Power to the People
LA nonprofit Chrysalis is changing lives and rejuvenating spirits, one person at a time.
August 17, 2011
Maxine Nordenstrom, Loleatha Thompson and Betty Miller
|Thompson undergoing a makeover as part of the Chrysalis program|
|Women gathered at Studio DNA for the makeover night|
“If we are facing in the right direction all we have to do is keep on walking.” One look at the faces of the women gathered in Santa Monica on a rainy Wednesday evening for a workforce seminar, and it is clear the Buddhist proverb the Chrysalis guest speaker is quoting has touched a nerve. This is a group that knows about perseverance. Many took the bus to meet in this room for nine weeks with one common goal: finding a job. Chrysalis has provided these people, who have been seemingly trudging uphill against the odds, with steady ground.
Chrysalis-—a nonprofit organization with locations in Downtown LA, Santa Monica and Pacoima that provides resources to homeless and low-income individuals-—is helping these women start over. Together with the Junior League of Los Angeles, Inc., Chrysalis started a nine-week empowerment program aimed at helping women rejoin the workforce through forums on topics including résumé writing, money-management and interviewing and organizational skills, all culminating in a makeover night at Studio DNA and a graduation ceremony at Shutters on the Beach.
Maxine Nordenstrom, Betty Miller and Loleatha Thompson have each experienced the program. For Nordenstrom, swallowing her pride and realizing she was “no better than anyone else” was step one. You see, when she was happily married and cruising around town in a sports car, she volunteered at a women’s organization to help those less fortunate. But a string of bad luck, including a divorce, left her with nothing. “Taking the bus was a humbling experience,” she says. “I was a snob. I had a convertible. When everything disappeared, so did my friends.” The other women’s stories are equally surprising. Miller had a degree and a loving family but became derailed by illness, while Thompson spent two decades in the restaurant industry before becoming sick and enduring some personal tragedies.
At first their stories seem heartbreaking, until you realize these women are powerful and positive, and they all point to Chrysalis as their anchor. “I was skeptical,” says Miller, “but the one thing Chrysalis taught me is there are no excuses.” Having completed the women’s empowerment program, Miller adds, “We’re butterflies in the cocoon. We’re reborn.” changelives.org
PHOTOGRAPH BY JSQUARED PHOTOGRAPHY (PORTRAIT)