Stories about domestic violence only make headlines when they end in tragedy. But there are positive outcomes for many survivors, and Verizon Wireless is supporting those women through a program developed in consultation with the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. For the past two years, the telecommunications company has provided survivors of domestic violence seed money to start or grow their own small businesses through the Verizon Domestic Violence Entrepreneurship Grant Program.
One recipient was Ebony Fletcher.
On October 23, 2004, Fletcher's ex-boyfriend came to her home in hopes of reuniting. When she refused, he pulled out a gun and shot her in the leg. She fought to grab the gun, but he pinned her facedown to the floor, sat on her back and shot her in the head at point blank range. A basketball player she believes could have made it to the pros, Fletcher's ex had no previous history of violence toward her, not even verbal abuse, but had changed after coming home from prison. She says she'd stayed in a relationship with him out of pity, hoping he'd get his life back on track, but that shooting was her "snap out of it moment," a day she calls "the best and worst day of my life."
Against the odds, Fletcher recovered and took steps to secure her financial independence by pursing a long-held dream -- to be a small business owner. In 2007 she opened up Ebbies Hair & Nail Salon, Inc. in Brooklyn, NY and began to develop hair products for her clientele. In 2011, she received a $5,000 entrepreneurship grant provided by Verizon Wireless' HopeLine Program to grow her business by purchasing new equipment and expanding her line of hair products. The funding has helped her achieve success with her natural hair stimulant "Hair Krack" featured in the film Beauty Shop with Queen Latifah and Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair.
While implementing the entrepreneurship grants, Verizon realized that although many domestic violence survivors possess the same kind of drive for independence as Ebony Fletcher, they needed additional training and support to succeed.
The company renewed and expanded its commitment by pledging half a million dollars yesterday to support the development of entrepreneurship training programs for domestic violence survivors across New York State. Five $100,000 grants are being awarded to workforce development programs in Albany, New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse to provide survivors of domestic violence the skills and know-how to start small businesses so that they can achieve financial independence.
Each location is currently recruiting participants for their programs. They include:
- Albany: Hudson Valley Community College Workforce Development Institute and Equinox, Inc.
- Buffalo: Everywoman Opportunity Center and the Family Justice Center of Erie County
- New York City: Sanctuary for Families, Inc.
- Rochester: Monroe Community College Workforce Development Office and Alternatives for Battered Women
- Syracuse: WISE Women's Business Center and Southside Innovation Center with Vera House
Courses include financial literacy, taxes, legal issues, time management, conflict/problem resolution, professional etiquette, and more.
The idea of opening a small business may seem impossible to many women, but according to the Center for Womens' Business Research, more than 10 million firms are women-owned and women-owned firms have grown at nearly twice the rate of all firms.
In short, women-owned businesses are good business for everyone, including the communities in which they're based.Verizon's commitment to helping partner abuse victims in New York State can only help in this struggling economy.
Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc., says,"Small businesses are important drivers of the New York State economy. By encouraging and supporting the growth of small businesses, these grants, and the educational programs they support, not only give domestic violence survivors an opportunity to reclaim their financial independence, they can also lead to additional new jobs down the road as these businesses grow and expand."
If you're a survivor of domestic violence in New York state and would like to learn more about grant opportunities, visit the Verizon Domestic Violence Entrepreneurship Grants page. To see if you're eligible to participate in the workforce development programs that have received funding, contact the programs in the cities listed above.