By Shelley Davis
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Gwinnett Daily Post/Anthony Stalcup


Cindy Williams is the executive director of Women Are Dreamers Too, a non-profit organization that helps victims of domestic violence start their own businesses.

NORCROSS
The holiday season can be a tough time for abused mothers and wives, as Cindy Williams knows all too well.
 
With the help of more than $5,000 in grants, Williams hopes her non-profit organization, Women Are Dreamers Too, can provide counseling and raise awareness to prevent a few of the black eyes and broken jaws she sees each year.
“The husband has all this pressure, as the only breadwinner, to provide all the things our culture tells us we need at Christmas time. When they can’t do it, the frustration is usually taken out on us,” Williams said.

The grant money — from Publix, Target, Gannett Foundation, and General Motors Doraville — will go toward providing extra counseling for the women in the Dreamers program, who are learning how to start their own businesses.
Williams, a professor at Georgia Perimeter College, started Women Are Dreamers Too as a grassroots organization in Atlanta in 1998. She expanded into a Norcross office last year.
 
These women often have left, or are trying to leave, their husband or partner and are returning to the workplace for the first time in many years. They have the skills and desire to start over in life, but often their home life makes it impossible for them to hold down a 9-5 job.
 
Starting a business is the perfect answer for these women, Williams said. They can often run the business out of their home, or bring their children to work with them, which eliminates the daunting task of finding child care.

Williams and her staff put the women through a rigorous 12-week course teaching them how to build the foundation for a business. After they graduate, most of the women succeed in getting businesses up and running, and become anything from florists to caterers to perfumers.
One foot in front of the other
Audree Moore graduated from the inaugural class of Women Are Dreamers Too in 2002. She worked for 12 years as a quality engineer for NASA before her marriage fell apart while she was pregnant with her son. When he was born with cerebral palsy, Moore had to quit working with NASA to care for the child.
 
After spending years on welfare, Moore turned to Dreamers as a last resort to help her get back on her feet. Her goal was to put her older child through college and to buy a van for her disabled child.
A brief stint with a perfume company helped her learn some of the basics of the business, and she used that knowledge along with Williams’ training to help start making lotions, perfumes and herbal therapeutic massage oils in her Decatur home.
She describes her business, DeVine Bath and Body Collections, as somewhere in between Estee Lauder and Bath and Body Works.
 
The Women are Dreamers Too primed Moore for the business world, she said. She and the other students learned how to incorporate their business, how to secure funding, and how to market their business, including how to build a Web site.
Moore still runs DeVine on a shoestring budget, and most of her customers come from word of mouth. But she said, “You never give up. You have to keep raising your head off the pillow every day, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

 
Facing reality
The program’s blend of practical training and personal counseling ensures students will have a good shot at success. After graduation, students can choose to run their business out of the Women Are Dreamers building, where they are “incubated” by Williams and her staff. Eight women are currently taking up that offer.
But even if they don’t stick around, the staff gives each woman two years of postgraduate support, Williams said.

“Dr. Williams teaches the real reality of becoming a business owner. She told us we have to eat, sleep, and drink our business,” said Blondine Giles, an October graduate who runs Mary Ellen’s Personal Touch Catering out of Union City. “But if I ever have questions, they’re always there to help.”


And Williams said she handles questions on anything from how to get a loan to how to deal with an ex-husband showing up at the workplace.


“The program helps you deal with everything you’ve gone through, and it teaches you how to become independent again,” said Audrey Trottie, a July graduate who runs an interior design business. “It’s a wonderful organization that’s there to help you get on your feet.”
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