Hi, Friend! I hope this finds you healthy and adapting well to the “new normal” in our country, as we each do our part to fight against this beastly virus. Your Saving Grace tribe is hanging in there too, and I couldn’t be more proud of how beautifully “Grace” has stepped up to keep herself and her sisters safe. We are currently serving a full house of brave young women who continue to work hard to change their lives—including one former Saving Grace resident who was displaced when her college dorm shut down last month.
A few weeks ago, when schools began to close down and people were being encouraged to stay home, our team began to assess everything we’d been planning for the spring. Trips for “Grace” were postponed, our Butterflies & Blooms fundraiser was adapted to an online event, and our spring newsletter was reimagined. These were big decisions made with our “BRAVE Values” in mind. One of those values is to be “Responsible” and here’s how we define it:
We set a high bar for ourselves and the girls we serve. We all work hard and recognize it is our responsibility to be good stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to us. We commit to this through:
• Doing what we say we will do.
• Owning our space.
• Being fiscally responsible.
So, friend, in light of this, you will not receive a printed copy of “Grace Repurposed” in your mailbox this month. Instead we will share the same great stories and beautiful photos you look forward to, all online! I hope you'll settle in and soak up these brave stories of "Grace."
Thank you for your patience, love, and continued support during this unprecedented time in our country. We often say “we can’t do this without you,” and that has never been more true than it is today! This program is made possible by individuals like YOU who choose to give for "Grace." Her life is changing through YOUR prayer and support—for generations to come!
God’s grateful girl,
Becky Shaffer Executive Director & Founder, Saving Grace NWA
P.S.—The beautiful spring photographs you'll see throughout our newsletter were captured by our talented friend, Ashton Rail Photography. Each "Grace" is wearing a hand-crafted flower crown made by our incredible partner, Samantha's Garden. Please be sure to give these gals some love!
Ciera's Story by Cherri Rodriguez
There’s a brilliant quote from Maya Angelou that I find to be especially relevant in this season of unexpected chaos. She says, “People will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.” This truth helps me speak a little gentler to my 5-year-old when he interrupts a conference call to ask me for gummy worms, or to my husband when the desk we’re sharing for work starts getting cluttered with guitar picks and notes scrawled on scrap paper.
But this truth has also been at play every time I’ve welcomed a brave young girl through the door of Saving Grace on move-in-day. For all her best efforts, she probably won’t remember my name or where her assigned bathroom is located on the hall—but that’s never the goal. My hope is that at the end of that first emotion-filled day, she’ll simply remember feeling seen, wanted, and loved.
Brown Eyed Girl
When I opened the door to Ciera for the first time, I remember thinking how mature and lovely she was. You can see it in this photo. She carries herself with such poise, strength, and confidence—traits that made her stand out from the majority of my “welcome home” experiences. But it wasn't just the way she carried herself, with her fluffy blanket scarf and her bright brown eyes. Her excitement and energy drew me in immediately and I couldn't wait to get to know her. She kept me at arms length for quite some time, though. Honestly, I didn’t blame her. People who were supposed to love and protect her used the name of Jesus to hurt and abuse her. Thinking about it makes me angry. Early Life When I asked what parts of her story she was willing to share with you, Ciera bravely offered up everything she could remember. After suffering nearly fatal injuries in a house fire, she struggles to retain memories from those early days. “They think my father burned the house down due to gang violence,” she shares. “My grandmother actually died saving my life and I survived—but just barely. They were going to pull the plug and that’s when DHS stepped in and took me. I was just a baby.” Ciera was officially adopted around the age of 5 or 6 but shares that it was far from the family life every little girl deserves. After suffering years of abuse, she was taken back into care and bounced around between multiple foster and group homes. “They would just put me wherever, “she says. “I didn’t have any of my biological siblings with me—no family—so it didn’t matter. I was put on the adoption page but nobody really wants to adopt an older kid—ya know?” A Place to Call Home
Eventually, Ciera found her way to Saving Grace through Chrysalis Scholars, an initiative started by Saving Grace in 2015 to help foster youth navigate college. “I needed all the things that college kids usually get from their families.” she tells me. “I needed supplies. I needed a tutor but couldn’t afford one. I had a place to stay but that was about it. I knew I might have to drop out of school without more support.” "Kara was my mentor in the Chrysalis program. She’s the one who was really there for me when I was struggling to make the decision to move to Saving Grace. To this day, I’m an outside-thinker because she taught me to do that. It was a big decision, but I completely trusted her and she blanketed me with her peace and calm. Eventually, I decided I had to do this for me.”
