Meet Erin Farrell of Struggles to Strengths
I was born and raised in a small New England town, on the border of Nee Hampshire and Vermont. While it certainly had societal issues of its own, it was isolated from a lot of the large and pressing issues of today. In an all white, rural country setting, I didn’t see a ton of big issues like racism or homelessness first hand. Struggles looked different.
When I came to Atlanta for college, it truly changed my life and how I saw things. Issues like institutionalized racism , gentrification, and police brutality became real for me. And it sparked a fire and passion in me to be a part of the dialogue and a part of the solution, not the problem.
Over the course of the next few years I volunteers in different settings with underserved communities, eventually moving to la. Living in Los Angles really drove home how severe income and housing inequality is, how real of an issue hunger and access to medical care is, and just how wide spread that trauma is in terms of who it impacts.
Eventually, I ended back in Atlanta with an opportunity to really soul search and find my passions and calling. It lead to an amazing couple of years with a local organization doing art expression with homeless youth. It gave me the time to get my feet wet and really decide, yes, this is what I want to do.
Struggles to Strengths was formed in October of 2019. I was still trying to figure out exactly what path I wanted to take the organization in terms of programming. I knew I wanted to focus on opportunities to promote and cultivate healing, resilience, and self-sufficiently. I wanted to include access and inclusion to exploring passions and new skills, as well as the chance to learn things that would lead to financial empowerment and freedom. I had a moment of reflection and just asked myself- If I boiled down exactly what I’m passionate about in this field, exactly my favorite part of the journey with our families would be, what would that look like? For me, it was that breakthrough moment, the one where enough healing has occurred that a new identity has formed beyond past trauma, the one where wounds are closed enough to feel like the bleeding has stopped, the one wheee trauma gets turned to triumph, and struggled to strengths.
It was a really beautiful moment of clarity and purpose for me, and definitely the seed planted that eventually blossomed.
I definitely wouldn’t say it’s been a smooth road, but I don’t think there’s really ever a smooth road when you’re following your dream and passions. You just have to keep showing up and putting in the effort, and eventually, the dam breaks and things come together. There are a lot of moving pieces running a non profit, especially a new one, and especially one that has multiple layers of programming. We don’t just do one thing. So I find it’s really helpful to focus on what is being accomplished and not what isn’t, or what still needs to be. It’s also been helpful to make peace with the fact that you can plan and plan and plan, but in the end, you have to be able to be flexible and adapt to reality versus what you were aiming or planning for.
Like any other small and new non profit, funding is a constant hurdle, especially for transportation. Our families and youth reside in shelters, or income based housing, or are experiencing homelessness to various degrees. What that translates to is about event we do, we have to make sure the costs of Uber or Lyft are factored in. It’s pretty limiting. But we are hoping to have a successful campaign later this year to raise funds for a center- sanctuary really- a place where our families and youth in particular can be safe, a space of their own that has meals, and homework help, laundry and clothing, opportunity to explore interests and curiosities. Just a place they can feel supported and empowered and cared about.
Struggles to Strengths is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity located here in Atlanta, Georgia. That means donations to us are tax deductible, and we are considered a public charity. We serve exposed and vulnerable families recovering from long term and reoccurring trauma through trauma informed care and healing centered engagement. Our goal is to cultivate healing, resilience, and self sustainability.
All of the families we serve are 125 percent or more below the poverty line. The reside in shelters or income based housing programs. What this translates to is our families expenses exceed their resources. Because of the financial constraints and limitations, the youth in our program don’t often get the luxury of childhood experiences, let alone the skills they need to transform their lives. We aim to change both of those things, strategically.
Our programming focuses around inclusion to opportunity, foundation building, and trauma recovery. We have youth mentorship, mom to mom peer mentorship, the art of adulting (learning life skills like cooking, nutrition, financial literacy, and overall self sustainability), foundation building (donations from clothing to food to household items and more), and our youth photography program. It takes a village of people to help teach and create the bridge between where are families are today, and where they want to be, to turn trauma to triumph, and struggles to strengths.
We are definitely anchored by mentorship- all our youth are matched with mentors in addition to having me. I check in with them several times a week. Trauma informed care and healing centered engagement definitely make up our core. Trauma informed care is a structural standpoint and understanding that “it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what’s happened to you.” It tales adverse childhood experiences into account, and truly factors in how trauma changes your mind and body. Healing centered engagement is pairing healing activities that revolve around our youth’s passions with activities that can help reformists their identities beyond their past and current situations. One of the best examples of that in terms of programming happens to be one of our programs that I think is most unique and distinctive- our youth photography program.
It’s a really fun, dynamic program that has a lot of benefits, and our youth truly love. The program is for our teens, and stemmed out of their passions for photography and just visual expression and engagement in general- their age group is so oriented around YouTube and Tiktok and just visual self expression. I needed a vantage point to combine trauma informed care with healing centered engagement in a way that could not only help with indemnity formation outside of trauma, but be empowering and provide opportunities for them.
It’s really evolved and blossomed. We started with free shoots of local dancers to learn lighting, posing, and angles. Fast forward a year, and the kids are learning about marketing, interpersonal business skills, and being paid and compensated a livable wage of $15 an hour plus tips for their work. I’m incredibly proud of their growth and raw talent. They truly take some phenomenal shots, but even more importantly, they’ve had a huge increase in their confidence for their lives post high school. They identify as photographers now, and truly believe in themselves. As they should— seriously, they’re so incredibly talented.
This has actually been a learning process for me. I wasn’t sure originally what success would look like. Would it be good grades? Commitment and involvement in the programming? Positive commentary from social workers, teachers, or parents?
Eventually, I realized it was as simple as the same concept that helped me find our way in the begging- turning trauma to triumph, and struggles to strengrhs.
We evaluate success in terms of healing, and stability. It looks like a teen being capable of holding down a full time job, and keeping grades up. It’s a mom committed to improving her families health and wellness. It’s a teen finding healthier coping mechanisms and a safer reality. Success for us is the opportunity to move beyond circumstances. It’s moving out of the shelter. It’s finding normal after finally leaving a domestic abuse site Tion. It’s about figuring out the life you want, and finding a path you can build to get there. It’s about turning your struggles to strengrhs.