Have a plan — strategic planning and business planning is really important for any business. What are you working towards? What are your long and short term goals? How will you make it happen? See what your competitors are doing and make sure you are doing something similar. Having a plan will help you in the long run. If you have no plan then what are you working towards?

As a part of our interview series called “How To Leave A Lasting Legacy With A Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization” we had the pleasure to interview Jennifer Ramirez.

Jennifer Ramirez is a Trauma Coach, Author, Speaker, and Entrepreneur. She is the founder of &Rise, a nonprofit organization that empowers women to be the ultimate versions of themselves no matter what adversities they’ve faced and the founder of &Flourish where she helps female survivors of trauma and abuse to heal from their emotional pain.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

Being a single mother has really shaped me into a better person. Being a mother has been really challenging but very rewarding. Once I had my daughter, I knew that I wanted to be a better person and make her proud. I put myself through college while working full time and raising her alone. I was really poor when she was a baby and I decided that that was not the life I wanted to live. When she was a baby, I was $25k in credit card debt and by the time I was 30 I was 100% debt free. I made a lot of sacrifices and hard choices, but they all brought me to who I am today.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

Ambition, determination, and positive thinking were instrumental in my success. I was still in college when I decided to take a big risk and purchase my first few real estate properties. I had no idea what I was doing but I wanted to see if I could do it and I did. Despite all the naysayers in my life I went for it and I am glad I did. My determination helped me get through college. College was not easy because I was working full time and doing full time class load my last year and it was so stressful, but I was determined to graduate and prove to myself I can do it. Positive thinking has brought me a long way because even when it seems far away or hard I just keep reminding myself of the end goal and why that end goal is important to me.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

That I am actually a pretty good public speaker. When I first started my organization, I never thought I would be speaking in front of crowds but I very quickly realized that it was part of the job. I HATED public speaking. My legs and hands would shake, my throat felt like it was closing up, and my legs felt like jello. All I would think to myself is “they’re going to think I am stupid” and as time went on I realized I had some inner demons to face. As time went on I changed the narrative of my fear. Instead of telling myself “They’re going to think I am stupid,” I told myself “they came here to hear what you have to say.” Now public speaking is second nature. It’s all a matter of practice and overcoming those internal fears.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

We are making a social impact by empowering women to be the ultimate version of themselves no matter what adversities they’ve faced. We want to let all women know that they can make their dreams come true by being a part of a community that helps them and pushes them to do so. We develop women both personally and professionally. We also work with female trauma survivors and give them resources to heal and move forward after trauma and abuse. We help women find a reason to live, give them hope, and support so they can be the best versions of themselves, even if they have been through really tough times. When women are happy, financially independent, and working through trauma, we are helping them break cycles and barriers, which, in turn, benefits their children and the community in which they live.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse as well as domestic abuse and rape as an adult. I know what it is like to go through these things and have no one believe you. I know the horrific after effects of trauma and abuse and I am passionate about helping women work through these really tough things. I once was a broken and angry woman and was in a victim mentality for years and it only held me back. I share my story with others to inspire them and give them hope that they too, can change their lives and live a happy and normal life after trauma and abuse. It’s really easy to isolate, repress, and be in denial about these terrible things that happen to us but that doesn’t fix anything. Over time, these things bring on bigger issues. Most people just want to be happy. Happiness is the one universal thing that most people want. But when you’ve been broken down it’s easy to think it will never happen for you but with the right support behind you to remind you, it can be life changing.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

One of my coaching clients did some really deep work on herself. She was divorcing her abusive husband and grew up with an emotionally abusive father and hadn’t realized the vicious cycle she was living until she started coaching with me. She was ambitious and determined to live a better life. She went through all the hard exercises I go through with my clients and it wasn’t easy but as time went on she started to change. She started standing up for herself and setting strict boundaries with her father, which she was never able to do her entire life. She is now living her best life and plans to become a coach to start helping other survivors of abuse like I do.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. Writing it down. Writing out your goals holds you accountable once you put it on paper. Write out the things you want to change or accomplish in your life and make it a goal that you plan to accomplish.
  2. Acceptance. Sometimes, the things that have happened to us in our lives are not fair. It is easy for us to internalize things as our fault or as if it is something we deserved. Maltreatment is never deserved. Accepting your pain/abuse/trauma is a really hard thing to do because we are finally admitting those things that might cause us guilt and shame. Acceptance is another way of letting those ugly things go so you can be free.
  3. Self love. Learning to love yourself after trauma and abuse can be a really hard thing but it is really important for your healing. As women, we are taught to always put ourselves last so self care can feel selfish, but it is not. Once you spend time with yourself, take yourself out on dates, say kind things to yourself, treat yourself with love and kindness, you will not allow anyone to treat you less. Self love is a way of gaining your power back which is absolutely life changing.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Lead with your heart — nonprofit founders started due to a cause that is near and dear to their hearts. Lead with empathy, understanding, and with your heart and it will take you far. When people hear/see the passion in my voice when I talk about my nonprofit, they are automatically intrigued and want to hear more. They see that this isn’t just something I do for fun, this is something I put my heart into. When people see that you have your heart in it, they want to help and support you.
  2. Have a plan — strategic planning and business planning is really important for any business. What are you working towards? What are your long and short term goals? How will you make it happen? See what your competitors are doing and make sure you are doing something similar. Having a plan will help you in the long run. If you have no plan then what are you working towards?
  3. Have a good board to back you — your board members jobs are to help you get the word out about your organization, help you raise money, and help you with thing that are happening behind the scenes. Make sure your board cares about your mission and is just as passionate about it as you are. Pick people who brings skills and connections that you do not have. If you are strategic in picking your board members, you are setting your nonprofit up for success.
  4. Have multiple streams of income — when I first started my organization, I only had one plan, events. Then COVID happened and totally rocked my world because that was my only plan for revenue. I have learned a lot since then and am always thinking about how to bring in different streams of revenue. We now have merchandise, products, coaching services, events, donations, and grants as multiple streams of income. Don’t put your eggs in one basket because if that doesn’t work then you will panic and not know what to do.
  5. Keep data so you can show impact — keep track of how many people you have helped, what you helped them with, demographics of those you are serving, amount of time/effort put into helping, etc. When applying for grants, these are the things that they ask for. You want to keep track of the impact that your services are having on your clients so have them fill out impact surveys to keep track of. This information will take you a long way when also understanding who your ideal clients are.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

Success doesn’t always mean tons of money, fancy cars, and fancy vacation homes. To me, success is doing the things that bring joy to your heart and being of service to others. The fact that I get to wake up every morning to a job that I love to do is success. Success is seeing the people I am working with progress and seeing their lives change for the better is success. This work is my calling and I feel blessed everyday to do it. Money can’t buy any of these feelings.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

After a setback I need a reset so sometimes I will take a few days off of work to get my mind right. It’s very easy to get down on yourself and blame yourself for all the things that went wrong but sometimes a setback is just redirection. I have a saying that I love that says, “it’s not rejection, it’s protection.” Setbacks aren’t always a bad thing. Just like failure. Sometimes our failures are our biggest and best lessons.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama is my shero. I look up to her and aspire to be like her. She is all about empowering women and girls as well so I really think if she heard about &Rise she would be a supporter. Also, Carrie Goldberg is another woman I really look up to as she is an attorney who helps survivors fight abusers in court.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Sign up for our newsletter by visiting www.womenrisechicago.org, there you can also sign up for events and donate. You can also follow us on IG @and_rise_ and TikTok @and_rise_

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.