Mary

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“My 20 year old son Christian died tragically from binge drinking at college in 2015. Shocking, life altering and incomprehensible- all at the same time. My. son. Died! How can this be my life?? I never even let my brain imagine losses like that. I thought to myself, I can’t crumble. I need to give Christian’s life purpose, not due to his sad death but create better futures for others because of his death.

So instead of hiding, burying myself and remaining silent about his death, I prayed and prayed and asked God to lead me. Lead me and show me what He wanted me to do and to (please) bestow the gift of grace on me so I wouldn’t become the bitter mom whose kid died.  

Luckily I was given the gift of grace, inspired by the Holy Spirit and created a mission called “Don’t Stall, Just Call”. The goal is to educate all young people & their families about the current binge drinking culture and the dangerous and sometimes deadly effects of alcohol poisoning. Speaking in front of audiences, sharing the sad, horrible, truth and the reality that my beloved, youngest child Christian will never be coming back (because he took life for granted, believing he was invincible-believing that bad things only happen to other people-nope!) gives me strength when people look at me and say “How does she do that?” And I want to say, “How can I not? Everyone needs to be educated so no other families ever experiences the loss of a loved one due to lack of education again.” Our “Don’t Stall, Just Call” mission provides people of all ages with a toolkit to know the dangers of binge drinking and learn the signs of alcohol poisoning that they can carry with them throughout their lives. This creates a distinct feeling of purpose for me, and one that gives me strength everyday.”

 Links to Don’t Stall, JustCall: www.dontstalljustcall.org ; 

https://www.facebook.com/dontstalljustcall/

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Monique

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“Twelve years ago around this time, I saw a small stray dog huddled on a porch in my neighborhood. The dog was outside every day, in rain or shine or cold. 

I informed friends and family that I was going to rescue him. A friend said, “that would be a wonderful idea”; but my sister said “How can you care for a dog? You can barely walk.” She was right, at the time I could barely walk. As the result of pneumonia, I suffered neuropathy and impaired speech and gait. Due to my extraordinary resilience, I overcame the challenges, and I knew that dog was going to be in my life. To gain the dog’s trust, I provided food, water, and conversation whenever I saw him. I read multiple books on pet care and discovered that I had both the knowledge and compassion to care for this creature whose eyes spoke to my soul.

I assembled a group of volunteers who agreed to drive me to the shelter so that I could rescue this little dog. After four weeks of watching this little guy darting down alleys and running from feral kids, I rescued him. The animal shelter declared him adoptable, then vaccinated and neutered him. After becoming his official owner, I named him Endo after my sister’s profession, Endodontist. Two months after I adopted Endo, I fractured my ankle in nine places. I knew I wanted to be able to walk with Endo, so I overcame that challenge, too. Now I take him on bus rides, and I walk him daily in Fairmount Park, following his lead to historical mansions, on trails, and to watch regatta races. Walking with Endo every day has improved my gait and my life. Endo and I, we give each other strength.

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Tina

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“What makes me feel strong is the realization that I made it. I have arrived. I am here and living my completely simple life. I am plenty good enough. I’m not broken and I don’t need to be fixed anymore. It has been a long journey to get to this place.  It hasn’t come fast or easy. I had to get sober, not once -but twice. I was lucky to even have a second chance. 

Letting go of drinking and using substances was the hardest thing I ever did. Living without them is still hard.  But it is necessary for me. And this is the part that I can honestly say makes me feel the strongest:  I had to come to terms with and take ownership of my own life – all that was wrong and that was not working; all the good, the bad and the ugly; all the wounds and the flaws. I had to own it all and decide that I would do my best to get better. 

In order to get better I had to give up many of the ways I operated in the world. I had let go of most of what I was taught to believe. I had to leave some people that I loved – friends, and even family, because we were not good for each other. 

So what was originally about quitting drinking and using other substances, became about getting to know myself, and looking deeply and honestly at who and where I came from, and healing whatever I could. 

