This Kentucky Nonprofit Helps Refugee Women Thrive

Surekha Kulkarni, founder of Beaded Treasures, has made it her goal to empower refugees and other disadvantaged women in her community.
Before partnering with Volunteers of America to open a Beaded Treasures retail store in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, Kulkarni was already teaching women to make and then sell their jewelry at home gatherings.
Kulkarni was inspired to start the project after taking a jewelry-making class while visiting relatives in India. When she returned to her home in Louisville, she realized she could use those skills to teach refugees and other disadvantaged women in her local community to do the same.
In addition to jewelry-making skills, women also learn all aspects of running a business, including marketing skills and financial literacy.
To learn more about Beaded Treasures, watch the above video.
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A Vision of Healing, and Hope, for Formerly Incarcerated Women

Topeka K. Sam sits on a plush purple sofa in the living room of an immaculate row house in the Bronx, ordaining all of the ladies in the room. Sam, a founder of Hope House, a residence for previously incarcerated women, points to her cofounder, Vanee Sykes. “She’s a Lady of Hope,” Sam says, then swivels and points at another woman who has just entered the room. “That’s another Lady of Hope.” And, apparently, so too is this reporter. “The Ladies of Hope is you, and it’s all of us,” she adds. “If you are a resource to women who are coming here, then you are a Lady of Hope, you know? It’s about all women empowering other women and providing them hope and opportunity.”
Both Sam and Sykes know something about needing hope to thrive, having been formerly incarcerated themselves. Their experience with the difficulties most women face when trying to reintegrate into society led them to found Hope House, which officially opened its doors in October 2017.
The idea of Hope House, Sam says, is that women coming out of prison have the deck stacked against them. “You gotta start with basic needs,” Sam says. “I can’t advocate for myself or feel that I’m powerful enough to go get a job if I don’t have somewhere to live and I don’t have food in my stomach.”
In addition to food and shelter, Hope House provides another crucial ingredient: community. The house currently accommodates five women, all of whom sleep on the upstairs level. Signs featuring positive aphorisms, like “Love Life,” hang on the walls, and the beds — which the women are required to make every morning — are decorated with stylish coverlets. Downstairs is the kitchen and cozy living room, all walls painted a soothing shade of gray. It’s here that the women gather, cook, talk about their day, and allow themselves to grieve and to heal.

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One of the shared bedrooms at Hope House.

So many women who land in prison are victims of sexual abuse, Sykes says, and Hope House is a place where women can safely process their pain in order to move forward. “Any given night here, we’re hugging and we’re crying, [because] it’s a safe space,” Sykes adds, tearing up as she speaks. “And it’s not just a safe space where we can live, but it’s a safe space mentally. You know, where it’s OK for me to say that this has happened, and that there’s other women here who are not going to judge, but who are just going to say, ‘This is what worked for me’ or ‘This is how I got through this.’ And that’s what I love about being here.”
Sam and Sykes met in 2013 while at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, a low-security prison about 70 miles north of New York City, and the inspiration for the fictional “Litchfield” prison featured in the hit Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” Both did time for nonviolent offenses — Sykes for embezzling money, Sam for drug trafficking — and when they got out, they witnessed the insurmountable barriers that women with a rap sheet can face, the greatest of which is, arguably, finding a landlord who will rent to them. “It was in my heart to do a house [like Hope House] while I was in prison,” Sykes says.
But they were also lucky and had supportive families to come home to. Many women, especially poor women, are not so blessed.  “When I got home, I started going around, organizing with other women around women’s issues and incarceration,” Sam says. “And just seeing that it was the same issues happening: Women need housing, women need resources, women need all these things.” She threw herself into community activism and founded Ladies of Hope Ministries, an organization dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated women and girls re-enter society and out of which Hope House grew.
Along the way, Sam earned several grants and fellowships, including at Columbia University, where she was named a Beyond the Bars fellow in 2015 and a Justice-in-Education Initiative scholar in 2016. She also received funding and support from Unlocked Futures, a program backed in part by singer John Legend.
Sam modeled Hope House in part off of a California-based nonprofit called A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project, which helps women with housing and related services when they leave prison. The founder of that organization, Susan Burton, became instrumental in offering guidance and seed money to help Sam get Hope House off the ground. “We need to make investments to get people started in the struggle to reduce recidivism, strengthen our communities, and repair the harm done by mass incarceration,” says Burton, who wrote a memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton, about her own journey from prison to community activist. “And that’s what Hope House stands for.”
Not that Sam and Sykes didn’t hit some road bumps along the way. They scoured the city for months to find a place to set up shop before they found the cute, fully remodeled row house in the South Central Bronx neighborhood of Castle Hill, a stone’s throw from bucolic Pugsley Creek Park. The landlord loved the idea of the house, but neighbors kicked up a fuss. So Sam and Sykes took to social media and started a campaign they called Stand With Hope House. They did media interviews and went to community board meetings. Eventually their neighbors relented.
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A group of women shares a meal in the Hope House dining room.

