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“I always wanted to be that voice for the people without voices. I had that foundation of love that said you are special. Walk with your head up. You have so much to offer the world.”
Dr. Kellie Warren grew up in Ohio. Her family was loving, but not all of her experiences were easy. Warren was bused across town to school where she was one of the only African Americans. She was frequently the victim of racism and verbal attacks.
“They can destroy you. They are even more damaging than physical abuse at the time because once you begin to believe in the messages, they shape who you are. That journey of negative messaging happens to us a lot younger than it does for boys.”
Warren’s parents encouraged her to focus on education and constantly talked of all of her great potential.
“In those settings where people didn’t believe in me, I believed in myself,” she says. “When I look over my life, without having people believe in me, expose me to new opportunities, I could have very well been another statistic of a negative girl coming out of the inner city.”
Now, as CEO of Florence Crittenton in Phoenix, Arizona, Warren helps girls see the value and purpose in their own lives. For 119 years, the organization has been looking out for girls, empowering them, supporting them, and listening to their voices.
“We want to tell these girls that validation has to come from within. Your environment cannot be in charge of defining your worth.”
Girls as young as 10 go to Florence Crittenton, either through state services or through families in crisis reaching out directly for help. Many of the girls have histories of trauma, exploitation, abuse and neglect. At Florence Crittenton they are provided a safe place to live and surrounded by people who want to see them turn their lives around.
It’s a tough job, Warren admits. “When you have experienced a lot of negativity and have a pessimistic outlook, you are not going to change overnight.” But they stay true to the mission of safety, hope and opportunity.
And now they are getting some high-profile support from a woman who knows what it is like to walk through adversity and see the other side. Kidnapping survivor Jaycee Lee Dugard is teaming up with Florence Crittenton to share her personal story.
Several years ago Dugard wrote a book, “A Stolen Life” and now travels the country speaking about her ordeal and how she managed to put her life back together.
The kidnapping happened in 1991 as Dugard was walking to a school bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, California. She was 11 years old at the time. Dugard’s kidnapper, a convicted sex offender, kept her in a concealed area behind his house for 18 years. During that time, she had two daughters. Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were arrested in 2009 and later convicted and sent to prison where they belong. Dugard was left to pick up the pieces of her life.
Dr. Warren says her resiliency is extraordinary.
“She is an example of not letting the oppressor win. She has decided to become a champion.” This is an important message for the girls at Florence Crittenton — and well beyond— about making choices. “As long as they still have life,” Warren says, “there is still hope.”
For more on the mission of Florence Crittenton you can visit their website www.florcrit.org