Darling seeks to highlight young women who are out to change the world, because we believe in you and the power of your dreams. A few weeks ago in our article, An Everyday Hero, you heard about Ember Arts choosing Elena Bondar to be their “Ember Hero,” receiving aid for her non-profit Two Wings. Now we asked Elena to tell her personal journey of living her passion and what it’s like to start a movement on your own. Be inspired, and take encouragement from her story to press forward with yours!
I get asked all the time how a girl from Sacramento ended up in Los Angeles trying to help women rescued from sex trafficking to find their dream job. I mean, it’s not exactly a 9 to 5 kind of job.
And it almost never happened.
When I was younger I always knew I wanted a career helping people in need. This desire was what drove me to pursue a degree in Social Work and a brief career as a social worker. Yet when an opportunity for a secure career and continued education became available at an online university in San Diego, I neatly tucked that passion away and spent the better part of 5 years ignoring it. I became content with my place in the career world, climbing the corporate ladder and striving for success above what gave me a sense of purpose.
That all changed for me after watching the movie Trade. In a dark room I watched the story of two young girls who were kidnapped and then sold into sex trafficking to the highest bidders right here in the United States. Their story stirred within me intense feelings of compassion and shock. I couldn’t stop wondering, “How as this occurring in my ‘backyard’ and I did not know about it?”
Worse still, why was so little done to stop this atrocious crime?
I’ve seen “issue” movies before. We all have. But for some reason this film moved me to action. Through opening my eyes to a reality that many young girls faced each day, it reawakened within me a passion that had been dormant for far too long.
At first I didn’t know where to start. So I decided to start small.
I began learning more about the issue by volunteering at a local shelter providing a comprehensive recovery program for women rescued from sex trafficking in the San Diego area. I quickly realized that volunteering was not enough for me and I wanted to make a greater impact. I was faced with an important decision. Would I be willing to leave my comfortable job, friends, and community to pursue this dream that had been stirred within me?
I spoke with friends, counselors, and advisors. On the one hand I loved where I lived and the life I had created. On the other I felt this distant voice calling me into a fuller expression of myself and to genuinely help people in need.
Finally, after several months I took the plunge and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dream career. It hasn’t been easy or glamorous. This city of dreams and possibilities has become a new home for the difficult lessons learned along my journey to starting the non-profit Two Wings.
Lots of well-intentioned people in Los Angeles at first told my team and I that we didn’t need another “sex trafficking” non-profit. Granted, this city has many great organizations like Saving Innocence and CAST. Yet in a city with shelters and services for survivors of sex trafficking, we learned that there was no response to helping these young girls learn independent living skills while obtaining practical work experience.
While there were many amazing organizations to help them heal, there were few organizations to help them fly.
This unmet need would become our mission. We began developing a program that would work with existing non-profits. We would inspire and empower survivors to pursue a dream vocation through life-coaching, mentoring and job placement.
That’s our vision: to see young women pursuing their dreams big or small. And so far, it’s been quite a ride.
Now, maybe you’ve felt like me in my “safe” career. Maybe you hear a voice out there calling you to begin exploring something more meaningful. My advice to you would be to do your research. Is there an organization that supports the cause you are passionate about? If so, consider coming alongside organizations that can provide the experience and wisdom necessary for you to champion your cause.
You never know where the journey might take you.
Along the way you’ll notice new needs that have not yet been met. It’s up to you to find a solution and pioneer the way!
Photo Credit: Sarah Shreves