“Everything is on the line. Know it or not, our very survival hangs in the
balance. With a few meager possessions, we hurry out the door running to an unknown destiny.” The question is, “Can we get there from here?”
As the women of Class 60 graduate and prepare to step out into the world and into new lives and careers, these words from Rabbi Will Berkovitz ¹ remind me of how profound and present the Caroline Center experience is, and hopefully will remain, for our graduates. Just as the powerful themes and lessons of the Exodus constitute living memory and are spoken of in the present tense during Passover, we hope that the values and lessons of a Caroline Center education will remain with our alumnae throughout their lifetimes.
Our graduates often tell us that at the moment they decided to apply to Caroline Center something inside of them was already beginning to change. For some, the change may have been realizing that in taking this first, big step forward – everything actually was on the line. For others, the change may have been in finally accepting that their very survival was in fact hanging in the balance. For most, the change may have been in knowing that the haste they needed to take in running out of one door – even into an unknown destiny – might offer another long-awaited open door holding more promise than the place from which they had fled.
A woman may begin her journey to Caroline Center in exile and isolation, but what happens to her here helps to restore her sense of community and shore up her feelings of self-worth and confidence. She may come to us, in the rabbi’s words, “alone, [with] her foundations broken . . . and, “wander[ing] in uncertainty,” but, she will leave here more whole and in less pain than when she arrived. Whether she is in exile because her family no longer wants her and has turned her out, or because she is isolated by the terror of recurring abuse, or because she is being held captive by the injustice of poverty – her Caroline Center education and the nurturing community she finds here will help the healing begin.
On the difficult journey through life’s wilderness, Caroline Center can be a life-saving
oasis. Thank goodness, one recent graduate came to refresh herself and to drink in all that
we had to offer her. Here’s her story. When Destinee (not her real name) arrived at Caroline Center, she and her two young sons had no safe place to call home. Mostly, she fended for herself on the streets during the week, sometimes finding shelter with people she knew or barely knew while her boys stayed with their father. But, on Saturdays and Sundays, when her boys were back with her, it was a different story. With no place to go, they spent their weekend days mostly outside in city parks. It was far from ideal, but at least they were together. And, as Destinee said, about this and other more fearful and unacceptable situations in her life – “I just got used to it.” Places that should have been safe for Destinee and the people she should have been able to trust – all failed her. Let’s just say that a grandmother, with whom she thought she could stay for a while, had two different boyfriends whose actions and inappropriate advances toward Destinee made it unsafe and impossible for her to stay.
Caroline Center, with the education, skills training, community, and support it provides, allows women to get beyond what Rabbi Berkovitz calls “the narrow places” that constrict life – places where women, like Destinee, will feel “confined and demoralized.” With Caroline Center’s help, Destinee and so many other capable graduates know that they really can get “there” – to meaningful careers, additional educational opportunities, and better lives – all from right “here” at Caroline Center.
In this season of rebirth and renewal, our hope for every Caroline Center trainee and graduate is that with our help she will always have the strength and wherewithal to break out of the “narrow places” that plague her, and that she will have what it takes to continuously renew her most extraordinary and valuable life.
¹From “Passover as a Living Memory,” by Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO, Jewish Family Service, Seattle, posted in “The Blog,” Huffington Post, March 31, 2015