Sarah Conner is the Vice President of Programs at BridgeBuilders, including the Bridges of Hope life skills and employment training. This past Friday we graduated our latest Bridges of Hope life skills and employment training class. For those that don’t know, every five weeks up to 15 students walk through this training, with the opportunity to be placed in a job with one of our corporate partners.
Each and every class is unique, and this group of 10 graduates collectively carried a theme: New. We have loved walking through transformation with many of these students, as they work to change their lives for the better. One of these students is Shauffe.
Shauffe brought a spirited presence to the class, with her joy spilling out onto everyone she encountered. It took a lot for Shauffe to find us though, something we believe has been transformative for her.
“When I came here, it was more than I expected. I didn’t realize it was the life skills and employment training,” she says now two years after first hearing about our program. “I had a friend released from prison I brought to get help, but found myself filling out the application.”
Shauffe’s BridgeBuilders experience became significant one day early on in the class, a day which easily could have derailed her commitment to a changed life. After waking up to a notice on her door, she instinctively thought of her old life.
“I come from a background of stripping, prostitution, gang-related, drug-selling,” said Shauffe, “which was the first thing that came to me to do when I saw the notice.”
Shauffe reached for her phone, planning to pursue an opportunity for quick income. The phone suddenly died. Still discouraged, Shauffe looked for more excuses to stay home, but every attempt to convince herself not to go to class failed.
“I am one of those people that gets discouraged easily, I knock myself down,” she says remembering the day. Yet she continually felt the pull to go to class, all morning long.
Shauffe arrived, and though she attempted to hide her distress, was found by William Lee, one of our trainers. Mr. Lee had a simple challenge: let me see how strong your faith is. This challenge drove Shauffe to prayer, and that same day the feeling of weight lifted from her shoulders.
“I teach my kids that all you need is a mustard seed of faith, but as soon as I get distracted it’s like I don’t have any faith, I let everything go…through this I have learned to pray about something and let it go.”
As quickly as things came unraveled that morning, they began to be restored. Through an approved benevolence request, Shauffe was able to get the money she needed to handle her deficit. She remained committed to her training, encouraging multiple students to remain faithful.
“This place is more than life skills, you will get in touch with God, for those that don’t have God, you can find Him here, I promise you that…but my communication skills have come a long way, I’ve learned to dress accordingly, I have learned self-discipline, common sense.”
She is also experiencing physical healing (sickle cell is moving back toward trait at last doctor’s visit), and has connected with other Bridges of Hope graduates she remembers from her former life. Shauffe even plans to go back to school beginning this summer.
“When you’re fighting something, the whole company, all of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders fights with you. It goes from the counseling, to the life skills, the communication, the Bible, all of it.”
But possibly the biggest transformation has been her commitment to God.
“I am so strong, because of the Lord, it took coming in this building to gain my faith back, to understand that God doesn’t count against us for every negative thing we do. We learned to repent, it’s so much to grasp, we’re not alone here.”
“I have learned to accept my mistakes, to know that my past is making me what I am today, that my past helps me look forward to my future. I wake up every morning at 5:30 and read that Bible, I have to read the scriptures, and when I don’t understand it, I know He’s going to give me an understanding.”
“When I first got here, I was very iffy. Now, I’m sure. I know that, through Christ, I can do anything, with Christ on my side I can get there. I have nothing to look backward for, I understand now you have to look forward at all times. He’s going to guide my footsteps and take me everywhere that He wants me to be.”