“We stood up for ourselves and said that we’re not going anywhere,” Sykes says. “We have a right to live here, just [like] anyone else.”
Sam and Sykes used similar social media savvy when decorating the house, crowd-funding the project via funds donated from strangers around the world. “We put up the registry on social media, and people donated,” Sam says. “It was absolutely phenomenal.” They now have the funding to open another Hope House in New Jersey and after, that, in Brooklyn. Their hope is that others will step in to help them scale the project, possibly turning Hope House into a franchise.
“Ultimately our goal is to have a Hope House in every single state in our country and abroad,” says Sam.
In 2017, Sam won a Soros Justice Fellowship to work on a project around probation and parole accountability. “It came from my experience on probation and parole, [witnessing] the arbitrariness and counterproductiveness that was happening,” she says. “And I knew if this was happening to me, it had to be happening to many other people. I found out that 4.7 million people are on operational parole in this country.”
The majority of people sitting in prisons are there because of technical violations, Sam says. They need support, to be given access to resources and to opportunity — not to be dumped in a federal halfway house and then shackled with an ankle bracelet for six months, adds Sykes, speaking from personal experience. Burton’s own success speaks to this: Since 1998, she has helped over 1,000 women and children with her re-entry homes, and in 2017, she had a 100% success rate in keeping her residents from being reincarcerated.
The stakes are even higher for people of color: Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated in prison or jail, and Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be institutionalized. In addition, black children are almost nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison; and Hispanic children are four times more likely to have a parent behind bars.
The impact on their families can last generations. Sykes had three children when she was incarcerated — her oldest then a senior at Howard University, she says with pride — but her spouse died before she was released. And Sykes considers herself lucky: She comes from a stable upper-middle-class family, and so she saw her children, who were then living with her parents, quite frequently. Many women are not so lucky. “The hardest part of incarceration is not being with your children,” she says.  
Jessie Jones (not her real name) has been living at the Hope House since last December. Jones, 64, had been out of prison for a decade — after having spent 23 years at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for a drug-fueled robbery gone awry — but her housing situation had become untenable. Her last apartment was cheap, she says, because it was illegal and basically falling apart. The landlord started making passes at her, which she allowed once before trying, and failing, to make him stop. Desperate to avoid moving into a shelter, Jones stumbled upon Hope House. Like all residents, Jones had to apply to live in the house, and she pays 30% of her wages as a cook for a nonprofit as rent. (Residents are required to either have a job or be in school when they apply. Students are exempt from paying rent.)
“It’s a beautiful house, and Vanee and Topeka are the best people, the vision of healing,” Jones says. She still has her bad days, but living at Hope House with people who genuinely love and care about her is helping build her confidence back up.
“Hope House is exactly what it is,” she says. “It gives you hope.”

5 Super-Moms Making a Difference

On any given day, a mother exhibits at least one superpower — whether it’s finding the missing Lego piece in the abyss of a playroom or staying up all night to keep tabs on a feverish toddler. One thing is certain: Motherhood is a responsibility like no other. We’ve found five exceptional mothers who not only are successfully raising their own kids, but also helping hundreds of other children and families in their own communities and beyond. Here are the women giving the definition of motherhood a much broader meaning.

