By: Parker Sanchez
I Support The Girls (ISTG) is proud to announce the winner of the 2017 BRAvo Award: Graciela Whitley, Affiliate Director in Dallas/FortWorth! Graciela has received the award for her dedication to empowering women and supporting thousands of girls and women by restoring their dignity.
“Graciela truly went above and beyond this year”, says Rachael Heger, ISTG’s Director of Affiliates. “During this past summer’s hurricanes, Graciela kept raising her hand to do more and more. From driving 300 miles in one day to pick up bras, to working with local Girl Scout troops, to getting a storage unit donated, to constantly receiving and sorting through products which filled her living room and truck. She befriended the U.S. Postal Service in Dallas with her frequent pick ups and in her spare time helped our staff translate materials into Spanish. Graciela is a self-starter, a joy to work with and an inspiration to our entire staff.”
I Support the Girls salutes the efforts of ALL 50 of our affiliates in the U.S. and globally. We had a record year in 2017 (more on that on Thursday- stay tuned) and we’re looking forward to an even bigger 2018!
Meet 2017 BRAvo Award winner, Graciela Whitley…
Why did you choose to volunteer with ISTG?
At the beginning of 2016, I saw a video of Dana collecting and donating bras. I reached out to ISTG and Rachael Heger, the Affiliates Director, emailed me almost immediately!!! I am now the Affiliate Director of I Support the Girls-Dallas/Fort Worth, collecting and distributing donations in the DFW area. I’ve recently started to utilize local Girl Scouts troops for bra/MHP drives, putting together MHP care packs, distributing donations to shelters, and more. A new GS patch has been made and one local troop already earned our patch.
What is the most satisfying part of your work at ISTG?
Knowing that women and girls in need will have access to the much needed products we distribute. There aren’t words to describe my emotions when I see the relief, gratitude and happiness in their faces when they receive the donations. It’s just an amazing feeling that feeds my soul!
Can you share the story of one person you met while working at ISTG that sticks with you?
Through my work with ISTG, I met a woman I’ll call Rose. Rose had a boyfriend and was madly in love with him, even though he was abusive and controlling. Eventually, he beat her so badly she ended up in the hospital. The traumatic end of this relationship caused her serious depression, which led to her losing her job and housing. Homeless, and with no friends or family to turn to for help, Rose started trying to get back on her feet. She has started a job, but it’s going to take her a much longer time to recover her self-esteem.
Rose’s story could be mine. Many years ago I was in a relationship with an abusive man. He was verbally and sexually abusive but never hit me, until one day I woke up in an ambulance. The only difference between me and Rose was that I wasn’t alone – I had my family’s support.
Can you tell us more about your background?
I was born in Veracruz, Mexico and currently live in Wylie, TX where I work in the energy and conservation field. I’m an animal lover and am always rescuing dogs and helping them find either their parents or a new home. I currently have three rescue dogs that are like my kiddos. I enjoy giving back to my community. Other than my work with ISTG, I volunteer in a local group trying to keep our lakes clean.
What person has had the greatest influence on who you are today?
Without a doubt, my mother. Since I was young, I saw how hard she worked and struggled to raise two kids by herself. She taught me how to be a kind person and at the same time she taught me how to be strong and independent. She’s my rock and the first person who is behind me on every new adventure in my life.
What’s the most important thing people don’t know about homelessness?
I’ve found many think that all people experiencing homelessness are criminals, have mental health issues, or just don’t want to work.
I’ve learned so much about homelessness since I started with ISTG, but I was most surprised to learn that many women became homeless because they were victims of domestic violence or sex crimes.
How many products did you collect and distribute for evacuees of natural disasters this past summer?
Between Hurricane Harvey (Texas), Hurricane Irma (Puerto Rico) and Mexico’s earthquake, I collected and distributed 64,904 products.
How many products have you collected total in 2017?
140,862 products in 2017. I had to count twice! I couldn’t believe it!
It’s the time of year when many people are thinking about giving back. What does the word “charity” mean to you?
To me, charity means sharing and helping. I’ve always believed that the only reason why we are in this world is to help one another. I also believe that love, friendship and happiness is the reward for being a good person.