NORCROSS — Verizon Wireless awarded a $12,000 grant Friday to the Norcross-based Women Are Dreamers, Too program.
The non-profit organization provides counseling and business training for survivors of domestic abuse and assists them in becoming small-business owners. The money will be used to fund counseling programs for victims of domestic violence and for the organizations’s Micro-Enterprise Training Center program.
“We applaud Verizon Wireless’ commitment to programs like ours that specifically address the needs of domestic violence survivors and help them become economically self-sufficient,” said program founder Cindy Williams.
Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest wireless service provider, donated more than $3.7 million last year to domestic violence shelters and prevention programs across the country.
Gwinnett Gab appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post
By Shelley Davis
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.
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.”
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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Domestic abuse aid
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Verizon Wireless recently donated $10,000 to Women Are Dreamers Too Inc., a nonprofit organization that trains and helps domestic abuse victims to become small-business owners.
The money will be used to help expand the organization's Micro Enterprise Training Center program, which operates in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The 12-week program helps women land jobs as well as build their business acumen.
Founded by Cindy Williams, Women Are Dreamers Too aims to help domestic abuse survivors reach economic self-sufficiency.
In Gwinnett, the organization is targeting immigrant women in particular because they tend to suffer privately because of cultural traditions, language barriers and a host of other reasons, Williams said. Williams is working with the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights organization that has an Atlanta office, and other advocacy groups to reach Latinos. The Gwinnett office opened in December.
It's a massive problem because the cultural barrier is such that the things we see as a big deal, a person of a different background or ethnic group may think is nothing," Williams said. "The man is supposed to be the head of the household, and outsiders are not supposed to poke their nose in family affairs.
"It's difficult to break that barrier with . . . ethnic groups," she continued. "For them, domestic violence often is something that isn't talked about."
Meanwhile, Women Are Dreamers Too Inc. will hold its second annual graduation luncheon from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Norcross. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is the special guest.
For more information about Women Are Dreamers Too Inc., visit www.wadt.org or call 404 477-4211
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The woman said her boyfriend had slashed her arm with a knife and that she had a police report to prove it.
She faced eviction from her apartment, so she called Cindy Williams, founder of Women Are Dreamers, Too (WADT), a Norcross-based nonprofit that helps abused women. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Maybe not. The woman who called Williams obviously had, and she lived in Burbank, Calif.
“They call us from all over the country,” Williams told me. “We check out the things they tell us to make sure they are legitimate. Most of them are sincere. And they need help.”
In 1998, WADT started as a volunteer job placement service for Atlanta-area women who lived in homeless shelters. When Williams would dig into the clients’ lives, she uncovered a recurring theme.
“Domestic violence. Domestic violence. Domestic violence,” Williams said. “They all were reverting back to the same cycle of abuse. And they were coming to us in droves.”
Williams, an economics professor on leave from Georgia Perimeter College, knew such cycles had to be broken. In order for that to happen, the women needed to be self-sufficient. Independent.
Empowerment, Williams reasoned, might be the best way to keep women from returning to an abusive mate. So WADT expanded on programs to make its clients employable.
Better yet, it trained them to be employers. And that’s what WADT has been doing for the past decade out of rented office space in Gwinnett.
The organization has a network to put abused women in contact with resources and social service agencies that can assist with jobs, shelter, food and medical assistance if necessary.
It collects used cellphones and gives them to clients.
And about twice a year, the nonprofit offers a free 12-week entrepreneurial program on business ownership. Participants learn how to start a business, from idea to reality. They learn the ABCs, everything from record-keeping to Web page design to marketing.
“I want them to create jobs to touch lives in their neighborhoods, so we can have viable communities,” Williams said. “The society I dream of and perceive of can be realized if we break the dependency, get women in these situations on their feet. If these women and their children don’t become contributors to society, we have to pay the taxes and provide the welfare that deplete the system.”
WADT’s directors want to buy the Gwinnett building the nonprofit rents in, and turn it into a comprehensive training facility for like-minded nonprofits.
It would offer 24-hour service that includes pantries for food and clothes. The first floor might be converted into mini-apartments for families.
After-school and summer programs would be offered to children.
Of course, all this takes money. WADT has launched a capital campaign that concludes with a black-tie gala May 9 at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. Raffle ticket buyers have a chance to win a 2009 Mercedes C300W.
“The need is growing,” Williams said, “so we have to change our paradigm.”
Before I leave the office, she tells me she has to call the young woman from Burbank who had contacted WADT. She wants her to fax the police report of the alleged knife incident. The woman has already given Williams her landlord’s number.
“I am going to ask them to give us 30 days to find her some resources and help before they evict her,” she said.
“I just can’t cut these women loose. These women are my passion.”
For more information, visit www.wadt.org.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The “B” stands for Blondine; the”J,” for Jessie.
“Sweet Basil” was added to let diners know there’s more than country cooking on the menu.
“We offer a delectable fusion of country and Italian cuisine,” said Blondine Giles, of B.J.’s Sweet Basil Cafe, which opens today in College Park. “We just didn’t want to do all Southern food.”
B.J.’s may have a College Park address, but it’s rooted in Norcross. The foundation was laid at Women Are Dreamers, Too, a nonprofit organization that helps women who have suffered domestic violence.
Nearly four years ago, Giles was down and out, struggling, living in subsidized housing. She met Cindy Williams, the founder of WADT, an economics professor on leave from Georgia Perimeter College.
“When I met her, I had gone through some changes in my life,” Giles told me. “She told me that this program was something I should look at doing.”
So Giles enrolled in the nonprofit’s free, 12-week entrepreneurial program. It shows women how to take ideas from concept to reality. They learn how to draft business plans, keep records, organize a company and manage employees — fundamentals you need to be a boss.
Giles completed the program in 2003 and carried a dream of her own business with her as she continued to work at an area hotel. She rose through the ranks — banquet waitress, banquet captain —and eventually landed a catering sales position. That’s where she befriended Jessie Ruck, an executive chef, the “J” in B.J.’s.
Eventually, the friends started a catering business out of Giles’ home. Business grew. Giles toyed with quitting her hotel job and going full time into the catering business.But to do that, she would have to borrow money to set up an office and buy equipment.
But at WADT, she’d had something drilled into her: Don’t borrow money to start a business. It eats away profit.
So Giles bided her time.
She and Ruck had a catering client who owned some hotels and motels in College Park. The hotel owners also owned the building next door that used to be a Mexican restaurant. They asked Giles if she’d be interested in opening a place where hotel guests could eat.
“We talked about it and prayed about it,” said Giles, who spent Monday getting ready for today’s grand opening. “Everything we put into this place, we earned through the catering service.”
Now she gives back. She returns to the nonprofit occasionally to talk to women who are in the same spot she once was — unsure of self, ability, life.
Giles has lived the message she gives. “Keep your head up,” she tells them.”If you hang in there, good things will come, but you have to be a willing soul.” And at her restaurant, her staff of eight workers are people in need of a break, an opportunity, a dream.
She got hers four years ago, with the help of Women Are Dreamers, Too. For more information about Women Are Dreamers, Too, please call404 477-4211