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Kimberly Gomez founded STAY RVA to help Richmond public schools thrive.


Richmond, Virginia, has a knack for offering amazing culture — respectable art museums, innovative cuisine, historic neighborhoods — in the most accessible way, making this riverside city incredibly kid-friendly. The problem? Once kids are ready for elementary school, many families either cough up the tuition for private school or relocate to the suburbs. This is especially true for white children, with only 27 percent enrolling in the city’s public schools.
Kimberly Gomez, mom to three kids under age 6, didn’t want to fall in line with the status quo, and so last year she founded STAY RVA, a parent-led movement to support and enhance the public education system in an effort to encourage other families to stay in Richmond.
“It just didn’t seem right to have a school around the corner and not have your kids go there,” Gomez says. “It’s part of our community.”
Having spent more than a decade teaching in urban schools in Washington, D.C., and Houston, Gomez understood that tapping into the pulse of a neighborhood can create positive changes. “I started thinking about the resources that lie within people — those skill sets can be brought in, and there can be a bridge connecting the community with the school to help it thrive.”
In its first year, some of STAY (Supporting Together Area Youth) RVA’s projects included redecorating school bathrooms and staff lounges, preparing a lunch spread for custodians and starting a cross-school club, called Be the Change, to empower kids with activities like yoga and art lessons.
The changes taking place are not just within the schools; Gomez is noticing how parent volunteers are shifting their views about staying put in Richmond. Since STAY RVA’s launch party, 10 additional gatherings have taken place across different neighborhoods. Each was hosted by a local family to share ideas of what parents can do not just for their child, but for all students attending public schools in Richmond.
“I really feel the spirit in the outpouring of local business support,” says Gomez. “Everyone has so many gifts and talents and resources, and this is a movement where all of those can be used for a greater purpose.”

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“Every time a donor gives us a dollar, they are hiring us to solve a problem,” says the Miracle Foundation’s Dianne Holbrook (center).


Dianne Holbrook’s job is to help put the Miracle Foundation, where she’s the executive vice president, out of business by 2040 — that is, to join forces with other international organizations and find permanent homes for the estimated 8 million children around the world who live in orphanages.
Holbrook sponsored her first orphaned child in India 18 years ago, around the same time that her friend and former colleague, Caroline Boudreaux, started the Miracle Foundation on Mother’s Day in 2000. Two years later, Holbrook took her then 15-year-old son, Christopher, to meet the child. “It changed him completely,” she recalls. “He went to India as a boy and came back as a young man.” (Christopher has been sponsoring a child of his own ever since.)
It was a move that would eventually put Holbrook on a dramatically different path, from a high-profile career in network television sales to nonprofit executive.
Seeing that, even in the depths of extreme poverty, the children were beyond grateful for even the most basic displays of affection fueled Holbrook’s admiration for the foundation’s efforts. So when, last year, she received a call from Boudreaux to join the team, she jumped at the chance.
Currently, the Miracle Foundation sponsors over 7,000 children globally; has sent close to 200 kids to college; and has reunited about 500 children with their families (about half the orphans Miracle Foundation works with have a living parent who had been unable to provide for them).
Given that in the U.S., group homes and foster care have replaced traditional orphanages, the organization plans to roll out a social-networking app early next year targeted to foster families in Texas, with plans to expand to other states in the future. The app will help foster parents make sense of an incredibly complex system by providing resources, like hiring a vetted babysitter or scheduling meetings with social workers, at their fingertips.
“It’s a privilege that I was invited to be a part of this organization,” adds Holbrook. “I get to be a mom all over again.”

Serese Marotta joined Families Fighting Flu after losing her 5-year-old son, Joseph, to the virus in 2009.


