By Alyssa Beck, advocacy specialist, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center
In honor of MLK Week of Service, United Way is featuring stories from agencies working to create a community of opportunity and equality for families and individuals across Northeast Florida. Check out how Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a United Way partner working to advance the rights of girls, young women, and youth who identify as female, especially those impacted by the justice system, changed the trajectory of a young woman’s life.
I came to the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center at the age of 19. Some people would’ve said I was a lost cause and there was no repairing me because of the trauma I endured, but in reality, the systems I was placed in never gave me the chance to work towards healing. The systems, counselors, courts and other adults in my life, assumed I needed certain things but never asked me about what I needed.
By the time I arrived at the Policy Center, I had more than my share of challenging life experiences. I ran away over 15 times. I was arrested more than 10 times. I was sent to three juvenile justice commitment programs. I had been a victim of human trafficking twice. I was arrested for standing up against my trafficker. I faced life in prison and been on solitary confinement for two years. And I was sent to foster care with foster parents who only cared about the money I brought them.
I was hurting, to say the least.
I remember walking into the doors of the Policy Center thinking they would be no different than the countless other people who failed me, hurt me or re-traumatized me. I sat in a counseling session on my first day and ended up telling my counselor things I never told anyone else. Her response was one I never expected to hear. She told me I was beautiful and I was Alyssa. I wasn’t the labels society placed on me: child prostitute, criminal, bad girl. I was ALYSSA and that wasn’t something I was used to hearing. My own name became disconnected from me. So, I detached myself from it.
My healing with the Policy Center was different than anything I’ve ever experienced. Unlike other counselors who told me what my treatment plan would be, my counselor allowed me to choose my own journey to healing and didn’t force me into areas of healing I wasn’t ready for. I had a mutual relationship with my counselor that empowered me by giving me choice. I was the expert at my own life and the Policy Center valued that.
Over the next few years, the Policy Center stayed by my side and provided me with resources and advocacy that included things such as: connecting me with a lawyer to help fight my criminal case against my trafficker, standing alongside of me when my trafficker was sentenced, and filling the courtroom with women when I was being sentenced for standing up against the man who trafficked me. But most of all, they provided me with love and acceptance.
Today, five years after coming to the Policy Center, I am an advocacy specialist and I use my voice to uplift the voices and experiences of other young people who have been failed by the people and systems supposed to help them.
Today, I am an equal at the Policy Center and have women who stand beside me and respect me as a professional and as an expert. They don’t feel bad for me or look at me as a charity case.
Today, I am valued. I am beautiful. I have a voice.
With the support of United Way, agencies like Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center are able to help individuals in Northeast Florida have hope and reach their full potential. Through the power of partnerships, we ensure families and individuals have access to timely health-care services, better health outcomes and fewer health disparities. To learn how you can join United Way in the fight for community change, visit unitedwaynefl.org/get-involved.