Meet Serena Cripps, a Professional Women’s Group graduate and recipient of the Dress for Success Vancouver inaugural Inspiration Award. Lorie Corcuera, Serena’s mentor, presented the award to her at the Success Luncheon fundraiser on November 4th, 2015. Serena was recognized for her outstanding leadership and achievement within her community. Here is her inspiring story.
I was raised in an upper middle class family, where my father’s work as an engineer allowed us to live in the most exotic places like Kuwait and Turkey. However, growing up with an abusive workaholic father and a mother suffering from depression left me without the support and encouragement I needed to build my self-confidence and self-worth. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Borderline Personality Disorder after my family settled down in Chilliwack. It seemed like our lives had come to a dead end, and thus, in 2010 my sister and I decided to make a move to Vancouver in hopes of a better life.
Being on disability assistance made it even more difficult to find housing in Vancouver. We both ended up living in homeless shelters in the downtown Eastside. I grew up with a religious background so I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the drug use, manipulation, and the ways of the homeless. I felt alone. I could never have been prepared to live in such a devastating environment.
My naiveté took me down a dark path of destruction and dishonesty. For 7 months, my ‘boyfriend’ and I would steal items to be later sold for drugs. At my last arrest, I knew that I had to turn my life around. I didn’t want to get lost in the filth of the forgotten in the downtown Eastside. It was during this time that my Fibromyalgia flared up due to the stressful conditions, causing me physical discomfort and mobility challenges. My conditions got worse and I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was devastated. All the signs were telling me that I couldn’t move forward.
It was at the second shelter where one of the case managers guided me towards the right path. Once I landed a job, I was referred to Dress for Success Vancouver. At first I was intimidated by the “well put together” women, but I finally knew my life was on track during my first dressing service.
I joined the 18-month Professional Women’s Group program to continue my road to success. The program was a place to empower women back into the workforce again and give us the opportunity to be educated by professionals on specific topics. The PWG program made me realize that I was lacking responsibility in my life and that I was worth investing in.
With every PWG workshop I attended, I knew it was my responsibility to take what I had learned and share it to the group of women at the shelter I had originally started a support system with when I lived there. It sparked a fire in me and pushed me to start my own women’s support group. My goal was to ultimately reach a community of people living in poverty and help them fight the economic challenges of today. The women from the program and my mentor Lorie Corcuera, told me that it could be done. I
t was strange to hear at first, because I was always told that I wasn’t good enough. After receiving a grant from the Neighborhood House Association in partnership with the Vancouver Foundation, FAITH Wellness was born. Faith Wellness is a non-profit organization that supports people in transitional housing.
We all need to support each other with love rather than fear. Not only does Dress for Success Vancouver invest in a woman’s outfit, the organization invests in women like me who need the support and resources to get back on their feet. They have given me my self-worth and self-confidence to be successful. Thank you to the PWG program, the support from mentors and the Program Manager, Lucia. They were the mirrors showing me who I was and the woman I could be. I wish Dress for Success the continued success in helping the many women in need.