Teen Empowerment at FamilyWorks: An Interview with Teen Empowerment Activists Gladys & Elsie Martinez – By Launa Lea
What inspired you to run this program at FamilyWorks?
Gladys: I wanted to provide an empowerment opportunity for young women of color, a safe space for them to develop into leaders.
Elsie: I grew up in a very small town that didn’t offer these kinds of programs. It was pretty resource scarce in general. When I heard about the program, a program that empowers young women, I lit up. The kinds of things we talk about, self-esteem issues, what it means to be a girl, I want everyone to have this opportunity.
What do you think the participants are taking away from this experience?
Gladys: To advocate for themselves, to interrupt injustice. We may be inspiring our future president right here!
Elsie: I agree with Gladys. It teaches life skills, things they don’t learn in school. You get to practice saying no, standing up for yourself, really cultivating a belief system within your social framework. That’s so important for youth, but we rarely teach this for some reason. The girls are so close in age, so they are building their own community together. You know that the friends you make in this kind of program are healthy relationships, and that’s something that doesn’t end with the program. It’s really supportive.
What’s the hardest part of doing this kind of work?
Elsie: The girls all have very different personalities. Breaking down the walls around this teenage expectation that they’re supposed to be perfect all the time, always achieving—it takes time to get through.
What’s the most rewarding?
Elsie: Watching them grow for sure. I’ve seen each of them step into a new confidence. Sometimes they refer back to other lessons and actually call each other out in a really friendly, supportive way, so there’s this value system I’m watching form organically.
What are some hopes you hold for these young women?
Gladys: That they become leaders and shakers in their community. These are future politicians, teachers, judges and legal advocates. There is no bar too high for them once they realize how powerful they already are.
Elsie: I hope they use what they learn. I hope it continues to help them in life. I don’t want social media to mold their self-esteem. I want them to walk away with their own definition of beauty. They’re all really smart, but societal expectations are always bearing down on us. I recognize how brave it is for them to even show up to something like this. Hopefully, this will inspire them to continue engaging in programs that build healthy friendships and life skills.
The following was written by a member of the FamilyWorks community to help share the importance of planned giving to our community, and its own personal significance in their life. To start planning a bequeathal and join the Merridy Williams Society, visit the FamilyWorks FreeWill page.
A few years ago when I made out my Last Will and Testament, I bequeathed FamilyWorks a certain percentage of my net worth. At the time I certainly did not [do not] know if there would be any money at all when the time comes, but who am I to say what the future holds? With that unknown in mind, I made out the will so that a certain percentage of my assets would be given to FamilyWorks — the magnitude of the gift being contingent on forces way beyond my control.
I chose FamilyWorks in particular because I wanted to mark my family’s experiences of food scarcity while benefitting the Wallingford food bank that addresses the urgent need for food of the people who come to it. FamilyWorks goes further to address the needs of its clients because at the same time it attends to people’s immediate hunger, it also attends to the complicated, urgent needs of parents caring for small children. FamilyWorks does its essential work on NE45th Street in the midst of Wallingford shops and businesses. The people of Wallingford should be proud that it is there.
I moved to Wallingford in the 1970’s, when I was in my early 40’s. Up to that time my life had been somewhat rootless, and so I vowed to stay in Wallingford for the duration. Eventually I bought a house in Wallingford and when I included FamilyWorks in my will, it was because FamilyWorks belongs to Wallingford, my chosen home.
There are other reasons, too.
At the time I made out the will, I knew I was far luckier in life than my mother and father, who nearly always struggled with poverty. Even when there was enough food, nobody ever forgot that sometimes there had not been enough. Fortunately for me, my parents were both story tellers and they talked about it. They richly communicated essential truths about being hungry, about being stingy or generous, ashamed or proud, in isolation or in community. I am so grateful to them for their stories which showed them to be rich in wonderment about life and rich in “can do.” Their stories were also rich in grateful acknowledgement of the generosity of other people toward them. My support of FamilyWorks is meant to honor my parents AND the people who helped them in the worst of times.
