People who have known one of our Strong Families Institute grads both before and after their SFI experience often say to me, “What are you guys doing over there? I can’t believe the transformation in this woman!”
Over our years of work and experience at My Safe Harbor we have refined our perspective both on what we do and how we do it. We still are focusing on single mothers, but the big picture for us has always been about strong families. We began this work because we believed (and still do) that all the negative statistics coming from our neighborhood in Anaheim were the result of weak or dysfunctional families, particularly unprepared or irresponsible parents. In our neighborhood, that is overwhelmingly mothers. We often joke that what we’re doing is embarrassingly NOT earthshaking: we’re mothering mothers who didn’t have adequate role models and are struggling in raising their own children. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work.
As we have learned and adapted and refined, we have zeroed in on four “pillars” that we use to evaluate and develop everything we do: Dignity, Dreams, Strong Families, Hope. They have become our mantra. They’re on our publications, painted on the wall, and stamped on our hearts…and we think they are why we are having such success. Let me explain:
Dignity: Webster defines dignity as a “state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.” We put this quality first, because we believe that all the others come from it. When a person feels worthy, honored and esteemed, they are more likely to be open to relationships, to opportunities, to challenges…to change. People make the choice to change only when they believe they can change. Being respected, feeling capable, belonging, being surrounded by support and being expected to succeed are the building blocks of dignity that give anyone the power to make changes in their lives. Unfortunately, too many of the institutions in our society today do just the opposite. The clear (though unintended) message is often: you are not respected, you are not capable, you don’t belong, support is short or missing altogether and you are not expected to succeed. At My Safe Harbor we are committed to changing that. Every woman has to believe she is capable of change and worthy of the investment others are making to help her achieve it. One of our most often used phrases is, “You CAN do this!” “I can’t do this” is not allowed around here unless you add “yet.” Dignity is the required fuel that propels the change journey.
Dreams: Webster again: “Something that you have wanted very much to do, be, or have for a long time.” One of the heartaches we experience is how many of our mothers don’t dream…many of them never have. In the very first session of the Strong Families Institute, one of the discussions for the class is “What do you really want?” It is striking how few of them can answer that. It is not unusual to hear them answer, “No one has ever asked me that.” Planning for the future, believing that there are dreams to dream AND to achieve is another important ingredient in change. Change doesn’t happen without a plan. It’s tough to make a plan if you don’t have a goal. It’s tough to make a goal if you don’t know what you really want. The second half of the “what do you want” question is “And what are you willing to do to get it?” Great dreams are what motivate and shape great, hard work. Igniting dreams is what provides the road map for the change journey.
Strong Families: This is the mission of My Safe Harbor. We are committed to empower, equip and expect that these mothers can and will do whatever it takes to make changes and create an environment where both they and their children can thrive. You will notice that we put it before hope. The reason for that is simple practicality. As each mother introduces incremental change, day by day, week by week, the resulting improvement in family life is palpable. Success breeds success and keeps the momentum going even in the midst of the often wondered question, “Are we there yet?” Until each mother experiences the exhilaration of the breakthroughs in change, they will still be somewhat skeptical. We have built this program to be sure that they are regularly having “aha!” moments. Simple, small, measurable steps begin to add up and provide the evidence that not only CAN I do this, but I AM doing this. Watching your family get stronger is a heady experience, especially when you know you had something to do with it! THAT will sustain you when the change journey gets long.
Hope: “To want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true.” Hope is not just wishing things will get better. The fertile soil that is required for hope is tilled with dignity and dreams and success. Hope grows best and proves most precious when it is watered by the experience of fulfilled dreams and accomplished goals…when there is evidence to keep hope alive. For people of faith, hope is the anchor for daily living. For those who have not experienced the faithfulness of God or the fruit of their faithfulness to God, hope is too often just wishful thinking. For those who have, it is the reason they persevere in the face of every difficulty. We live lives of hope because we have experienced hope fulfilled. THAT is our ultimate goal. Helping women live with hope because they have experienced hope fulfilled is the most precious resource they can receive. Hope reinforces the dignity to dream and build their families and to believe that the horizon ahead is filled with promise for them and for their children.
Dignity, Dreams, Strong Families, Hope. For us it is more than just a mission statement, we believe it is our calling….for such a time as this.