Amanda Ready is the President and Founder of Ready to Empower. Ready is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist and her experience includes individual and group Counselling for Family, Children and adolescents, Case Management, Non-Profit Startups, Program Developing and Public speaking. Ready has a BA from the Baptist College of Florida and an MS in Mental Health Counselling from Mercy College and Ready attended The Ackerman Institute for the Family to practice Family Therapy.
In addition, Ready authored “Something’s Wrong at Mason’s Home,” a children’s book created to help educate, protect and break the silence about family violence. Furthermore, Ready won three awards in 2014; the Unsung Hero Award given by the Westchester Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect for outstanding achievement in protecting the safety and well-being of Westchester’s children, the Westchester’s 40 under 40,” Rising Star Award” given by The Business Council of Westchester and in 2015; the Generosity Award. Most recently, Ready has won the 2015 Amway Hero Award in the category of “Generosity”. This award recognizes the commitment one person makes to improving the world through extraordinary volunteerism or philanthropy.
School For Mothers: Who are the members of your family?
Amanda: I’m a single, 36 year old with no children- though my future plans are to adopt. I live in New York and my family are all in Alabama. My family include: my Mother Dixie Glover, my older sister Keisha Schermerhorn, my younger sister Gypsy Glover and new additions to the family include: Brother in Law Jimmy Schermerhorn and Nephew Rykar Schermerhorn. My father whom I only met a few years ago signed his rights away at a young age and he has two other children in his family
You began a quest originally to learn Spanish as a resource in your therapy practice, how did you end up creating Ready to Empower Foundation?
I visited San Ramón, Costa Rica, for three months during the summer of 2013. After working at a Costa Rican orphanage, I became concerned about the types of support services offered to mothers wanting to keep and care for their children. So I ventured into a nearby village where I was introduced to a group of jobless, uneducated women without adequate health care living in poverty and with no long-term support or solutions. Having experience working in social services and the mental health field, and with the support of local volunteers, I set up support systems, including job training, individual and group counselling, emergency assistance, and fitness classes for these women.
Once I returned to the United States, and using personal funds to carry out my vision in Costa Rica I realized additional support was needed so I founded Ready to Empower Inc (RTE Inc.) in 2013. In 2014 RTE was awarded 501c3 tax exempt status and launched its first chapter, Mujeres de Cambio (Women of Change), in Costa Rica in 2014. Mujeres de Cambio is run solely by local Costa Ricans who use RTE’s Work for Service, Mental Health, Emergency Relief, and Fitness programs to empower their nearby poverty-stricken communities. Mujeres de Cambio provides hundreds of women with mental, physical and economic support to bring them one step closer to their goals of self-reliance and to improve their overall quality of life.
As RTE looks into the future, MDC will one day function independently of Ready to Empower.
Ultimately. RTE envisions self-sustaining chapters throughout the world. Our vision is to see a world where local leaders are equipped to help empower women within their poverty-stricken community.
What support programs for mothers were there when you arrived?
There was a government program that helps poverty stricken men and women to an extent with food, legal advice and temporary shelter for domestic violence. However, there are limited resources and large numbers of people needing support. Many women were waiting in line for hours just in hopes for an appointment to get support which unfortunately cannot help with long term solutions for change. Additionally domestic violence agencies charge for their services and religious organizations focused on children’s needs and provided some opportunities for helping with women finishing their high school degree or finish elementary.
Many of the orphans are products of rape, what happens to them if their Mothers cannot afford to keep them or do not want to raise them?
The main reasons for children in orphanages result from:
- Domestic violence
- Poor living conditions
- Family members who are dangerous (many families all live together under one roof)
- Malnutrition in both child and mother
Many mothers who have to give up their child or have their child removed are provided assistance through certain government programs to try to help mothers legally, however, there is a waiting list. Mothers, in addition, have to receive therapy and parenting classes and our program in Costa Rica offers this service and we are now getting referrals from government agencies to help with this process. Most mothers need support mentally because of their traumatic upbringings as well.
When the government takes children from a home because of poor living conditions, neglect, lack of funds to provide for their child, abuse etc. the child is placed in two types of homes depending on availability and the situation with the mother. If a child’s mother wants to have a relationship with a child and is wanting to eventually get her child back then the child will go to an orphanage that allows the parent to have contact with her child. The hopes are that the child can eventually be reconnected if she can meet whatever guidelines the government ask of her.
The 2nd option is the child who has been removed or dropped off with a parent not wanting to have access to the child, he or she will go to an orphanage. (Not all mothers want to keep their child because they feel that they can not provide for the child and would hope that they can be adopted or if the child is a product of a rape the mother may not be able to emotionally manage raising the child).
Because birth control is taboo in the women’s culture often times they get pregnant more often than desired. In addition, with lack of sex education, the women in the community put themselves at risk with prostitution as well. Our program provides free birth control, condoms and sanitary napkins.
What questions in your intake meeting do you ask the mothers in order to know if RTE can support them?
