Natasha’s days are spent helping women who are in the vulnerable position she once found herself in. The HER Resiliency Center’s program provides women 18-25 with job placement, housing, substance abuse treatment, therapy options, and much more. The HER community is full of compassion, empathy, and vulnerability, and Natasha is dedicated to ensuring no woman falls through the cracks and has the individualized care and attention she needs to succeed.
Can you tell me about the women you serve at the Center and the need for your services?
We support young women ages 18-25 who are overcoming various forms of hardship. Men and women experience trauma and healing differently, so we wanted to focus on creating a community of women supporting women. The women we serve have been homeless, sexually exploited, are young mothers, or have left the foster care system. Our program is 24-months and helps women find housing, jobs, and get healthy and clean. We work with partners who provide EMDR, somatic therapy, and trauma-informed yoga, which can be less traumatizing than talk therapy but still help rewire the brain. We have an 87% success rate for women getting and keeping a job for 6 months or longer. There are no “graduates” of the HER Center, everyone is part of the community forever.
How did you decide to start HER Resiliency Center?
I grew up with a teenage mother and a drug addict father, which led me to leave home at a young age. I was couch surfing and totally unprepared for the world. I started selling my body, picked up drugs, and lived in a homeless shelter. I thankfully got clean 20 years ago and took what I learned about community and empowerment to start this. I used to use a lot of the sensational parts of my personal story to build credibility with donors and the women we serve. They trust me more knowing I have been in their shoes. Now, however, I realize that my job is to model different behavior and show them the resilience that is found in staying clean, having strong mental health, and maintaining healthy relationships. People aren’t used to seeing women with my kind of background making it to this level of success. My job is to do whatever I can to pave the way for other women to do the same.
What policy changes are you advocating for?
I never would have thought that when I started this so many years ago that I would be able to influence policy changes. We’re very focused on tackling issues around sexual exploitation and economic empowerment. Part of that is getting back to basics so people can be comfortable talking about sex and anatomy. When we expanded our work to include Baltimore in 2019, I was shocked at the amount of women who didn’t know the proper terminology for their bodies or what a condom was. When women are in a strong economic position, they have the choice to avoid selling their bodies. There have to be policies in place that protect women and promote their economic success.
What is the goal for women leaving the HER Center?
When people age out of foster care, they lose that community and relationship with their case worker. At HER, we don’t want that. We treat our women as individuals, not as cases, and each woman has a different path to success that she is able to map. A lot of our women go from being a participant in the program to coming back and helping others get through it as mentors. It’s important that our women are not dependent on social services for survival. When they leave, they have been through skill development, job training, community building, and trauma healing. Our women are successful by leaning into the program and not being afraid to do the hard work. Through vulnerability, they are able to make sustainable change.