A long time has passed and I’ve been able to accomplish a lot in my life. None of it could have been possible if I opted out of recovery, or opted out of necessary work on myself. For all this I am thankful, and for all this I feel strong.”

Madison

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“Going for long rides on my bike give me the most strength.  The feeling I have after completing a 50 or 60 mile ride is amazing. At that moment I am unstoppable (until the tiredness from the ride kicks in. ).  When I am riding I know it’s only me who controls my fate for the ride. No one else can do it for me, no one else is going to get me back home if I ride too far away or get a flat. I am completely on my own and I have the strength to work through what the road throws at me. 

Cycling is very emotional for me.  I have never had a good relationship with my father, the older I got the worse the relationship got.  He always bragged that he and a friend rode from Philly to A.C. on their bikes as the toughest achievement in his life. A few years ago I finally got help to work through the mental issues I was left with growing up. One of the ways I wanted to work through the pain of the past is to prove to myself that I am stronger than him and could excel at anything that challenged him. So two years ago I did my first ACS Bike-a-thon riding from Philadelphia to Atlantic City, raised some money for a good cause, and beat his achievement. I have since completed the event again and will be attempting to complete yet another time it this year.”

Ronni

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“I grew up in homes full of people but my childhood felt pretty lonely. Although I lived with family they weren’t my family. I didn’t really belong to them the way a child belongs to their mom and dad. I knew everyone was doing the best they could by me, so I never wanted to be much of a bother. Plus I got really good at being alone. I could spend hours playing by myself and I kind of liked it that way.  I would imagine myself in a place where I could hang my thoughts and keep them safe. The fear of being judged kept me from ever airing them out. This took up a lot of mental space and made it hard for anyone else to get inside. I guess I was hard to figure out since I rarely revealed myself to anyone.

I existed like this for quite some time. Up until a few years ago, there were only two people I’ve ever trusted with my thoughts, my sister, and my husband. Something changed though when I started making my floral inspired fossils. My art helped me find me, even through all the clutter.  I started to gain a confidence that I’ve never had before. My art process is repetitious and therapeutic.  It smooths out any mental disturbance I might have. It’s like a workout for the mind and I leave feeling mentally refreshed. Finding my true self made me want to face the world rather than hide from it. I now use my gift to give me the strength to be open.  And by being open I’m free. I have no secrets anymore taking up mental space. My mind is no longer weighed down my mental chatter, now it’s stronger than ever.”

 

Ronni makes gorgeous “floral fossils” that are light, lush odes to all of the delicate details and nuances found in flowers.

You can view her work on her website:  http://www.ronnicole.com/

She is also on Instagram @iamronnicole

Deva

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“My partner, Eric, and I started dating in our early 20’s. We met at a Tex-Mex restaurant and Eric started working there after I waited on him. Eric had zero cooking experience and only got the job so he could ask me out. I never experienced a “move” like that. Never had I met someone who “chose me”. We were crazy in love and I knew that because I never had a person “look” at me the way Eric did. In my past relationships, I had felt mostly like a prop. I was always the outgoing one in my relationships, the one a shy guy would want at a party. But I always seemed drawn to a guy that needed to work out their own stuff, to figure themselves out, and their “not knowing themselves” cost me my own happiness. Eric and I fell in love hard, got a dog, and got engaged. But then we broke up because Eric needed to go find himself and deal with his demons and drug use, and I started dating again. I was back to being a prop in my relationships. Yet, I grew professionally, made amazing friends, started an art and food program for kids, and began taking yoga super seriously. I began to do everything else right, except for my relationships with men.

Years passed.