Influenza may not be new, but the brutality of this past flu season has shown that it is a vicious adversary. Families Fighting Flu, a national volunteer-based advocacy nonprofit dedicated to protecting children and communities, wants to show the public what the flu really is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“It’s not just a bad cold,” says Serese Marotta, chief operating officer for Families Fighting Flu in Arlington, Virginia, who lost her otherwise healthy 5-year-old son, Joseph, to the virus in 2009. “It can be a serious, highly contagious disease.”
Marotta was an environmental scientist who made sure both Joseph and his then 7-year-old sister got their flu vaccines — except at the time, the nasal spray did not protect against the strain of H1N1 her son contracted. Joseph was one of nearly 350 children in the U.S. who succumbed to the pandemic during the 2009–’10 flu season; to date, there have been more than 1,600 influenza-associated pediatric deaths since the CDC started tracking that data in 2004. “I had no idea how many healthy children lose their lives to flu every year,” says Marotta.
Six months later, she began speaking on behalf of Families Fighting Flu to local health departments, schools and coalitions. “This is a place for families just like mine,” she says of the organization. “We reach out with support because we have walked this path.” Marotta’s active involvement led her to her current role, in which she both serves as a pillar for families coping with a heartbreaking situation and raises awareness of flu as a public health concern.
By sharing her own tragic story Marotta knows her work is instrumental. “I have changed people’s mind about the flu,” she says. “I’ve had people come up to me after [a talk] and say, ‘I know I should be vaccinating, but I never realized how important it is until today.’ Knowing that I am making a difference, and potentially saving other people from being seriously affected by the flu, makes my work worthwhile.”

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Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout opened Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates to help undocumented immigrants who couldn’t afford legal counsel.

Imagine if an 8-year-old girl (falsely) accused your 12-year-old son of sexual assault, and then he was harassed by a local police officer and hauled off to jail. Now imagine how much worse it would be if you didn’t know what to do because you believe your immigration status prohibited you from advocating on behalf of your child.
“Undocumented immigrants have come to associate law enforcement with deportation, and the fear of being separated from their family is often far worse [than not reporting a crime],” says attorney Sarah Yore-Van Oosterhout, founder of Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates in Holland, Michigan.
Given that Michigan has about 150,000 undocumented residents, Lighthouse was a much-needed resource in the state. Yore-Van Oosterhout recognized that the people who would most benefit from legal counsel were the ones who could least afford it, and so in 2015 she opened Lighthouse to provide low-cost legal services, education and advocacy. To date, the nonprofit has worked with more than 650 families, helping them to understand their constitutional rights and preparing paperwork, like the guardianship of minors in the case of deportation. Lighthouse also hosts workshops at area schools, churches and businesses on immigration law and policy, and advocates on the local, state and federal levels.
As a mother to two young daughters, Yore-Van Oosterhout knows first-hand the importance of having a strong support network. “My parents come once a week to take care of my girls,” she says. “I couldn’t do the work that I do without their support.” It’s an opportunity she wants everyone to have, but current immigration laws often keep families apart. “We’re forcing them to be separated for decades and to try to survive and thrive without the support of family. It’s cruel.”
In a world that can be unwelcoming to immigrants, everyone who comes through Lighthouse’s doors are treated with the utmost dignity and respect, says Yore-Van Oosterhout. “It is so important for us that they are valued and welcomed. I hope my girls, who are at the office with me, are seeing that.”
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As CEO of New Moms, Laura Zumdahl helps provide housing and career counseling to young mothers.

Motherhood is easy, said no one ever — least of all, young mothers disadvantaged by poverty, homelessness and poor social support.
“It’s hard to parent, let alone think about how to go back to school if you don’t know where you’re going to spend the night,” says Laura Zumdahl, president and CEO of New Moms in Chicago. For the past 35 years, the nonprofit has provided stable housing, job training and parental mentoring to nearly 4,000 pregnant women and mothers under the age of 25. Since Zumdahl came on the scene five years ago, the organization has doubled in size, emphasizing the importance of community support in breaking the cycle of poverty.  
“We found that one of the keys to success, especially for a family in trauma, is to blend all of the supports in one place,” says Zumdahl. “That’s the secret sauce.”
In addition to New Moms’ Transformation Center, which includes 40 apartments, Zumdahl has overseen the construction of a new building that will offer housing for an additional 18 mother-led households. She was also key in expanding the 16-week job-training program at the nonprofit’s social-enterprise candle company, Bright Endeavors.
Zumdahl’s goal at work, and at home with her three teenage stepkids, is to show that the power of mother’s love is immense and that by carving out space for moms to build up their skills, they can overcome challenges and create stronger families.
“There are a lot of people who go to bed and wonder, ‘Did what I do today matter?’” says Zumdahl. “I never think that. I know that it does matter. It’s not just about me — if New Moms wasn’t there, we’d lose generations, and that’s not OK.”

