Michelle on Left, Mentor on Right Photo day at Panera Bread
Michelle on Left, Mentor on Right Photo day at Panera Bread
My doctor advised me that I would not live much longer if I didn’t take care of myself and make some serious changes in my life. I wrote a note to God and had it placed in the Wailing Wall in Israel. I asked God to save my life and make me healthy and strong. God answered my prayer, he saved me in more ways than I could ever imagine.
During my weight transformation, the abuse started spiraling out of control and my best friend described my situation as domestic violence. It wasn’t easy to accept this, because this was my life and it was all I had known as far back as I could remember. Leaving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I found myself returning and leaving several times. I did reach out for help several times, but unfortunately was turned away. Leaving for the final time, I decided that I was willing to lose everything, including my life.
I started becoming my own advocate and frantically searched the web looking for answers and trying to educate myself on domestic violence and where I could get help. I began emailing everyone I could, asking for help. I found myself calling the Domestic Violence hotline again and again, hoping that someone would believe my story. Finally a lady responded to my call and listened to my story. She got in touch with a local agency called Choices. I was given the name of the director, contacted her, and for the first time, started receiving help. Choices started counseling me and gave me referrals to outside resources. I could not take advantage of some of the resources due to the fact that I was over the income level by a few dollars, or because of timing conflicts with my job. This was very challenging and didn’t seem fair to me. I wanted so many times to give up, but promised God and myself that I would not go back and be abused.
Legal matters were a nightmare and it took me two years to find a lawyer who would take my case. My attorney recommended that I collect all my financial records. I went to my local bank and met with a branch VP. After spending some time with her, as she located and compiled years of documents, I told her my story and vision for helping women because of the pain I had suffered. I was taken aback as she started telling me about her niece. Our stories were very similar except she was supported by her loving family, ended up leaving but, her life was taken by her abuser, along with her grandmothers. She said the story had been aired on a prime time television show. As I was leaving, she walked me to the door, turned around and said “Michelle, fight for these women, if you don’t who will?” I promised her I would and went racing home to watch the story on YouTube. The woman’s story enraged me and placed a fire inside me.
As my legal battles grew, I found out just how difficult and painful this journey was going to be. I started looking at domestic violence laws and how they help victims today. I met with a consultant on lobbying and my new advocacy journey was created. I started interviewing survivors of domestic violence throughout Ohio. The first woman I interviewed was located two hours away and had served prison time for shooting her husband. I had no idea who she was, and I will admit, was a little scared meeting her. We met at a Panera Bread Café & Bakery restaurant where she shared her story; the struggles of the abuse, prison, and her life today. I learned so much from her and I’m honored to know her. I found more and more women who were willing to share their stories, and the more women I interviewed, the more obvious the pattern became. I came to the conclusion that once I get myself in a position to lobby, my passion will be in bridging the gaps for those who are thirsty and wanting to thrive in society. As I grow and gain momentum, the vision grows larger.
I decided to take a major step and create a unique nonprofit and website that would provide women with the resources they would need to continue to move forward. My nonprofit would be designed for women who have made it through the first stages of leaving. There are established agencies who are very knowledgeable at helping women escape. I have the knowledge of being a survivor and based my nonprofit services for the survivor’s subsequent challenges.
As the mission and passion became real, I wondered how would I become the leader I wanted and needed to be. I sought out a group that I learned about while visiting Dress For Success (DFS) in Columbus, Ohio. I had become their client a year prior, but was unable to take full advantage of the many classes they offered because of timing conflicts with my job. I contacted D Malone, the director of Dress For Success and started attending as many programs as I could. At one of the Professional Women’s Group (PWG) meetings, I met several board members, including Vicki, the CEO of DFS, Columbus. I was so fortunate when Vicki became one of my mentors. The DFS program put me in touch with several volunteers; Denise Loftus would meet me at Panera and spend many hours helping me with grammar; Lauren Lee helped me take the first steps toward my actual nonprofit and website. Lauren and Denise also became my mentors. We would all gather there to talk about my vision and how to breathe life into it.
It wasn’t easy coming up with a name for the nonprofit. I wanted something different, something that meant hope. The scripture, Corinthians 13:13 is what I’ve been searching for my whole life ~ Love. I named the nonprofit ‘Love Me Like A Princess©’. I truly did not know how it felt to be loved. It was my friend’s pet dog Princess who showed me love for the first time. She loved me for who I was, wanted nothing in return, just simply to love me. She inspired me to start loving myself, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I want women to start loving themselves first, and then the magic will happen. It takes time. The journey is very challenging, but the outcome is so unbelievable!
Days after I named my agency, Eloise, also a friend and mentor, invited me to go to church with her. That day they had ‘cardboard confessions’. A woman held up a sign and asked why she was abused. She flipped the card over and it said ‘Rescued by God, His princess’. Eloise and I looked at each other with amazement, realizing that we are HIS princesses and it confirmed that the name was perfect!