Eric contacted me out of the blue and asked me to meet him for coffee. Eric and I met and he looked at me like he used to. And he had grown. He was healthy, found religion, did the steps, got clean, and changed. He asked for my forgiveness. He held my hand at the coffee shop and my love came flooding back. But how could I love someone who nearly broke me? He could go back to drugs and screw me up for forever. I had been seeing someone else, yet I still felt like a prop. Why mess up my life for a moment, a feeling. Someone asked me once what it was like to love Eric, how was it that he was the one that shook me. Loving Eric is like when you are 5 years old and you blow out your birthday candles. For that single moment, you are important and special, the smoke is curling up into the air. And that smell. It’s one of my favorite smells. I swear I liked blowing out my birthday cake candles almost as much as eating the actual birthday cake.

I looked at him and I forgave him. Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning. I found strength in forgiveness. I got out of the relationship I was in and he left one that had barely started so that we could start over together. We sat a restaurant, still friends at that point, on my birthday, catching up on all of the changes we made. Eric took my hand and said, “I’m ready when you are.”

And then my birthday dessert came out.

I looked at Eric, took his hand, and haven’t let go since.”

Donna

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“Looking back through my life, I feel that initially much of the source of the strength that I have came from the women who have been in my life, especially those on my mother’s side of the family. They were tough, Yankee women, who broke a lot of the social mores of their time by working at a time when no women worked. This was a time when they all got married and stayed home. My Great Aunt Sue, in particular, worked for votes for women and also worked as an accountant. My mother was a tireless volunteer and advocate for those with disabilities. 


I think that these women shaped me by being role models. Following their lead, I put myself through nursing school and worked for 35 years as a nurse. The strength to do that has come from people I cared for, always working where the need was greatest, first at Booth Maternity Hospital run by the Salvation Army. I then came into my own at the start of the AIDS epidemic by taking care of HIV/AIDS patients who were hospitalized. This was at a time when every day was a new medical discovery, but the reality was that my patients came in on Friday and died by Monday. My strength grew with my knowledge and as an equal on a team of doctors, pharmacists, social workers, and nurses. I obtained my Masters in Adult Health and Chronic Illness with Board Certification in HIV/AIDS. Working for the PA AIDS Education and Training Center, I used that knowledge and strength to develop a training program for doctors, nurses, and dentists. Later I was part of a team that opened BETAK, a skilled nursing home for persons with AIDS; also working there part- time. The thousands of patients who died with AIDS, and later, those persons I care for on hospice, indelibly printed themselves on my soul. Their stories, their strengths, and even their fears have taught ME how to find my own strength and to make sure each day is lived to its fullest.” 

“Girl Power Club”

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I recently met with a group of young girls enrolled in the “Girl Power Club” at my neighborhood community center.  I asked each girl to answer the strength question, which is “what have you done in the past or what are you doing now that has made you feel strong inside?”

  • Rachel and Maya both felt strong after switching schools. They were initially scared, but said that a friend had done it – so they knew they could, too! And it all worked out in the end, which made them both feel good.
  • Chloe told me that she watched women in the Olympics running marathons. She felt inspired to run and so she decided to run in her first school race. She said she cried and got worked up about it, but kept going anyway. She told me that she overcame her fear and that even though she did not win a medal, she was proud of herself for finishing.
  • Desiree was scared to go on a roller coaster but did it anyway.
  • Both Lucy and Rosalyn were scared to go on stage but they did it anyway and then felt good about themselves afterwards.
  • Wren said that beating her brother in pillow fights made her feel good.

While speaking with the girls, I was struck by how similar some of their answers were to many answers I’ve  heard from grown women. Often times, it all comes down to facing your fears and doing what you are afraid to do – regardless of the voices in your head.

*For this photograph, I asked the girls to show me a powerful face! I think they did an awesome job! They look fierce!

 

Roz

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“Many people are afraid to fight for what they believe in and what they think is right but I’m able to do it without any fear. Often I know that my life can be be in danger. I already had to move two time because my house was intentionally shot up. I think what makes me strong now is being able to go into my neighborhood – knowing that it’s a very violent place sometimes, but I go anyway with the hopes that I can get a case solved – by going door-to-door and talking to people and helping families solve homicide cases. I encourage people to help, and there is the $20,000 reward for information on each case leading to a conviction. Sometimes I go to the drug corners and I say “Hey look this could have been you” (dead). “This could have been your mom or your brother or sister”. I say to them “wouldn’t you want someone to help if this had been your family?”