How One New Jersey City Is Boosting Minority Entrepreneurship

Newark, N.J., is an urban renewal success story — but only for some of its 280,000 residents.
As more and more people move into sleek new lofts downtown, and amenities like a new pedestrian bridge and urban park draw hordes more, a disparity has become abundantly clear: Newark’s minority entrepreneurs are being left out of all this development.
Lyneir Richardson, executive director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED) at Rutgers University, recalls a flood of people knocking on the doors of the business school, asking for help accessing resources. “‘We’re not getting accepted to the local accelerators,’” Richardson says the school kept hearing — particularly from minorities and women looking to launch businesses.
Underrepresented entrepreneurs like the ones Richardson works with often have trouble breaking into the formal and informal networks that support startups. If you know someone who’s opened a small business you’re likely to get recommendations of lawyers and accountants who can help you. But the would-be business owners CUEED works with — about 70 percent of whom are black or Latino, and 60 percent of whom are women — don’t have that advantage, says Richardson.
They also tend to have more trouble accessing capital in the form of investments or loans, and they may need education on what their financing options are, he adds.

Rich in Resources

In many ways, Richardson is the perfect person to serve as a champion for these marginalized entrepreneurs. He was raised as the son of business owners in Chicago, where his parents owned a bar, a restaurant, and two specialty popcorn stores, and he grew up hearing about the bread-and-butter issues of running small operations.
Later, when Richardson was 27 and a lawyer for a large bank, he was assigned pro bono work helping identify candidates for loans in a tough area of Chicago. From the perspective of the bank, Richardson says, the neighborhood didn’t look promising. But he had a different view.
“I knew people who grew up there — I grew up there,” he says. Right then, he made a life-altering decision: “I wanted my personal mission to be seeing opportunity in people and places that others didn’t.”
From any viewpoint, Newark has a lot of potential. “This is an area that’s always been asset-rich,” Richardson says, with major air, shipping and rail hubs, several colleges and universities, and New York City right next door. The mayor, Ras Baraka, has championed local businesses and recently launched an initiative aimed at encouraging institutions like Rutgers and its employees to “live, buy and hire local.” But there remains a challenge — namely, making sure that all this opportunity is equally open to everyone.

Brainstorming Solutions

Richardson attended the Kauffman Foundation’s inaugural ESHIP Summit in Kansas City, Mo., which gathered people from around the country who work to support entrepreneurs in their communities. A common goal, no matter where participants hailed from, was generating new ideas to build thriving ecosystems that connect people who want to start businesses with the resources they need to do so. For his part, Richardson came out of the summit with a couple of concrete ideas he hopes to put into action in Newark.
The first is a solution to a problem that many minority and female entrepreneurs face: They don’t know anyone who has thousands of dollars to lend them as informal seed money. At the Summit, Richardson heard about entrepreneurs using crowdfunding to raise that first round of funding. Richardson says he knows people in his community are familiar with crowdfunding, because it’s often used to raise money for funeral costs or other personal needs. “Can crowdfunding be broadly defined as a friends-and-family round for entrepreneurs of color?” Richardson wonders. He intends to find out.
After connecting with someone from Seattle who educates angel investors on how to evaluate small business investment opportunities, Richardson is thinking about launching a similar program in his city. His nascent plan: targeting people who have some history in Newark and might otherwise make a donation to an existing program, and instead trying to persuade them to invest in an entrepreneur who can create new value in the city.
“That’s something I heard that I cannot wait to try,” Richardson says.