We ask a variety of questions in order to help the mothers. These include:
- Medical questions
- Demographic questions
- Family questions
- Mental health questions
- Socio-Economic questions
- Academic questions
- Work skill and job history questions
- Personality questions
Many if not all of the mothers have suffered traumatic events (abuse, suicide attempts, rape, for instance) what is the therapeutic program they take part in?
We provide free individual therapy with a psychologist, group therapy led by a psychologist. Health/fun days during the month led by volunteers, social worker or psychologist.
You created a Craft program for senior women could you tell us what that is?
Women in our program range in age from late teens to mid-80’s. For the women who are in their senior years’ job opportunities are far more difficult to find. So given this, I had to come up with a plan that would meet each person’s needs – the job program I created years ago was to help empower women to empower themselves. The Work for Service Program is a short-term job training and educational program that helps RTE participants become more employable and less reliant on charity by providing them with the opportunity to work in exchange for in-kind goods and services including medical and dental care, basic toiletries, and more. RTE and our sister programs collaborate with local businesses to provide job opportunities/internships to provide women on-the site job training to build skills and build relationships in the community as well as networking opportunities.
When I realized women in their senior years were not being offered internships, I decided to create a craft and jewellery group. Many of the senior women were in our mental health program already battling depression and often contemplating suicide. I decided a craft and jewellery group would be an option and that women could create recyclable material for RTE to give as incentives for people to donate to the cause. By placing senior women in internships in our main office they were able to regain confidence and a zeal for life. In addition, I wanted to give them a role of teaching others so they could share wisdom with other women entering the program. When new participants are accepted into the program senior women observe the work ethic and teach women different tasks and report to the director of the program weekly. This process of giving senior aged women a purpose and a sense of belonging changes lives because we all need to feel our life matters.
What items do you provide freely for the mothers? Tell us about the Ready to Shop Room, what does this provide for mothers? How can readers help with this?
RTE’s Ready to Shop room offers women in our Work for Service program the opportunity to go into our Ready to Shop Room and select a certain amount of items such as clothing, shoes, hygiene products, jewellery, underwear and bras. The women in our Work for Service program work to shop in the Ready to Shop room and therefore earned the items in the room – it’s important to not items they choose are not seen as charitable handouts.
Donations provided to RTE afford us the opportunity to provide a somewhat realistic shopping setting to help women feel empowered and less shameful while selecting items they want or need.
Furthermore, if Ready to Empower has the funds and/or receives donations to provide other types of care if requested, we offer birth control and a monthly limited supply of condoms and sanitary pads.
Why have you chosen to invest in long-term change rather than only hand out food and clothes?
Each person has their potential and when you invest in their individuality, skills and mental health a natural chain reaction will occur. I wouldn’t want someone just giving me or my mother or other family members only food and clothes etc because I know we have so much more potential than just having our basic needs met. Investing in a person’s potential isn’t easy and getting that person to see that they are more than a beggar is also a challenge. Encouraging long-term solutions is not the easy path but for me, it’s the path that I deserve and so do others. Providing basic needs and long-term solutions for change is a great combo. I know that the woman I am today and the woman I am becoming is because people throughout my life have seen potential in me and they got to know me as an individual. People invest not only into meeting just my basic needs, they invest in my dreams and my potential because we need to know we have potential even when we can’t recognize it ourselves. The key for long-term solutions for change are patience, structured planning, hard work, mental health support and empathy.
What stereotyped views of mother’s challenge them in finding work locally?
Some of the women are immigrants and people don’t want to work with them. Additionally, they appear/are poor because of their clothing and hygiene plus the villages they live in are known for drugs, prostitution and theft.
Your vision for RTE is that it will run independent of you, how are you investing in local leaders to one day take the helm?
We are developing a sustainable and replicable business model that supports existing organizations in poor communities around the world who focus on women’s empowerment services and strive to provide its clients with job opportunities.
We are becoming a conduit of funds and support between business leaders in the US and targeted support organizations.
My normal routine weekly and monthly includes providing guidance to the leaders through educating, modelling, and providing tools to support their dream of empowering their community. I work to help them with the structure of board meetings, social services support, database reports to provide to funders, marketing and outreach, budgeting and other necessary skills to help guide them to ultimately have a self-sustaining organization without needing to rely fully on Ready to Empower for support.
Can you tell us about the results of RTE in the lives of mothers and their children?
Mothers in our program have not had their children removed since beginning working with us
Mothers in our program who had children removed before have had their children placed back in their care
Mothers secured employment after working in our Work for Service program
Mothers secured internships in the community giving in-kind goods to provide food and clothing for their family
Mothers improved their health ( i.e dental work, doctor visits, medication, eyeglasses, and with the use of hygiene products)
Mothers received protection orders in regards to domestic violence
Mother’s have been able to decrease their suicidal ideation and attempts
Mother’s have found acceptance and new healthy friendships attending different events, training and fun outgoings.
Mother’s receive clothing and beauty products to increase their self-esteem and overall image.
What is it about your relationship with your own mother that’s the quiet undercurrent reason for RTE?