I also go door to door to hand out gun locks to keep kids from accidentally firing off guns in homes. I think that my trust and faith in God has given me the ability to do what I do. I stay “prayered up” all of the time because of what my work entails.

In addition to helping families solves homicide cases, I help families HEAL. I feel strong that I am able to provide a safe space for people to share how they feel during the workshops that I run. I don’t want them to feel like they are the only ones going through the pain of losing someone to homicide. I feel strong giving back — and giving my entire life to the people who are feeling the same hurt that I felt. (Roz’s brother was murdered in 2012) I feel like this is my calling. I left my full time job to do this work, but I needed to leave because I needed to be my brother’s voice – and I needed to encourage my mom and my family and help them see that life goes on. It may not be the way you want it to go on, but it goes on.

*Rosalind (Roz) is the woman behind Save Our City, which is an organization that “works with families of murder victims, helping them to cope with their loss, while working to bring the individuals responsible for the crimes to justice.” Roz does a lot of things. She leads a support group called “Voices of Survivors” for those who have lost someone to violence. In addition to the meetings, she is a crisis responder, showing up at the scene of homicides to help the families affected. Roz also visits the homes of families who have lost loved ones to violence in order to help them heal. She is also a regular presence at the Kensington Storefront, which is a community space at Kensington Avenue and Somerset that is dedicated to healing. The space is open to anyone and everyone including those who are dealing with trauma and substance abuse; food and drink is offered at the space –  and there are classes such as: “Tea and Textiles” and “Emotional Painting” as well as yoga classes. All of the services are free of charge.

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Roz is standing in front of a “healing blanket” located inside of the Storefront on Kensington Avenue. The Healing Blanket Project is an ongoing community-based project. The textile pieces are made of yarn. This blanket is made of pieces that were linked together and they display the names of victims of homicide as well as words of hope for active addicts visiting the Kensington Storefront. The quilt is meant to be an act of healing. There are other textile pieces at locations around the city.

You can learn more about Roz and her work in this Philly Voice article:

http://www.phillyvoice.com/wake-violence-call-save-our-city/

Helen Z.

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“When have I felt strong? It’s when I’m not trying to be strong, not intentionally.  When I feel weakest, smallest, most instinctive. When I am at the bottom of my vulnerabilities – like a painful heartbreak, a total failure, a deep loss. Or when I’m doing things that come easily enough to me that I don’t realize they take strength – like moving 5,000 miles from home on a one-way ticket, to a place where I know no one, for the third time in four years. When I’m paying attention to anything and everything except myself – that’s when I’m strong, and then of course I don’t realize that it was happening until it’s happened, until I’m through on the other side. Then when I can turn around and look at it, at what I just went through, then I can see that when I felt weakest and saddest and smallest, that’s when I was doing the hardest work, learning the most, testing my strength and finding out that I had enough. Enough for the task, because I had to. Then that’s a bottomless strength – you trust yourself enough to believe that, when it comes, whatever the next thing is, you’ll be strong enough. 

 There’s a tarot card, the Seven of Wands, that’s all about Strength. In the deck I use, the deck my mother uses and taught me to read, it’s called Valor.  It’s a card about the courage and strength to fight on, to keep going, even when armies close in around you, when anarchy is everywhere, and the only chance of victory hangs on the courage of one choice.  The card is also called the soldier’s battle, and it’s about picking up not the weapons best suited to success, but about picking the first weapon to hand, with nothing but courage and strength to fight on.  Not necessarily seeing any big picture, but simply picking up the tools to hand and fighting the battle in front of you.  To me, that’s strength.  Fighting even and especially when you do not think you can win, when you’re not even thinking about winning, but when you must because of who you are.”