This content was produced in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works in entrepreneurship and education to create opportunities and connect people to the tools they need to achieve success, change their futures and give back to their communities. In June 2017, the foundation hosted its inaugural ESHIP Summit, convening 435 leaders fighting to help break down barriers for entrepreneurs across the country.

Working Their Way to Independence

On a recent Monday afternoon, in an office tower in Manhattan, Judy Matthews sat around a table with three other domestic violence victims and talked about her résumé. Through a nonprofit, she’d recently taken a Microsoft Word course for the formatting, but Matthews, a black, middle-aged mother from Brooklyn, was worried about the content. The problem? A 10-year gap, the result of pressure from her abuser to drop out of the workforce.
“For the past decade, I spent most of my time near the window, while my husband went to work,” says Matthews. “I didn’t have any friends, and I didn’t have a career. I completed my degrees and I put them in a box. I didn’t know who I was, other than who [my husband] told me I was, which was a woman who’s got nothing to offer. It was a sense of: ‘Why did you even waste time going to school?’ That’s why I spent my time at the window, watching everybody else walk their kids to school, go to work, do everything they need to do.”
About a year and a half ago, Matthews (whose name, like other survivors quoted in this story, has been changed) packed a few belongings into a plastic Marshall’s bag and made her way to Sanctuary for Families, New York’s largest nonprofit for victims of domestic abuse, sex trafficking and other gender-based violence. There, she enrolled in the Economic Empowerment Program (EEP), a workforce-development program to help survivors regain the self-sufficiency and financial independence they lost during an abusive relationship. Today, Matthews, a victim of childhood sexual abuse who was once too scared to take the subway, has an internship with the city’s Human Resources Administration, which distributes public assistance.
Founded in 2011, EEP’s 15-week program prepares survivors for entry-level openings in fields with potential for significant career growth. During the first two weeks, sessions focus on workplace readiness: punctuality, email etiquette and proper attire, for example. But the bulk of EEP’s training focuses on math, literature and computer programs. Throughout, the women revise their résumés and practice mock job interviews.
“We don’t want them working in fast food or at a clothing chain. Not that those aren’t honorable work, but it can’t get a person off public assistance,” says Judy Harris Kluger, who was a New York State judge for 25 years before becoming Sanctuary’s executive director in 2014. After EEP, she says, “I hope they’re in a position to support their children; to live on their own in an apartment, not a shelter; and to find healthy relationships and people who care about them.”
Nationally, an estimated one in four women and one in seven men will experience serious violence at a partner’s hands. Within New York City, police responded to 279,051 domestic violence incidents in 2015 — roughly 32 calls every hour. For each of these victims, an intimate link binds her checkbook to the risk of abuse by her partner. When a couple’s finances are strained, the chance of violence triples. An abuser who can’t find work for months may lash out at his spouse, the one aspect of his life he can ruthlessly control. The victim, meanwhile, her bank account depleted, can’t afford to stay at a motel for a few nights, much less pay for her children’s basic needs or see a psychiatrist or divorce lawyer. Money, in other words, can force victims to stay with their abusers.

EEP participants attend classes in math, literature and computer skills, and receive guidance on resume-writing and office culture.

