PATERSON, NJ - “The most beautiful group of women anywhere,” Jennifer Brady, Executive Director of Oasis- A Haven for Women and Children, called the nearly 300 women that attend the local organization’s daily classes ranging from GED preparedness to English as a second language, and extending to real job skills learning including food service and bank teller certifications, Thursday.
The gathering was the annual graduation, or “empowerment” celebration, of the local non-profit social service agency which serves over 700 women and children in their Mill Street headquarters daily.
Focusing on empowering women and children to break the cycle of poverty, the Oasis approach is a holistic one, Brady has explained previously, helping women meet many of the demands of parenthood by providing not just the education but also childcare and meals.
The floral centerpieces that adorned each of the tables added to the “beauty” in the room and provided a perfect metaphor, all seeming to bloom brighter and more open as the ceremony went on, for the journey many of the women gathered have taken, and will continue on, harnessing their inner strength and desire to provide for their families, and empower themselves to greatness.
“You are truly amazing women,” Nancy Everett, speaking on behalf of Congressman Bill Pascrell, said. “You are disciplined, have shown courage and strength, and have pushed past fears of yesterday,” words that in some settings would smack of hyperbole, but in this room fit each student perfectly.
Among those gathered to celebrate and be celebrated was Janet Rodriguez, who, after stopping her education to raise four children, decided to go back to her studies, working for three years in Oasis classes that included math, reading, English, social studies, and science, to get her high school equivalency diploma.
It wasn’t always easy, Rodriguez, who said she has also battled bipolar disorder, said, but her teachers always kept her motivated. Next up for the proud graduate, is entering a training course to become a dental hygienist.
Likening the women’s journeys to that of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series of books, Brady quoted the woman who has recalled her own story of being a single mother suffering from depression, a survivor of domestic violence, and living in poverty, to creating an imaginary world of magic beloved by children and adults alike and becoming wealthier than Queen Elizabeth II.
“We do not need magic to transform the world,” Rowling has said. “We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.”
“You imagined something better,” Brady said. “You are achieving your dreams.”
Fighting back tears of joy as she sat down to discuss her accomplishments, Fatimazahra Tchah shared parts of her journey of moving from Morocco to the United States in 2007. A new immigrant just a little more than a decade ago, and speaking no English, she spent her time “sitting home, cooking, being a mother.”
It was a friend, she said, that encouraged her to go to Oasis to finish her studies, something she was able to do because of the childcare that’s also provided. Tchah knew that her new country “had a lot of opportunities,” it was up to her to seize them.
Though she stopped taking classes for a year, her husband encouraged Tchah to return, and that, combined with her desire to learn English so that she could be better prepared to help her children with their schoolwork, won out.
Math and science, she said, were already her strengths, and she easily passed those subjects, but English would be a greater a challenge, she offered. “It was like chiseling away a rock with my fingers,” Tchah recalled, showing a grasp of her new language that teased the end of her story. After watching motivational videos online, studying while her children participated in activities at the Boys & Girls Club, and continuing to take classes at Oasis, she passed every portion of the GED exam.
On Thursday Tchah was announced as one of ten recipients of a scholarship to study at PCCC where she will continue on her journey to become an X-ray technician.
Ann Wagner, one of the organization’s founders, was on hand to offer her congratulations and remind them that “everybody has a chance to make this the world we want.”
In addition to trusting in the future, in their teachers, and in their friends, Wagner said, the women should remember to “pass it on,” a call to action that Octavia M. Redmond, another graduate, and the honored student speaker, is putting into action.
Saying that she first arrived at Oasis to “fill a void and find a job,” she added that she found much more than she ever thought as it became a place where she could “express herself, her truth, and her vulnerability.”
“There was inspiration all around,” she said. “I just had to believe.”
“We are more than enough,” Redmond, who will be facilitating her own workshops entitled Motivating Others ‘N” Evolving (MONE) starting later this month, concluded. “We are women empowered.”
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