My mother, who was white, came from rural Mississippi, from a family with an alcoholic father who sometimes could not hold a job. Her family was often in desperate straits. The story is that during one of the most difficult of these times, a neighboring black family fed and sheltered my grandparents and their four children for a considerable period of time. I have only gradually realized that the generosity of that family must have been as dangerous as it was warm, given the violence in Mississippi during the early 20th century.
Throughout the span of my life I have often imagined that family as I have wondered about what those days in Mississippi must have been like. As I have increasingly grasped the horrific racial tensions in that time and place, the more wonderful that family seems to me. I realize now that the gesture of gifting FamilyWorks in my will is especially meant to mark the courageous spirit of generosity of those long ago people in a desperate time.
How Ami — a refugee, a mother, a vibrant member of our community — found her home at FamilyWorks through playgroups and by building relationships with the family advocates at Seattle’s only family resource center and food bank.
When meeting Ami, people are struck most by her positive attitude. She’s always smiling, energized and generous with her words. Most people wouldn’t, couldn’t imagine the level of trauma she’s been witness to, and I got curious about her. What’s her secret? When I asked her this, she laughed.
I work in hospice you know. I hold the hand of those who are approaching death. What I’ve learned is: Only kindness matters—that’s a person’s legacy. Everything else dies with them.
Ami fled from Somalia when she was just thirteen.
You couldn’t walk the streets. Young women were being raped. There were no police, no jail…I remember when I heard that the girl I grew up was killed in rebel crossfire. She was going to get bread. That was my best friend. People were carrying guns, killing their neighbors; these people with guns were a tiny minority, but they took over. I asked, “Why? Why? Why?”
Ami has four children. She works, and is studying to get into a social work program. Ami also volunteers regularly.
That was modeled for me by my mother. She taught me about community. I live in her memory, and her legacy of love lives through me. Community, its strength, is the only thing that stands between chaos and stability. Being in community heals people. That’s why I got involved. I want to be someone people can count on. I never want to forget that life is an opportunity. It’s a blessing to be in it and every day is a chance to be remembered, through kindness.
Ami found FamilyWorks while visiting the library.
I was in a new a country. I was so lonely. I was still learning English, but I found my community there. They didn’t all look like me, but they supported me in that rough time and I wanted to give back. That’s how I ended up volunteering at the food bank. You know you’ve found your place when you can give and receive in a meaningful way.
The following is a testimonial from a parent who has been a long-time participant of FamilyWorks’ Teen Parent Program.
The Teen Parent Program promotes the positive growth of teen parents by facilitating peer support groups, offering parenting classes/workshops, offering home visitations, as well as by providing one-on-one advocacy, guidance, encouragement, and support.
It’s clear that for this parent the program was a safe place, where her family could grow and thrive.
“I am a participant in FamilyWorks’ Teen Parent Program. I like to joke that I am the longest attending member. I have been part of the Teen Parent Program since the age of 13. I was pregnant then, and very, very young. Now 10 years later, I look back and think about the second family I have created with Gladys and the moms.
It’s hard to be a parent, especially as a teen. I was fortunate enough to be connected with Gladys and the group from the beginning, but I stop and think about the other mothers. Moms that struggle to find a place to live, to make ends meet, to be positive in life. The Teen Parent Program has created a place in which I feel that I belong, to know I am not alone in this journey.
If we want people in our community to do good, they need to feel good about themselves. As a teen parent, I was very insecure about my skills, and abilities to be a fit parent. Having a support network of other young mothers, helped me understand that I have a place where people value my presence and ideas.
“The Teen Parent Program has created a place in which I feel that I belong, to know I am not alone in this journey.”
