their futures, and for the greater community of the world we have the power to influence for good.

The Shift

I will always remember the day I came in for my intake interview with Alex (Program Coordinator) and Angelo (EEP Director). Full of uncertainty, insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, and more nuanced obstacles than the juggling of car seats, a rolling suitcase, and my three young children.  I was running a few minutes late.  Angelo’s demeanor was stern when he explained the requirements of the program. The words “punctuality” and “personal responsibility” were emphasized by his intense and unwavering eyes.  I could feel the dark cloud of self-doubt and the seemingly impossible task ahead of me.  “How on Earth was I going to do this day in and day out, traveling an hour each way, coordinating my children?”  Impossible. But after the interview, I could see the light of hope reflecting from both Angelo and Alex’s eyes.  That hope gave me the courage to join the program.

The pivotal moment of this program for me, was a few months later at the WilmerHale Career Day.  We had the opportunity to converse with employees, listen to the stories of their professional journeys, and physically walk the halls of the company. From this singular experience, my dreams became a tangible reality. There was a shift from a belief or faith in my ability, to a confidence and awakening to my capability.

Through the WilmerHale volunteers sharing their varied career paths, I began to conceive of the real possibilities for me.  I began to dream again of all that I wanted for myself.  I thought deeply about the possibility and potential that had been stifled in all of us. That evening, after picking my children up from their after school programs, walking the dark tree-lined block from our bus stop to our shelter, I kneeled down and picked up three acorns.  With excitement in my eyes, I told them I had a magical gift. I placed one acorn in the center of each of their palms and asked them to look around at the large oak trees lining the street, and said “Within every oak tree there is an acorn. Within every acorn is the potential for an oak tree.” This little seed is a metaphor of us all, full of such promise and capacity, unknown until the time we are planted and encouraged to grow.

Finding Her Inner Light

To physically stand in the halls and walk the beginning steps of a possible career, to see ourselves dressed in business professional attire, with our names printed with care over and over on name tags, folders, heavy cardstock name cards, thoughtfully organized and prepared, is more meaningful to us than you can imagine. Because of EEP, I now have a clear vision – I know who I am.  I know my strength.  I now look into the darkness with courage and a perfect brightness of hope choosing to move forward with confidence and grace.  With this vision I know that where we came from does not define us – we have the strength, the will and the potential to live our lives with purpose, choosing to love ourselves over fear.

This vision and the growth that has occurred within me during the most vulnerable time in my and my children’s lives, is a direct a result of the incredible execution of the vision and mission of Sanctuary for Families and all its partner organizations and volunteers.  Your contributions and services have created a real, definitive and measurable impact in the form of an internship and living wage, but more importantly those intangible, immeasurable fruits of internal individual peace and freedom.  Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.  As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  Thank you Sanctuary, my EEP cohort, and to all who have made this program possible and for helping us re-find our inner light.