From Chaos, a Path Revealed
By BRIAN SMITH
What do an Army veteran and a student from the Chicago public school system have in common?
At first glance, not much.
But while the barriers we all face are personal, the No Barriers mindset is universal. Such is the case for Yvonne and Nora – two women in completely different places in their lives with completely different obstacles to overcome. Both were gripped by chaos — external and internal. They knew where they wanted to go with their lives, but couldn’t quite find the path.
Yvonne was caught in a mental and emotional chaos brought on by her experiences as an 18-year combat nurse deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shortly after landing in Bala Murghab, Afghanistan on a re-mission from Iraq, one of her fellow nurses was killed by a member of the Afghan National Army in an act of all-too-common “Blue on Green” violence.
Three weeks later, a mortar landed six feet away. Her life changed forever and she is still trying to heal those wounds.
For a long time, Yvonne was “spiraling downhill.”
Nora grew up in a dismal education system, surrounded by low expectations and wasted potential.
The statistics were stacked against her – teenage pregnancy rates in Chicago were much higher than the national average and the high school graduation rate hovered at about 60 percent. Many of her peers didn’t return after freshman year.
She was trying to thrive in a disruptive, chaotic learning environment. Her instincts told her to find a way out, but she wasn’t sure how.
But from Nora and Yvonne’s chaos, both found the path to harmony thanks to the No Barriers mindset.
For Yvonne, that came from an environment free of the things that had been keeping her from healing. She was in a space free of judgment, filled with safety, surrounded by fellow female veterans across a wide range of ages, personality types and experiences.
“It allowed me to go and push myself to my new limits and that’s what I like,” she said. “For me, safety is a big thing and it gave me a safe environment, everything was taken care of. You could share your story if you wanted to and it was at your own pace, but as you are hiking, you are dealing with yourself and your own limits.”
Nora, now a political science student at Brown University, an Ivy League school, went on a 2011 Learning AFAR expedition to Costa Rica. She said the trip made her more conscious and confident. It showed her how to start the path she’d imagined for herself, she said.
“After coming home from the trip, I honestly became much more of a go-getter,” she said. “Possibilities might have seemed far-fetched, but at the end of the day, nothing will happen unless you try. It really enforced that mentality.”
Three years after returning from her No Barriers’ Learning AFAR program, Nora now says she wants to dedicate her life to public service either as a policy maker or in an advocacy group. Before their involvement in the programs, only 45 percent of the 270 Learning AFAR participants said they felt they had the skills to make a difference in the world. After their program, 94 percent said they could make a global impact.
And while students like Nora face a high dropout rate, 100 percent of Learning AFAR students graduate high school and 90 percent are accepted into higher education.
“I’ve always been motivated, but because I don’t see success in my own community, it really didn’t set a standard I could follow,” Nora said. “… Now I know that even though it will be a difficult road, I’ll still be willing to take the challenge.”
Yvonne echoed a similar sentiment. While much of her life is dealing with the Veteran’s Administration and going to and from medical appointments, No Barriers Soldiers and the friends she made through our programs keep her connected to the world.
It also reminds her of her how far she’s come.
“If I didn’t have these programs, I wouldn’t have been doing as well as I have been doing,” she said. “Before I go out, I don’t think I’m doing too well. I come back and realize that with these small steps I’m getting better. I’ll never be the person I was when I got injured. But now I’m only getting better.”
No Barriers doesn’t just focus on one-time experiences. We take pride in creating lasting journeys that help women such as Yvonne and Nora – and all of our participants – continue to realize their potential even years after their initial programs.
This year, No Barriers will support 120 Learning AFAR scholarship students, and about 100 disabled female veterans.
Yvonne and Nora would not have had their No Barriers experience without the generosity of donors – both corporate and individual. With your continued help we will support many more across all of our programs — Youth, Soldiers, and Summit.
“Our donors should be proud of their gift,” said No Barriers Chief Development Officer Cindy Bean. “Just look at where Nora and Yvonne are today.”