Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
August 31, 2021
Natasha Guynes | HER Resiliency Center
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Natasha Guynes. I am the founder and president of HER Resiliency Center, an organization that I founded in Washington, D.C. in May 2015 to support vulnerable young women in achieving their goals. Now we are in both D.C. and Baltimore.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
In May 2015 I came home and told my partner at the time that I was quitting my job at a law firm to start an organization for young women. He just stared at me and I said, “God wants me to do it.” Knowing that I’m not particularly religious he asked if it came to me in a dream. I said, “No, I wouldn’t have gone through everything I went through not to help other women avoid similar situations.”
My story is very common to the ones we hear from the women we serve at HER. I grew up in poverty in Louisiana. My father was a drug addict who beat us and I had a teenage mom who left us. Since your brain is developing until you’re 25 years old, I had the combination of a not-fully-developed brain plus trauma, which created defiance and questioning. At 20 years old, I told my parents I was going to move to Washington, D.C. because I’d always been attracted to politics. Their response was telling me never to call them again. I was not prepared for D.C., and in a short amount of time I was selling my body as a way to pay my bills, picked up crack and whiskey as a way to cope, and at the end of the year, I was at a homeless shelter.
Fortunately, almost 20 years ago, I got clean from drugs and alcohol through Alcoholics Anonymous. That community raised me and they didn’t judge me. When they said they would love me until I could learn to love myself they put action behind it. When I started HER Resiliency Center, I took everything I’d learned in AA’s peer-based model and shared it with other women in our community. These women may not have a substance use problem but they need the community.
I’m technically the first success story of our model. I went to college, served in Americorps, worked for a former United States Senate Majority Leader and three other senators before leveraging all my contacts, my little bit of money, and my reputation to build HER Resiliency Center. With that, I built a community of women supporting women.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It doesn’t really matter what I want for somebody, or what one of my team members at HER wants for a young woman, it’s what her goals are for herself. If we try to box someone into doing something a certain way, but there’s no buy-in, she’s not going to do it.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been pondering the impact that HER has long term. It’s economic empowerment for women. Most importantly, we want women who have been disempowered to know that they do not have to be defined by their trauma. There is light on the other side of their pain, where they can be impactful in our world. We want women to have a voice. More than anything, I want every woman in our world to know that she has a voice and her voice is powerful.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
I think the true impact comes with the connection and the relationships. That’s why even though HER Resiliency Center is a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization we’re more of a community. One of the largest factors of a resilient individual is their community, whether positive or negative. For HER, it is building a positive community of women supporting women at various times in their lives so they get to see where other people are in their lives at different times.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I dedicated HER to every woman who took my call in the middle of the night, every woman who helped me do my homework, every woman who helped me achieve every step along the way. This was also a time where I got to develop healthy modeling with men. I didn’t come from a place of love so what keeps me going is every young woman who achieves her goals and then shares that with me or my team.
I took my new staff to meet a young woman who is a peer advocate at a partner organization. She was one of the first young women I served. She said that at HER I’d helped her have conversations with her boss that were difficult, and I’d helped her advocate for a raise. It’s stories like that, whether it directly involves me or not, that keeps me going. It’s part of the community I’m building at HER.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Long term I see HER becoming a brand across many areas, potentially as a for-profit organization or as a nonprofit 501c4 status. While we’re currently a nonprofit 501c3 we’re government-funded and the government is dictating the need. I’m really excited to build it as a brand and know that I have people around me to make it happen. People I never would have imagined around me growing up as a girl from Shreveport, Louisiana, who didn’t always have food and was surrounded by violence. It’s humbling and empowering to be able to sit in a room with people in different places in their lives.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
At HER we serve those who identify as young women aged 18 to 25. That means she might have experienced foster care or homelessness, substance use addiction, or have been sexually exploited. Our young women have rarely experienced just one thing. Our society loves to save people. We don’t save people at HER, we give them the tools so they can start to use them in their own lives.
I’ve learned that what comes with being a survivor isn’t always valued in a lot of bureaucratic settings. I think that’s a roadblock for all the young women we’re serving who are gaining their voice and ready to use it. My goal is to do as much as I can along my journey so that others have an easier way.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
I want people to know that where we start isn’t where we have to end. Our trauma doesn’t have to define us. I think empowerment is doing with and not for. In my world, I hear the word “empower” a lot. When we’re doing something for someone that’s not empowerment. I think the hardest thing is being prepared to be vulnerable so that we can actually create sustainable change in the lives of women in our country.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
In high school, I would always find myself saying, “Seek, strive, and never yield.” Look for what you want, strive for what you want, and go for what you want without stopping until you achieve it. However, not stopping does not mean never pivoting – you have to be creative to reach the end goal.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
You can find us at herresiliencycenter.org. We love financial contributions; however, we know that people like to get involved in different ways. There’s a link for how to get involved or you can contact us at email@example.com to share a little bit about yourself so we can strategically find the right spot for you to help. If nothing else, get involved in your own community to help create empowerment and sustainable change in the lives of others that are near you.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give do-good organizations the resources and support they need to increase awareness and grow their audience so they can expand their impact. If you would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.