MANCHESTER, NH – In 2003, Mary Georges arrived in Manchester from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the dream of a better life and a passion to help others. She soon established a faith-based women’s group for the African community, which by 2010 flourished into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as the Victory Women of Vision. Georges’ goal in developing the nonprofit was to “bridge social and cultural gaps arising from differences between American and immigrant or refugee cultures” here in the Granite State. Over the past decade, VWV has supported over 75 families, more than 100 girls, and elderly immigrant and refugee-status residents in finding safe housing, transportation, assistance with daily activities, and most importantly, a community of friends who share in the same experiences.
While COVID-19 temporarily halted many of the vital services that Victory Women of Vision provided to residents in Manchester, Georges and her team of volunteers, part-time employees, and mentors were happy to have been able to resume face-to-face activities with those who rely on their assistance during the summer of 2021. With operations in full swing, Georges has her eye continuously on ways to expand services for women and men, and youth programming in the city.
Serving the Next Generation of New Americans
As a former school board member for the city of Manchester, Georges continues to play an active role in the academic, social, and behavioral success of the city’s children. With an NH DHHS-backed pilot program that started in 2020, the first VWV mentorship program was launched.
Recently, Victory Women of Vision received requested $88,913 specifically for the New American Youth Mentoring Program, a Central High School-based mentorship program for teens and young adults. These funds will help to keep the program running and expand courses and services for the high school through August 31, 2022. With the acquisition of these additional funds, Georges and her team hope to continue building upon their recently developed mentor plan with a full curriculum to help new Americans acclimate to societal changes and experiences at school and at home.
Typically a mentor/student partnership includes programming on coping with trauma and stress, inspiring adolescents to be agents of change, working through academic success strategies, improving police-youth interactions, civic engagement, career planning, and job search skills. Acquired grant money goes to everything from transportation, to mentorship, supervision, and funds to help hire a project coordinator to plan, launch, and support youth programming for Central High students.
“They need to know their identity. We talk to them about their value, we talk to them about the tree of life. We talk about the ground from where they come from, to the ground where they are, and all the things that may have happened to them and that they are going through,” says Georges on communicating with youth about their experiences.
Georges went on to discuss the fine line about the role they play, stating that the mentorship program and curriculum (crafted with the help of Big Brothers and Sisters) does not leave the mentors as parents, nor social workers, but as people who care deeply for the children, regardless of what culture or country they belong to. Keeping refugee and immigrant students on the track of success for their new life in Manchester is the pillar of the program. The Welcoming Club, the latest project supported by immigrant students at Central High School, was created to foster an environment that supports diversity and to help make all students feel welcomed in the classroom. For the time being, Victory Women of Vision’s New American Youth Mentoring Program is specifically for the high school age group, though Georges sees an opportunity to expand to the middle school level, should more funding become available.
A Lifeline for Girls & Women Escaping Domestic Violence
Victory Women of Vision started out as a solely women-focused organization. VWV’s mission is for women who immigrate to New Hampshire to feel empowered to speak out for themselves in their new communities. Multiple programs exist for minority women of all ages, including Empowering Young Women to Lead Change, a course designed to educate young women in civic engagement and community activism, and Young Women’s Health and Self Management, a course aimed at young and teenage women to educate them in personal healthcare.
Helping African girls and women escape situations of domestic violence is a large component of the services that VWV offers. Georges reflected on cultural differences regarding speaking up when it comes to domestic violence in African cultures and the silencing that African girls often face when choosing whether or not to report.
Georges reflected on a story of success when it came to helping a young girl who narrowly escaped further violence, with guidance and encouragement from VWV.
“Recently, a young woman called me. I didn’t know her, but she told me who she is and that there was a problem going on with her boyfriend. She started to tell me ‘I’m scared because my boyfriend’s friends are coming’. She already had a house, and she said to me ‘I don’t know what to do, this is my apartment, I’m the one who pays for the apartment.’ The boyfriend and his friends were coming from New York. I recommended she go to the police for shelter, and then I said ‘please go to your mother, stay there, and come back with your mother or a family member to get your stuff, and she listened to me,” Georges said.
In the end, Georges stated that the young woman was able to return home with a family member, retrieve her things, and move to transitional housing for safety and anonymity with the help of VWV.
Men’s Programming & COVID-19 Assistance, and Elder Support
In addition to the countless services that Victory Women of Vision offers to girls and women, VWV also provides programming for adult males and elderly populations from Africa and other backgrounds. Mentoring for Leadership of African Men is a course conducted by VWV designed for men of all ages who are moving from Africa, teaching civic involvement, the handling of stress and culture shock, and encouraging them to work together to develop good relationships with their families and communities. Georges stated that many men come to Victory Women of Vision seeking help with legal forms, job applications, learning how to use a computer, and even in some cases, learning how to write and read.
The NH Charitable Foundation has also provided grant money for services to the elderly, such as transportation, meal planning, and grocery shopping. Once a week, VWV hosts a support group for women ages 65+ to come to the Elm Street office for coffee, tea, snacks, knitting, and socializing. Distributing free laptops and computers to refugees, immigrants, and the elderly was an initiative that showed success in helping migrant populations receive access to the web for information, work, personal use, and connectivity to others.
Georges noted that during the worst of the pandemic, Africans, immigrants, and people of color were severely impacted by COVID-19, misinformation, and limited access to testing and vaccination centers.
“A lot of people didn’t know where to go, who to ask, and the people who had my number were calling more. We had made plans to help bring our elders to get vaccinated. But after I found out more minorities didn’t want to take the vaccine, I thought ‘what can I do?’. I was educating them, and after we opened a mobile clinic here in the office, people were coming to take the vaccine here. That was fantastic,” said Georges on efforts to initially vaccinate the elderly, minority population in Manchester.
Upcoming Initiatives at Victory Women of Vision
Summer programs have been in the works for youth, men, and women, along with Tai Chi lessons to unwind and connect, and mentorship partnering with The Boys and Girls Club. Grant funds, donations, and hours spent in the community are what bring endeavors like these to fruition, according to Georges.
VWV cherishes the bond between mother and daughter and has upcoming plans for “Mother/Daughter Appreciation Celebrations” in their Elm Street Office. As part of Women’s History Month, daughters and husbands are encouraged to come and lift up their mothers with words of affirmation and appreciation. Georges stated that such events have been hosted in the past, and have brought the “Victory Women” in attendance to tears of joy and love.
The best way to support the continued success of VWV is through donation, volunteer time, and mentor work. If you’re interested in learning more about programming, events, or would like to get involved, visit the official website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call at (603) 264-7083.