Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
March 20, 2023
Cora Lee Poole | Undestructable
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am Cora Lee Poole and I am the founder and executive director and creative visionary of Undestructable, a nonprofit and social enterprise organization. We work with those impacted by domestic abuse and partner violence, as well as any type of gender-based violence and intimate partner relationship.
Our mission is to be a stepping stone for survivors as they are starting their new life. We are here to be essentially a one-stop shop to access all areas of comprehensive wellness. We firmly believe that finances play a part in having access to these areas – social, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Chances are you’re not going to see a therapist or have a gym membership with a lack of finances. Financial abuse is happening much more than we recognize in society, so the financial component is very important to us. We work with survivors by creating employment opportunities where they are taught to create sustainable products while making $5 above minimum wage, and additionally, we have programming tapping into those areas of comprehensive wellness. Classes can help coach survivors to negotiate a salary, start a job, build a resume, or take a yoga class.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I come from the design space. I was a senior apparel designer at Adidas, and I left that job in 2019 to start Undestructable. There were a lot of factors in my leaving, but at the end of the day, I’m a survivor myself. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and I also found myself in an abusive relationship in my early 20s. When I returned to college, I suddenly had an epiphany in a sewing room that after graduation I should create a nonprofit to show abuse survivors how to thrift and sew for themselves and their children. That was the initial seed of an idea, the initial concept. Then out of college, I had student loans, so starting a nonprofit was not really feasible. I began traveling the world working in the apparel industry, discovered what was happening from a waste perspective pre-consumer, and also learned about dye processes and the impact on the groundwater in a lot of these other countries. One day I went home and began sketching everything that can organically grow and evolve on its own, and what came out was what I now know is Undestructable. Undestructable was a culmination of all of my experiences, personally and professionally, brought into one.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
My purpose is that I’ve been there. I also know the power of art and the power of creation, taking something that somebody or society considers has a low value, and then reimagining it into something of value. It’s amazing the connection we can find between our hands and our soul. For me, the work is important because I’ve been there. The work is important because we have not seen the numbers of partner violence change in 40 years. The numbers have not gotten any better. So the question that I constantly ask myself is, what are we doing right, what’s not working, and how can we do it differently? I’ve always been questioning methodologies. If we are looking at numbers and things haven’t changed for 40 years, there’s got to be a reason. What can we do better? I don’t believe there’s anything like Undestructable in our nation, and maybe not even globally. This is a brand name under one concept to support survivors holistically, not with just a one-off service, but to create and foster an environment where survivors can rediscover their intrinsic value. Because we all have it.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We believe that there should be nothing happening about or for survivors without survivors. Our board consists of individuals who have all experienced various forms of gender-based violence in their lifetime. We want to make sure that we are led by the people we are serving. When we talk about serving survivors, some of them might be living at or below the federal poverty level. On our board, they don’t have to give a certain amount of money, because we want it to be as inclusive as possible. We survey our participants to help guide and develop our programming. We do three surveys throughout the process, starting before the classes to see what they’d like to learn and what they already know about the program, and to set a baseline. Then during the program, we ask how it’s going, what they’ve learned, and what has not been covered that they’d like to hear. This can adjust the programming as they go. And then we hear feedback at the end to adjust what we can do in the future. We had feedback that they would like a session with mock interviews, so we added that.
Our biggest success story so far is one of our participants, a self-taught fashion designer, who went from making zero dollars a year to making six figures. All it took was to have a little bit of one-on-one coaching with somebody who had a little industry background to help develop her portfolio and get her to a place where she felt confident enough to apply for a job. This is why we’re here, to help her build enough confidence to give it a shot. When we talk about that emotional well-being, it’s to say I can take a “no.” I am ok to hear “no” at this point and time, so I’m going to try anyway even if no is the outcome. It’s a success just to apply so we can be better moving forward.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I’m inspired by the people that we serve, all of the survivors out there. I would say it’s even the generations of survivors that came before me. As an indigenous person, I have a lot of cultural trauma as well, so I would say my ancestors, my grandmother, my mother, and my great-grandmother all inspire me to do the work that I’m doing. Honestly looking in the mirror, I inspire myself sometimes.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
The big vision for me would be to eradicate gender-based violence and partner violence completely in my lifetime, but realistically I know that is not going to happen. So I think the impact that I want to make is to be a part of survivors’ stories of reclaiming, reimagining, and rebuilding their lives. And taking that power back.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
As any newer nonprofit will tell you, it’s the funding. We still see the majority of funding going to the larger organizations that have been around for a long time. I would really like to see smaller, grassroots organizations nominated for grants because those are the ones that actually need the help. They’re being told no more often by these foundations. We’ve been completely funded by donors to this moment.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
One thing I would like people to know about the work we are doing at Undescructable is that we’re a one-of-a-kind organization. We are serving individuals who are predominantly women of color, who face systemic racism every day of their lives, and who are making pennies on the dollar next to their white male counterparts. The work that we are doing is so important because we bring equity into the space. We are making sure that everybody is making the same amount of money and we’re being very transparent about it.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I have a very firm belief that we live in a society that believes everything is disposable, and it spans from parts to human beings. It’s got to change. We’ve got to take steps in changing that mindset in society.
You can’t just take a survivor out of an abusive relationship and let them go, there’s a process. You can’t just take a plant, cut it, and assume it will grow. You cut the plant at a particular junction, place it in water, feed it, and give it light. Then once it’s ready, it’s going to grow roots and establish its foundation. The same is true for a survivor, there is a process to it. That process will be dictated by the individual who is going through it, not by the world.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We’d love to have folks support us in our mock interviews for survivors. Consider becoming a donor. As a small nonprofit, we have so far been funded by individual contributions. It’s been amazing, but that’s not sustainable. We would love to have some donors come aboard and they can do that on our website, undestructable.org.
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