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Making a Difference in the New Year

After the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the new year, I wanted to kick 2018 off with a reminder that we should all do our best not just to do well, but to do good. One of the things that I’m really excited about for this year is the Villanova HRD Annual Networking Reception (VUHRDANR), given the focus is on allowing companies to “do good” and to leave the world a better place than we found it. I think that this message is increasingly important, especially as we see large-scale acts of hatred and bigotry continuing to be enacted world-wide – what can we do to create a positive change in the world this year? How can each of us “do our part”? This year the VUHRDANR will feature a social impact project to benefit an organization that is near and dear to my heart– Dawn’s Place. So, I thought I would write a blog post to tell you all a bit about it and why it’s so special to me.

Dawn’s Place is a rehabilitation home for women who have been trafficked, located right here in Philadelphia. The home was started by a group of nuns, although the program itself is non-denominational. These nuns started the program as a group of individuals who wanted to help women to get their lives back together after experiencing trauma. Given Philadelphia, like other cities, has many vulnerable women living on its streets, the nuns started in their own backyard in order to start chipping away at this larger problem.

While it would be easy to look at the women of Dawn’s Place and to think that they chose this lifestyle, with many of the residents running away from home when they were young and beginning to work under pimps during their early teen years, a closer look at the issues that drive them to this lifestyle reveals a more complex and pernicious problem – poverty - and the vulnerability that young women face when they have nothing. Many of the women at Dawn’s Place grew up in broken homes, with parents who had drug or alcohol problems. In the homes of many individuals who live lives that seem hopeless, such as those living in poverty-stricken areas who are battling addictions (and have often experienced trauma themselves), abuse is often perpetrated upon those who are most vulnerable. Further, abuse is most frequently perpetrated by men. So, most of the women at Dawn’s Place didn’t grow up in homes that were secure – not with regard to food, warmth, or safety. In other words, when the women of Dawn’s Place initially take to the streets, they are doing so to escape the reality of their home life, where many have suffered physical and sexual abuse for years, often at the hands of their fathers, brothers, and other male figures within their neighborhoods.


...A closer look at the issues that drive them to this lifestyle reveals a more complex and pernicious problem – poverty - and the vulnerability that young women face when they have nothing.


However, it’s hard to make it on the streets alone. Vulnerable young girls are often picked up by pimps who seem to offer them a life they never had, only to find later that they will be subject to their abuses long-term. Further, many of these women end up drug and alcohol addicted as well, given these addictions often stem from ongoing and untreated past and present trauma. The trauma of suffering abuse, sometimes from birth on, and the cycle of abuse that these women experience as they continue to be neglected and abused as teenagers and adults can lead to deep-seated psychological and physical pain.

To heal that pain and give women the empowerment that they never had or never felt they deserved, Dawn’s Place runs a year-long program in which women can stay in a loving home, rent-free. Residents receive psychological counseling, social work services, and physical health treatments. They also receive career counseling and access to a variety of activities that help them to discover who they are, such as yoga, baking, and crafting. I have been involved with Dawn’s Place for the last 6 years and I have been so honored to get to know the women who have fought so hard to still be alive and who continue to fight for a good quality of life, despite legal and structural barriers that they may face in getting there. In my years at Dawn’s Place, I have met women who haven’t been called by name for over a decade, women who have never had a home address, and women who have been continuously beaten, tortured and even threatened with death by clients and pimps.

Dawn’s Place allows women who have experienced these traumas to understand that they are worth a fight – that someone cares about them, that they have always been valuable. The group of volunteers, Board members, and staff that keeps Dawn’s Place going is inspired by the spirit of these women every day. As a result, I have seen women leave Dawn’s Place entirely different than they were when they arrived. At the very least, every woman who enters Dawn’s Place gets an important message – that someone cares. Being able to see the difference it makes when people feel recognized and loved is truly transformative. The first time I ever entered Dawn’s Place, I shook a new resident’s hand. She told me later, welling up with tears, that it was the first time anyone had shaken her hand and looked her in the eye with a genuine smile.

So, as you’re thinking about ways to kick off your new year, think about how to do well – but also think about how to do good. Remember that these tiny moments that transpire between people can change the world. Ask yourself what small acts you might do today that will positively impact someone tomorrow. These acts can be perpetrated at work, by lending an ear to a colleague who needs help or by mentoring someone who could benefit from your knowledge. They can also be perpetrated anywhere you see someone who could use a smile or a little help. If there is anything that I have learned from the women of Dawn’s Place, it’s that love can change lives. So, why not commit to being more kind, less distracted, and more in tune with others this year? Then, share your stories with others! I would love to hear more about how you’re contributing to the greater good in 2018 – continue making your Villanova HRD family proud!


Remember that these tiny moments that transpire between people can change the world.


Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Dawn’s Place, please attend our Annual Networking Reception, April 11, 2018, where we will be creating a group gift for the residents of Dawn’s Place in real time. You can also visit the Dawn’s Place website at to learn more and to donate if you want to support their mission. Cheers to a positive and powerful 2018!


Katina Sawyer, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Connect with her on LinkedIn and learn more about her here!

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