Empowering At-Risk Women
By Jennifer Dunaway, 2015-16 Vice President of Community
Each year, the Junior League of Atlanta proudly honors one individual who has overcome great obstacles to achieve self-sufficiency through the assistance of one of its 100+ community partner organizations with the Empowerment Award. In addition, it honors a community partner who has played a pivotal role in the individual’s path to success.
This year’s recipient is Ronika Ward, who came to the Atlanta Children’s Shelter in August 2013 seeking childcare for her two daughters, who at the time were three months and two years old. Financial challenges and a recent separation from her husband caused Ward to lose her home. She lacked the proper support system to help her get through her crisis. With a mother battling a drug addiction, Ronika grew up in foster care in Baltimore and moved to Atlanta in 2006 in search of a new life. She obtained a cosmetology license and began to establish a career in hair services. Over time, the cosmetology industry proved to be unstable and Ward found herself in need of better employment.
Upon enrolling at the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, Ward chose to utilize the Hire Up Employment Program. Through this initiative, she was able to find a full-time job as a paraprofessional at Community Healthcare of Georgia. With stable employment secured, Ward was ready to transition into permanent housing. Through the support of the Shelter’s Keys to Independence Program, she found her own apartment. As one of her goals, Ward is diligently working toward owning her own home in order to better ensure the stable housing she wants to provide for her daughters.
Last summer, Ward completed her lifelong goal of publishing her life story, with Something to Make a Bird Sing where she describes how courage, resilience and determination helped her overcome her struggles. In conjunction with the award, Belk, one of the JLA’s most generous sponsors, graciously provided Ward with a $1,000 shopping spree in celebration of her achievement, which allowed her to get new clothes for her family as well as expand her new professional wardrobe.
Founded in 1986 by the Junior League of Atlanta and located in the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, the Atlanta Children’s Shelter provides free, quality day care, emotional support, an educational curriculum for homeless children, and focused social services for their families. Their mission is to provide loving, quality early childhood development and support services to homeless families with young children in Metro Atlanta. Dedicated to helping families overcome the issues that contribute to homelessness, including domestic violence and job loss, the Atlanta
Children’s Shelter focuses on the long-term self-sufficiency of the family setting them apart from other Atlanta homeless shelters. Since its inception, the Shelter has cared for almost 8,000 children and provided services for more than 5,000 families. The enduring partnership between the Atlanta Children’s Shelter and the Junior League of Atlanta has provided the women they serve with the assistance they need to create and sustain better lives for themselves and their families.