We Have a Senior
After almost 4 years in the Saving Grace program, Ciera is our current house senior and is studying to become a licensed counselor. She’s worked hard building up her savings account and recently bought her very first car, but her journey to senior phase hasn’t been easy. “At one point I had decided that maybe college just wasn’t for me. It was so hard to keep up and I kept failing class after class. I just wanted to be financially stable, so I thought about getting a minimum wage job at a grocery store or clothing store or something.” she says.
“I considered trade school—hair school, dental assisting, welding, coding—all the things you look into when you have no idea what you’re good at. But thank the Lord I have mentors like my mentor, Danielle, to tell me “Hey, it’s gonna be a journey, but I think college is gonna be the most rewarding thing for you.” She put my head on straight.” A Personal Calling “So, what’s next for you?” I ask her. “That’s what everybody wants to know!” she laughs. “I had a plan, but like most plans go in my life, God wants to do something else.”
“Okay, then what is drawing you to want to be a counselor?” I asked. “The mental health field is my calling,” she replies. “I want to do therapy in a more natural setting so that people don’t feel boxed in. I want to help them understand their mental health like Saving Grace helped me understand mine. I know what PTSD is now and how it affects me. I used to not be able to empathize with people. Now, I can pause and ask questions—I can question “why” instead of jumping into a reaction. I’m more in touch with my emotions and the emotions of others.”
“Jaclyn is my secret weapon.”, she says of a former Saving Grace staff member, turned counselor. “I talk to her a lot about the field. It goes back to the community I’ve found here—connections move you forward. I’m so grateful to Saving Grace for that. I don’t think I would’ve been able to make these kinds of connections on my own.”
“Speaking of connections, can you tell me what you've learned about love in your time at Saving Grace?” I asked. “Well…” she pauses for a moment. “I thought there was really just one kind of love. I thought love was submission—in the most horrible way.” she says. “I remember when I first came to Saving Grace and you would always tell me, “Ciera, I love you and I hope you have a great day.” And inside I would flip out. I was so not used to that. Where I come from, no one said that to me, so I was really suspicious of your motives and I just couldn’t get over it.”, she shares.
“Over time I learned that there are different kinds of love. Love is not just this messed up version that’s not actually love at all—there’s friendship love, motherly love, daughterly love. Real love is healthy.” she says. “I learned that love is patient and kind, love is gentle and peaceful. I think I still struggle a little bit, but now I know, this is what real love looks like.” A Voice of Reason Today, Ciera is working hard to complete her degree and holds a steady job to continue building her savings account. As part of her "Senior Seminar" at Saving Grace, she is putting together a work portfolio and making plans to job shadow social workers and counselors. She loves to spend time cooking and collecting new recipes, hiking, bullet journaling, abstract art journaling, and has quite an eye for fashion. Here are some fun things our program team had to say about Ciera...
"Ciera was that one for me. The one that took a whole year before she finally stopped when I spoke to her and spoke back to me. Her walls were fierce but she has always been the most determined young lady I have ever come across. She is the voice of reason in the house when other girls are looking for guidance on heartache. She uses her hurts to talk them through a pain that is too much for them. And she eats the hottest food! She always has this crazy bright red spicy popcorn—like every day! She's like a gourmet chef! She makes the most amazing meals that you can smell all through the house. Cooking is her calm and comfort in any chaos." —Karen, Resident Manager "Watching Ciera blossom into an independent, confident, and loving young woman has been incredibly fun! She has a thirst for life and learning that has been amplified by her participation in Senior Seminar. This girl has made waves that will be felt for generations of people in her life!! It truly is nothing short of amazing!" —Wendi, Program Director
"Ciera inspires me with her earnest and hard work in learning about herself and God. She is reliable, ambitious and introspective. She is never afraid to ask a hard question and is always growing. I hope she is so proud of where she has come and is excited to see where she is going. I know I am." —Maggie, Program Coach
I am grateful to know and love Ciera. I'm honored to be her friend and sister and to watch God be glorified in her story. There's another beautiful quote, this time from the book of 1 John, which says, "There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. We love because [God] first loved us." It is this perfect love—freely given— that allows each of us to give our own love away and somehow remain full—not just remembering the words "I Iove you", but also how they made us feel seen, wanted, and truly loved. Gratefully,
Cherri Rodriguez Director of Development, Saving Grace NWA
These are challenging times, but “Grace” is still pursuing her goals with all her might! Our girls meet 1:1 with Program Coach, Maggie, each week to set goals, assess progress, and troubleshoot together! Coaching from home is different but we are ALL making adjustments to stay on track and practice responsible social distancing!