There have been many memories that we have created as a group, fieldtrips, workshops, crying and support from one another. I have learned so much from Gladys, guest speakers, and the moms. I am 23 now, and aging out of the program this year. I will continue to be a part of the group as a volunteer.
FamilyWorks and the Teen Parent Program have impacted my life, the life of my son, as well as the other moms that have been a part of this program by providing a safe space for mothers like me. I feel so fortunate that I didn’t have to take this journey alone.”
*You can support the Teen Parent Program, and all of FamilyWorks’ services, by making a donation during GiveBIG. When you make a donation during GiveBIG (now through May 10th) your donation will be matched! Click here to “GiveBIG” and support vital resources like the Teen Parent Program.*
The idea that any of us are one or two emergencies away from being in a place of dependency can be hard to fathom. It’s easy to assume that a good job, a college degree or a network of support buffers us from serious vulnerability.
Just like the following testimonial that was recently shared with us, many of the families and individuals who come to FamilyWorks never envisioned that they would need to access a food bank or emergency referral services. FamilyWorks is honored to be the safety net for families as they weather the difficult storms in their lives.
“My wife and I were both from Montana, but after she got her Master’s degree in nursing she wanted to move to Seattle. She figured she could make better money here so we talked it over and I said yeah. I figured it was almost time for me to retire anyway.
“If it had not been for the food bank, I don’t know what we would have done.”
I left my Native American drum and dance group and my volunteer work where I received grants for teaching drumming and dancing from a local museum. Unfortunately, soon after we moved and got settled in Seattle my wife got sick and could not work anymore.
I don’t remember exactly who I talked to but someone told me that I could go and get food at FamilyWorks. So I went down and I started getting food. If it had not been for the food bank, I don’t know what we would have done. We are still dependent upon the food bank.
This is something that I never thought would happen to me. We both had good incomes before, but between the move to Seattle and my wife’s disability we exhausted our savings. While we live on a low income budget now we’re able to get by because of what FamilyWorks offers us. I am really grateful for FamilyWorks and all the people who donate to the food bank here.”
*You can support FamilyWorks by making a donation during GiveBIG. When you make a donation during GiveBIG (now through May 10th) your donation will be matched! Click here to “GiveBIG” and join FamilyWorks in nourishing, connecting and empowering our most vulnerable neighbors.*
FamilyWorks’ model of support, the marriage of a Food Bank and Family Resource Center, is unique but also profoundly impactful. This combination of programs can address families’ emergent needs but it also serves to help families achieve their long terms goals. The following testimonial from one of our participants speaks to just how vital these services are to our community and the resiliency of our vulnerable neighbors.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have found FamilyWorks at a time when I had nowhere else to turn.
My young son & I drove cross-country last year, in search of a better life here in Seattle. His dream was to study at a quality school, and enter into the innovative field of technology. So we left South Carolina, in hope to fulfill his future aspirations.
“We are so fortunate to have found FamilyWorks. I personally, don’t know what I would have done, without them.”
It was difficult to find a place here with no job yet, so I advanced all of my savings to secure a local apartment. However, I soon found out that it was full of black mold. We had to leave having nowhere else to go, and left many contaminated things behind.
We found ourselves suddenly living out of our car, and desperate for help and information on how to get out of our dilemma. Hotels and restaurants were not possible.
By some ray of light, we drove past FamilyWorks, and stopped in. We were extremely happy to find their generous Food Bank, distributing healthy cooking items, as well as ready to eat meals.
Family Works not only helped us out with provisions, but also gave me direction and important information on how to get my housing situation resolved, and get resettled. Rental information, job assistance, medical programs, and more were all right there.
With their help, we were able to keep our health by eating well, get my old landlord to refund my rent, find and move into a new apartment, and get our lives back on track.
I now have a pleasant job, my son is excelling in school, and we still come by FamilyWorks greeted always with smiles.
We are so fortunate to have found FamilyWorks. I personally, don’t know what I would have done, without them.”