Beginning with Forgiveness
Lakenya Rivers (formerly Johnson), Executive Director of F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement, draws upon her lived experience to pave the way for families in transition through a series of workshops for mothers living in Boston-area shelters.
In 2000, Lakenya Rivers (formerly Johnson) was living at a shelter. Now, she conducts workshops designed to support mothers living in shelters for F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement, an organization she founded in 2008. Ms. Rivers holds workshops for moms in shelters like Bridge Over Troubled Waters in Boston, MA. They involve moms coming together for ninety minutes twice a month over the course of four to six months.
Ms. Rivers was working as a broker at a Fortune 500 company when she was invited back to Bridge Over Troubled Waters to share her success story with a writer from the Boston Herald. She describes her return to the shelter as a transformative experience. “When I came back, I saw the families that were living there and it changed something inside of me. I thought, ‘I have to help pave the way.’” Ms. Rivers started the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement in 2008, the organization was incorporated in 2009 and gained nonprofit status in 2011. She now serves as Executive Director of the organization and is working on strategic planning, evaluation, and documentation of outcomes that will enable her to expand program activities.
The acronym for F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement outlines Ms. Rivers’ path. She says, “It’s the transition I went through personally. It’s all the things I needed to push through difficult times, and it all began with forgiveness.” By practicing forgiveness she has found that many doors can open. Following forgiveness, the next steps for her were to acknowledge where she came from and where she wanted to go, to find motivation and inspiration—which she found through her daughter and her faith—and to find love within herself or, to complete the acronym, find love within yourself.
Ms. Rivers makes this path a reality through four “seasons” that make up her workshops: seasons of the mind, body, soul, and renewal. In the season of the mind, moms think about where they want to be, document their goals, and help each other meet these goals. In the season of the body, F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement partners with Healthworks and Strive, two local fitness centers. Here, moms learn about working out, eating right, and taking care of their bodies. In the season of the soul, F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement partners with licensed counselors to help moms focus on recovery. Here, moms work out deeper issues that they have often held back, like trauma, domestic violence, and abuse. The season of renewal ties everything back together, and focuses on overcoming life’s challenges by using stories of success from women who have been in similar life circumstances.
While the seasons do not necessarily coincide with spring, summer, fall, and winter, they do follow a specific order and F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement ties program activities into the natural seasons and holidays. For example, mothers partake in free makeovers between Mother’s Day and Christmas. They also receive donated roses in February, around Valentine’s Day. Besides being fun, these activities help build self-esteem and confidence to overcome challenging times.
F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement is expanding partnerships in the Boston area and growing program activities by focusing on results and doing what they think needs to be done to empower moms and to facilitate sustainable success. “We’re partnering with Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), local banks, and financial literacy programs to help moms develop better credit. We have a savings program with families where we match savings between October and April,” Ms. Rivers says. “Between these dates we received our 501(c)3 status, so they are meaningful to us.” They are also working on new programs for teens. Ms. Rivers has a particular fondness for helping youth because at the age of twenty-one she gained custody of her younger sister who was thirteen years old. At the time her sister was in special needs classes. She now is in her last year of college.
Several moms who have taken workshops through F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement now have stable jobs and Ms. Rivers is recruiting them to help her mentor more moms and families. She says, “We want them to come back and pave the way for someone else.” Recently, in October 2012, F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement celebrated its anniversary by hosting an information session, recruiting volunteers, running a clothing drive, and focusing on getting the word out into the community.
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