Ash (pictured here in a virtual coaching session) has officially graduated from Freshman phase and is now a Sophomore in the Saving Grace program! In recent months she's gotten her first job, worked hard to put money in her savings, and has been faithfully volunteering in the community! In short, this girl is UNSTOPPABLE! We are so proud of her—and we treasure the positivity and leadership she brings! Recently, we asked Ash, and other girls in the program to share about their experience at Saving Grace. Here is what they had to say:
Ash, Saving Grace Sophomore
"Saving Grace has impacted my life greatly —I'd say they even saved it. If they hadn't accepted me into this program I don't think I'd be alive right now and that's 100% truth.
I had always dreamt of starting my own band and never thought it would ever be possible. [A church group] gifted me with a guitar this Christmas and I'm currently teaching myself how to play it. Music is something that has saved my life lots of times and I want to give that gift to others eventually. SG is helping me make that dream a reality."
Haley, Saving Grace Pink Shirt
"Saving Grace offers me a safe home so I can grow as a person and learn to be independent in a supportive environment. They've made my dream of becoming a teacher feel tangible. With the support of staff, I will continue to work hard to reach my goals."
Makayla, Saving Grace Sophomore "Saving Grace has given me hope. I've never been surrounded by so many strong women who ALL wanted to see me thrive. They took the time to understand my struggle and work to help me through it.
Before coming here, I could not crawl out of the hole I was in financially. With the support of this program, I've been able to pay off $5,000 in medical debt, and purchase my first vehicle.
I have a safe place to be when I need support during my surgeries. I've also learned to value the work and effort I've had to put in to make things happen."
Charisma, Saving Grace Freshman "Saving Grace has taught me to not let setbacks stop me but instead encourage me to work harder. I never thought I would be comfortable with adulthood or be able to trust myself to be financially stable and independent with hard work."
Lucy, Saving Grace Junior
"Living at Saving Grace has been a life changing experience and I am very grateful to take part in this program. I've accomplished so much and have tried so many things I had not done before! I love the staff here and how they encourage me to do everything to the best of my abilities! I get along well with the other girls and made new friends. This is the best place I can be right now!
Some of the dreams I'm working on achieving are getting my own car, attending beauty school, continuing to save up money, and graduating from Saving Grace. I'm really close to reaching these goals and I'm very excited!"
"My situation was so complicated, I honestly didn't think I would get in at Saving Grace. But once I did, I started looking into the career I wanted to do. Before coming here, I wanted to give up on my dream, but they helped me turn my dream into a plan and now I'm working forward to my career. A few weeks after I moved in, I applied for beauty school and got accepted to the Career Academy of Hair Design. I will graduate in October or November of 2020! That seemed impossible before I got into Saving Grace.
Get Involved with Saving Grace
Check out these other pages of our website for more information on how YOU can make a difference for "Grace!"
Photo Gallery Slideshow
Photos by: Ashton Rail Photography
Flower Crowns by: Samantha's Garden
Huge thanks to our incredibly generous sponsors!
These stories were brought to you with love from our generous Butterflies & Blooms 2020 sponsors! They support the work being done at SG because "Grace" matters to them—and they know she matters to YOU, too! Please help us show them our gratitude by supporting their businesses in the community! For a full list of sponsor websites, click here.