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“This time last year, I felt like I was locked away in a basement with no hope.”
These words, spoken by the 2012 BESS Valedictorian, have a powerful way of echoing through the hearts of every participant of BESS (Building Economic Self-Sufficiency). In her valedictory speech on June 15, Sheila George* was telling her own story, but it’s also a story that resonated with the hundreds of women whose lives have been changed by involvement with Interval House’s flagship program.
Sheila’s experiences parallel those of countless women escaping from a violent partner: “I had failed for the first time in my life. I thought I could make it work,” she remembers. “I had hoped that the abuse wouldn’t get worse. I had brought shame to myself and my family.”
Incredibly, Sheila found herself in a situation she would never have believed just a few short years earlier. Her closest family and friends had little idea what she was going through, and she had begun to believe her abuser’s claims that she was worthless and stupid and would always be alone if she left him.
But Sheila had not yet experienced the power and the hope that BESS was about to give her.
“My confidence was ruined and this program helped me rebuild it…I learned how to organize my job search and how to be confident in my interviews,” she explained. “Even what I am wearing today is from this program. I wouldn’t be able to afford something like this…”
She says she came to BESS thinking like a victim and feeling sorry for herself but graduated thinking like a survivor and proud of her accomplishments.
“I didn’t want the program to end,” Sheila says. “I learned a lot about myself…I am worth something, I’m not stupid, and I am far from being alone.”
Interval House’s Job Developer, Monique Clarke, gave Sheila the extra push she needed to keep going, and she eventually received teaching job offers from China, Japan and Nunavut, all within the space of one week.
Confidence and job skills weren’t all Sheila gained from her time at BESS. “I met people from different backgrounds and situations. All of them are amazing and strong women. Many of the women were able to smile despite the struggles of everyday life and the crosses they were carrying from the past.”
Sheila ended her address to her fellow graduates and guests by expressing thanks to all those who took part in the program with her and to the staff of Interval House for giving her the hope and strength to face and conquer her future.
Sheila closed with this favourite quote: “Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.” ~ Charles Jones
Interval House thanks our supporters who make BESS possible, as well as the sponsors of this year’s BESS Graduation:
Catering – Urban Source Catering
Wine – Tre Amici Imports
Audio-Visual – Centre Stage AV
Printing – Pressworks Productions Inc.
Invitations – Agents of Good
Inspiration Note – OJTBF
Floral – Your Commission Today
Design – Mimi Vuong
*Not her real name