The positive energy and excitement for the first WINGS graduation ceremony was evident in the smiling faces of the participants, who had collaborated to plan the virtual event. Wearing mortar boards and novelty “GRAD” glasses, the new graduates assembled on July 21 via Zoom to mark the culmination of their participation in the Welcoming and Inspiring New Growth as Sisters (WINGS) Restorative Community Mentorship Program. Also in attendance at the July 21 virtual celebration were the mentors, program leaders, current LifeWay leadership, Sr. Joan Dawber, the advisory committee, parish coordinators, and members of the wider parish community. LifeWay WINGS supporter Nicky Hilton joined to offer congratulations and encouragement to the graduates.
After a warm welcome from Marion Kendall, LifeWay Network Executive Director, and brief remarks by Maressa Jaikumar, WINGS Program Coordinator, the ceremony opened with a worship song sung a capella by the daughter of one of the graduates. Central to the event was an opportunity for both mentors and mentees to share their experiences with the program. Mentors, specifically, were asked to share one or two inspirational qualities about their graduate mentees. Many mentors felt they had grown as a result of their relationship with their mentees and were inspired by the resilience of these women. One mentor expressed that her mentee had become her friend and a source of encouragement.
In addition to learning valuable life skills, relationships forged with mentors were key to the success of the WINGS program. One participant said, “Even though my mentor was busy with work and raising her kids, she was always available whenever I called.” Another mentee was grateful for her mentor’s help during tough times. One resourceful mentor/survivor team collaborated to launch a business, sewing face masks (https://www.facebook.com/c2masks/), beautifully illustrating the benefit of this empowering partnership.
The graduates affirmed that the 24-week program created a community of support that increased their confidence. Modeled on a Restorative Community Mentorship program developed by the Beck Institute, the WINGS program has three overarching goals: (1) increased empowerment, (2) increased self-sufficiency, and (3) for all survivors to have no new experiences of exploitation or trafficking. Weekly sessions focused on enhancing emotional regulation, as well as developing business soft skills such as public speaking, facilitation, negotiation and research. Weekly dinners held at the host church fostered a sense of community and included reflection time and sharing sessions facilitated by a licensed clinical social worker. At these gatherings, the women were encouraged to share their personal stories in an empowering way. Although in-person meetings ended in March, due to the pandemic, the group continued to meet virtually. During this time, the participants created their final project as a group: a Pandemic Survival Guide, in which participants shared their coping strategies as a way to give back to the LifeWay community and others who may be struggling.
To conclude the celebration, facilitator Alex Khoobani offered words of encouragement and shared a poem (see below). As with most graduations, the emotions were complicated. The graduates admit they will miss their weekly meals and the “family” connection, but they are ready to embark on a new phase of their healing journey.
In spring 2021, a new cohort of survivors will enter the WINGS program, further expanding the restorative community. If you would like to be involved as a mentor or volunteer, please contact: Maressa Jaikumar email@example.com
Believing in You
by Catherine Pulsifer, ©1997
Never stop believing in yourself.
When others doubt, don’t you.
Do what you love to do,
No one knows better than you.
Life is too short to live others’ dreams
Follow your own dream
Push yourself to reach your goals
And live the life you once dreamed.
Trust your instincts.
Be true to yourself.
You know what is right for you.
Never give up or give in.
Forget the words “I don’t know how”.
You can learn,
You can research,
You can do.
Your mind is powerful.
When you believe you can.
You will find a way
You won’t waste a day.
Persist and persevere
Do not fear
Because if you believe in you
You will find dreams can come true.
May all your dreams turn into goals,
Believe in yourself.
And remember, all of life is a choice.
The decision is up to you.
Believe in Yourself, Dare To Be
Whatever You Want To Be!