I have an amazing relationship with my mother. We talk daily and support each other through everything. My mother was a single mom with 3 children and was surrounded in her life by unhealthy people growing up that tried to harm her both emotionally and physically. Watching her try and protect us and raise us without being able to help herself, was truly sad. My mother was limited in her options in life because children came first in her eyes. The problem with that mentality is that she actually needed someone to tell her she actually comes first. My mother needed someone to encourage, guide, direct, motivate, support and believe in her because this type of support would have allowed my mom to provide even more amazing support to us her children. I watched my mother try and raise us every day and I saw her not have any outlet for fun or enjoyment. I saw her working and going to school and trying to be there for us while she tried keeping her head on straight. If my mom had been given the chance to have a mentor when she was such a young mom, I believe she would have been able to feel more supported and motivated. My mom taught us unconditional love and because of her showing me that, I truly put that into my work with RTE. She was forgiving, merciful, understanding, driven and selfless. I always wanted for my mom to have experienced the same qualities she showed me and my sisters. I know that the reason I see others and the world the way I do is because of the love and support she gave me. In regards to RTE I put that same love into motion. I call it “Dixie love”. Dixie is my mother’s name. When I see the mothers that we work with in our programs, I always picture them as being my mother. I always feel they need to know they are important and they need the same care and love as they are trying to provide for their children and I want them to have the chance to have that too.
You describe yourself as a simple woman, what do you mean by this?
Doing community service work since a teenager has impacted my perception; I enjoy a simplistic living because I really feel I am rich in so many ways. I have so much even if from the outside perspective, I appear not so rich. It is hard for me to believe I am not living a life full of everything my heart could desire. There is so much suffering going on in the world and I find it hard to complain about much. I do spend money on things outside of helping people. I love traveling, seeing my family in Alabama, I use good face cream, I enjoy nice fun events with my friends, I enjoy drinking lattes from my latte machine I got for christmas and I love growing plants and when someone buys me a gift certificate to get a massage that is always a real treat. I work a job during the day as a bilingual therapist and 3 nights during the week I work till around 9:30 doing private practice. I work these jobs to cover my expenses and to save money so that I can one day buy a simple home. I like the idea of growing my own food and relaxing after a long day.
How do you deal with ongoing guilt as a blessed woman?
This is a battle for me because I know that I am living a good life and truly the things I spend money on aren’t always so important. I think of refugees and immigrants and mothers who need to feed their children or need medicine. This reality makes it impossible for me not to feel some social responsibility to be aware of my spending. I would want someone to be doing the same for me if I was in need. I would want someone thinking of me and my mother and family and choosing to spend less to give more. So very little goes so far. I know many people say “ Amanda, you have to treat yourself too” but the thing is I actually do. I enjoy fun things, I just don’t go overboard. I have no debt to my name, I don’t owe anyone any money. I don’t live above my means. I spend money here and there to travel to see my family and to see new places. I have spent money on my education, on decorating my apartment, dinners from time to time and other things that I save for or desire to be adventurous and try. I just don’t over-spend or borrow money to appear that I am wealthier than I am. I also enjoy very easy going activities and yes the cheaper the activity the more fun for me at times because I feel I can use money to help myself and others. I really have to believe that someone would do the same for me. I can’t imagine there not being a woman thinking of me and my family if we were hungry and poor and being aware that saving a little to help could change our lives. Knowing I have the ability to do that is just unreal because it actually is very simple to do. Growing up without a lot, I still had a lot compared to others. I was born in a country that provided welfare systems, food stamps, grants for school, student loans, credit cards, employment opportunities, equality, freedom of speech, charity organizations and education. From the day I was born, I had people care about me and my well being by just having access to those opportunities. Not to mention, the unconditional love that I was shown from my mother. Despite how turbulent sometimes my childhood was at times, I was already provided so much support before I eventually stepped into this world. I just feel those same support systems and blessings should be freely provided to others as well.
How fair is it to say that relieving suffering is at the heart of all your work and how does this affect the way you choose to live and have relationships?
I would say this type of work keeps life in perspective. Even when I dread going to a doctor appt or dentist etc… I don’t complain because I realize how many women are wishing to have this experience. When I feel hungry and start to get a little irritable, I am able to stop myself and realize just how not starving I am. When I am tired at work and annoyed, I am able to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job. I can say the people I try to help also help me daily. I need them as much as maybe they need me. In regards, to my dating life, most of the time my simple spending isn’t a problem. There have been many occasions where I have taken a gift back and returned it because I don’t care for jewellery and or always name brand clothes. I would rather have the money to split up and use on buying me many different practical gifts instead of just one big gift. I have had many men say that it is very hard to know how to buy a gift for me. However, once someone gets to know me, they begin to see the things that make me happy and can start meeting my needs. Practical and sentimental gifts truly make me smile and feel supported and loved.
In regards to the relieving suffering, I will say being a therapist and daily hearing sadness and people’s problems and then running organizations that are often full of challenging and sad situations can be mentally draining. To help me manage all of that and keep my sanity, I surround myself with fun and loving people and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I also make sure I am talking to someone about my stress levels and making sure that I am getting the emotional support I need to keep moving and shaking.
And finally, what is the one common denominator between mothers? (beyond children)
Unconditional love, resilience, strategic skills, multitasking and selflessness
Click on the links below to connect with Amanda and Ready to Empower on social media