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Lakenya Johnson Discusses Her Work With F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement

Excerpts from NPi's February 2009 Community Dialogue

On February 4th, 2009 Lakenya Johnson, founder of F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement, a mentoring organization aimed at empowering young moms, women, and men in homeless shelters and transitional living, participated in NPi’s community dialogue at the Boston Public Library. NPi community dialogues bring together local leaders to discuss lessons learned, current projects, and potential collaborations. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

About F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement 

The organization started in October of 2008 and it’s moving rapidly. I am 27 years old, and I’ve been mentoring in the homeless shelters. I started out in the Boston community in 2007 and started mentoring to four moms in homeless shelters… and now it’s grown to over 250 moms that I mentor to at a total of about seven shelters. I started F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement because about nine years ago I was in a homeless shelter for about 10 months with my daughter… I started out by just mentoring. That was my main purpose. I did not expect it to turn into what it is right now, but I’m going for it. I allowed my situation to be my stepping stone to the future, and it’s therapeutic to me.

On what she’s learned from the community

I’ve learned that a lot of things that I’ve experienced in my younger years, they’re still out there and there’s still a need. Dealing with these moms, [giving them support is] more crucial than I thought it was back then. And I just learned that whatever situation you’re in, you just have to make it a stepping stone and just keep moving.

On the need for an organization like F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement

In my experience I think that the moms really need support. They need parenting skills. They need people that have actually been there so that they can know the steps to take… They need to know where their finances are going to be because the shelter is not the place where they’re predestined to be. When they get their apartment, they need to know how to manage their assets and learn from rising above their debts as well. And as Eve stated, they need a support system. They need that peer support from different shelters if need be or different levels of experience just to be able to connect with certain people, whatever level it is so that they can just rise above their current situation. I definitely think it’s just support and the resources.

About the organization expanding

F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement is expanding. I started out mentoring to teen moms, just doing parenting workshops, budgeting workshops, and now it’s expanded to moms that are over 30 years old. Actually, it’s also young girls that don’t have kids and young men that don’t have kids. So it’s definitely expanding, and I’m actually trying to start something else where I will have gentlemen go out into these men’s shelters. So just stay posted with F.A.M.I.L.Y. Movement because it’s really moving.

A lesson she would pass on to others

A valuable lesson that I have passed on is basically just loving yourself. I can’t say it enough because with self-esteem, it [relates to] so many issues. And if you don’t love yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. I’ve come across so many girls that just have low self-esteem, and boosting them up, it boosts up my self-esteem. So basically a valuable lesson that I’d tell anyone no matter what circumstances you’re in, just have that high self-esteem and love yourself…

On challenges she’s faced

I think one thing with me is that with me if I do stumble and fall – because I have stumbled and fallen a couple times and it was with finances – I keep on moving. I’m like a soul survivor in everything that I do… I keep a lot of positive people around me so that negative energy is out the door, and I think that’s what keeps me going.

On why she does the work she does

I do it because I’ve been there. I’m a living product.

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