One of our more recent grantee partners is an organization called Women Initiating New Directions, or WIND. WIND works with women who are transitioning from justice involvement, with a focus on imagining a better future. Modules are offered by correspondence to women in the Cook County Jail, and in person at several sites including another CFF grantee partner, St. Leonard’s Ministries. WIND fits within our employment portfolio in the way they assist women with multiple barriers to employment find their way via the shortest path possible to family sustaining wages. While it doesn’t focus on a specific professional skill set it does help the women with executive function, public speaking and presentation, financial literacy and more. In our site visits we’ve been able to observe how the kind accompaniment of the WIND staff and volunteers helps women who experienced significant trauma (not limited to their prior incarceration) imagine themselves as deserving and capable of a better life. We are reprinting below a blog post from the WIND website which we really enjoyed reading. Thanks to the women at WIND for their permission to reproduce it here, and for sharing the photo of their program participants working on their elevator pitches.
By Brooklyn Martner
Denise has faced many obstacles throughout her life, but her strength and resilience shine through each and every day, and she is currently fourteen years sober. Denise is a fifty-five-year-old mother of two and grandmother of four who took advantage of all the resources available to her to turn her life around for the better. Denise believes, “Each day is a learning experience, and I refuse to keep repeating the past.”
Growing up, Denise lived in the South Side of Chicago with a supportive family. Although her parents were separated, they had a good relationship which allowed Denise to have a loving relationship with both of them. Denise also has five sisters with whom she gets along very well.
However, after getting involved with the wrong crowd, Denise found herself in and out of prison. Denise states, “It’s easy to get into trouble, but it’s hard to get out of.” But while incarcerated, she had a spiritual awakening which encouraged her to lead a better life. Denise was ready to make a change. She began by enrolling herself into an AA program and utilizing other programs and resources available through the prison system. Denise led by example and encouraged other incarcerated women to create positive lifestyles for themselves.
After being released from prison, Denise became a resident of Grace House, a transition home in Chicago for formerly incarcerated women. She lived there for about a year until she obtained her own studio apartment on the North Side of Chicago. While at Grace House, Denise took the opportunity to get involved in self-help groups, take classes at the Michael Barlow Center, and learn secretarial skills through volunteering. She also took part in re-entry programs and a big sister program while being employed at McDonalds. Denise was a positive asset to Grace House as she encouraged the women around her to lead better lives through exercise and having healthy relationships. Denise praised the work Grace House does as they helped her obtain housing of her own and allowed her to develop the skills necessary to live a healthy and happy life.
After Denise left Grace House, she stayed active by being a member of a woman’s group, a grandmother’s group, and local church groups, such as Bible study. She also volunteered her time helping others by serving food to the homeless and cleaning churches. Denise stayed in touch with some of the women she met at Grace House and spent much of her time with her family. She continued to persevere and stay away from negative past influences and bad habits. Denise says she gets her strength to overcome challenges from her faith in God, prayer, and being around positive people who encourage her to grow. She continues to live a healthy life as she spends much of her time working out, reading, and focusing on the positive. She is currently enrolled at Truman College, working towards an associates degree in the hope of being a social worker in the future. Denise wants to help individuals who are battling addiction as she is living proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Denise explains, “I haven’t arrived yet, but I’m not where I used to be. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m right where I need to be just for today.” Although Denise has struggled throughout her life, she is focused on moving forward and creating the best life she can for herself and others around her. She is an intelligent, inspiring woman who takes life one day at a time and doesn’t take anything for granted.