And when battered women do work, holding down a job is a constant struggle. In one survey, nearly two-thirds of victims said abuse interfered with their work performance. Of that group, two-fifths were harassed by a partner’s phone calls or in-person stalking. For others, the difficulty started before they even left home. To disrupt a victim’s schedule, an abuser might deprive her of sleep, unplug the alarm clock, hide clothes or car keys, refuse to babysit the kids, cut and bruise her or physically bar the doorway. Distracted or depressed, these survivors showed up late or not at all; one study showed these women earn less as a whole.
Faced with these challenges, how does EEP perform? In its five years of operation, 564 survivors enrolled in the program, and nearly all of them — 88 percent — completed it. By the end, two-thirds of the graduates land internships or jobs. A year later, at least 65 percent of those alumnae report keeping the position. EEP aims to place enrollees in fields such as workplace administration, construction management and medical billing. On average, EEP graduates are paid $13.71 an hour, well above New York’s $8.75 minimum wage.
Angelo J. Rivera, EEP’s director, believes the model works because it establishes a clear path off welfare. When a person starts the program, Rivera’s team sits down with a chart of seven “keys,” which demonstrate career readiness and includes benchmarks like reaching a 10th-grade reading level, earning a high school diploma or GED, and gaining intermediate computer skills and prior work experience. (On average, participants enter with only three or four of these skill sets.)
To start meeting the seven keys, EEP readies survivors for office culture, beginning with how they dress. At the program’s start, each class heads to Macy’s to pick out a suit and two blouses, which they’re required to wear to class on Mondays and Wednesdays. Dressing professionally — or in other words, putting on the appearance of success — is an important first step in the transition to the business world, explains Sarah Hayes, EEP’s deputy director. “A number are homeless and living in shelters. They’ve had to leave their possessions behind to flee an abusive situation,” she says. “Being able to put on a suit is dignifying. They don’t feel like they’re different from anyone else traipsing around Wall Street. It’s a powerful anonymity that you get to wear, and it helps you envision yourself as the professional that you want to be.”
Once they look the part, the women in EEP run through a crash course in sophistication, in part by catching up on well-known literature. Under Rivera, the reading list is a guide to power relations: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Animal Farm” and writings by James Baldwin. The group also recently toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art, many for the first time.
Though EEP’s classes avoid discussions of the women’s abusive relationships — a marked shift from other social programs that deal with trauma through support groups — counseling and other services are available at Sanctuary. Immigrants who need work authorization can seek remedies from the legal team, for example, and someone facing an eviction can receive emergency monetary assistance and defense in housing court.
But there’s another reason why EEP so clearly divides its efforts from the rest of Sanctuary’s services. Below the surface, EEP’s architects have an ambitious plan: To see their workforce-development program applied to other demographics, like foster youth, single mothers in public housing and the formerly incarcerated. The victims of gender-based violence that Rivera sees regularly come in believing they are worthless, after hearing it repeatedly from their abusers. The 15-week program works to reverse that by convincing battered women they’re worth a decent salary and empowering them to work their way to independence. The question for Rivera and his cohorts now is whether the EEP model can uplift other struggling populations toiling under their own trying circumstances.
If you are experiencing physical violence, emotional abuse or financial control at home, you can call 800-621-HOPE in New York City, 877-384-3578 in San Francisco or 800-799-7233 for all other locations.

Where Does the YWCA Go From Here?

After the YWCA of the City of New York sold its uptown Lexington Avenue headquarters — its home for nearly a century — and moved downtown in 2005, the organization was looking to reinvent itself. Enter Danielle Moss Lee, a former teacher and administrator with a doctorate in education and decades of experience in nonprofit leadership. After taking the reins as the YWCA’s CEO in 2012, Moss Lee expanded the nonprofit’s after-school and summer programs while redoubling efforts to reach out to girls of color in underserved neighborhoods. NationSwell spoke with Moss Lee about the new direction for a 158-year-old charity at the YWCA’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan.
What’s the YWCA’s biggest need right now?
Ensuring the future sustainability of the organization. We’ve been out of the game for a little bit. How do you make something that’s 158 years old new again, so that people care about it and want it to continue, in terms of manpower, woman-power, volunteerism? We’ve got 2,500 kids whose lives we hope to impact in some way. It’s not all the kids in the city, but we can do our best to do our part.
What innovations in your field are you most excited about right now?
I like the questions that young activists are asking, because it positions us for a different America. We can say without a doubt that all of our lives have been materially and visibly changed by the civil rights movement. But now we’re addressing issues around institutional and structural racism that I don’t think prior generations fully understood: Health services, education, the police and the banking system all really conspire together to advantage some and disadvantage others. I’m excited about these new movements. Protesting and social media campaigns are important. I hope that, at the end of this, the way we live and experience our daily lives will be similarly transformed like they were with desegregation and all of the access and opportunities that civil rights opened up.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given on leadership?
The best advice I’ve gotten over my career was to be someone that I would want to follow myself. It’s been important advice because it’s made me more conscious that who I am and how I show up is really important to the people around me when I’m in a leadership role. It keeps you honest and conscious.
Where do you find your inner motivation?
It’s always different, but one thing I think about is all the kids I’m not serving. I hear lots of folks in this sector say of college-access or girls’ programming: “We have 200 girls” or “We have 1,000 girls,” whatever the number is. But then when I think about how many girls actually live in this city, that’s what keeps me going.
Years ago, I was teaching a graduate course on urban youth policy, and one day the discussion got really personal. A young woman getting her master’s degree told this story of how her family’s apartment had burned down in Brooklyn. At first, friends and family were willing to house them. As the months dragged on, they went into a homeless shelter. At some point, her mother, in a desperate attempt to provide for her kids, made the decision to join the Armed Forces. The student said, “Do you realize we lived in that shelter with no adult and nobody noticed?” And then she said, “I didn’t know that there were middle-class black people. I didn’t know for a long time that something else was possible for my life.” A lot of mentoring is focused around Manhattan. Let’s be real, people aren’t going out to Coney Island (where the YWCA has programming) or other far-flung Brooklyn neighborhoods like Flatbush, East New York and Brownsville. It’s always at the convenience of the volunteer, but that’s not necessarily where the greatest need is. I can always recall that student’s voice asking, “Where were you?” — to which I didn’t really have an answer. She said, “All these civic organizations are always talking about all the work they do in the community, but I never saw them.” Nobody asked her if she wanted to go to college. That’s our job.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently” [by Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur]. It’s really about how you develop teams with people who just think differently. I started to think about this because there’s been a lot of emphasis in some new progressive nonprofits in the sector around organizational fit and building a specific kind of culture within their organizations to drive results. There’s a value in that. But a lot of those organizations have challenges around having a diverse staff.
I was listening to two managers have a semi-debate. A young white woman was talking about two of her staff members: Her white staff member was really great with data, Excel spreadsheets and metrics — things she really valued — but this staff person wasn’t as good at relating to young people and doing outreach to families. And so while the person of color was much more relatable with the young people in the organization, it was almost like her skill set wasn’t seen as a value. We all operate predominantly with different sides of our brain. How can we tease away some of the judgment that comes with very different strengths and make sure that we’re not using this idea of “fit” really to only work with people who look like us, share our experiences and perspective? You’re probably not growing if everyone agrees with everything you say.
What’s your perfect day look like?
No bad news, and a big check in the mail — in that order.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
I recently had the opportunity to have a reunion with students I previously worked with at another organization. First of all, to see them now as college-educated adults and hear all the amazing things they were doing was a reward in itself. Back when I was working that job, I was also raising my daughter and going to graduate school. I remember one of those kids saying, “I didn’t know anybody else who had a doctorate. When I came into your office and saw your degrees on the wall, I knew I couldn’t just get a bachelor’s. Tell me: What do you have to do to get a master’s degree? What’s a dissertation?”
I’m just blown away by the number of students, many first-generation college students, who have graduate degrees. That changes not just the trajectory of their lives, but also their families’ for years to come. It was nice to know that I had that kind of impact.
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Homepage photo courtesy of YWCANYC.

Kanye West Probably Won’t Answer This Young Woman’s Letter, But You Can

Girls Write Now provides mentorship and college prep to aspiring writers in New York City. The nonprofit specializes in helping young women who especially need a boost—almost 70 percent of the girls it serves live below the poverty line, and 20 percent are immigrants. Girls Write Now matches girls with professional writers who help them put together a portfolio, and publish their work. Girls Write Now is seeking donations to support its expanded mission–it now makes therapists available to all participants, and as Dani Green’s moving poem demonstrates, they can use them. “Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I write a letter to rapper Kanye West,” Green explains. She speaks movingly about wanting to climb out of the poverty that has gripped her family. She wants to escape “this place where dead dreams lurk in the footprints of everyone you’re close to.” With the help of Girls Write Now, she’ll have a more promising future.