It still sounds weird to say Hillary Clinton considers me to be a friend but it’s true. Earlier in the year she didn’t even know who I was. Now she introduces me to her family as “the woman who inspired her”. Here is my powerful personal story she found out about and my journey to start Bungee Girl.
It’s no surprise that I’ve taken on the challenge of Bungee Girl even though I have zero tech background. It’s definitely been a lot of work and intimidating, there’s still days I think “what the hell am I doing” but this is who I am and have always been. It’s almost as if I do better when taking on difficult challenges. Nothing has been more difficult than becoming a mom at 19. I found out I was pregnant in my first semester at Penn State University, it was really devastating. I had been quite an overachiever most of my life and my family didn’t agree with my decision to keep the pregnancy so initially I got little support. I wasn’t welcomed home when that semester finished. I watched as parents came to pick up their kids and help them move out their dorm room but no one would come for me. At a couple months pregnant, I had to rent a Uhaul truck and pack myself up to make the nearly 8 hour journey to Rhode Island where my daughter’s father was living with his roommate. I was so determined to stay in school, so I transferred to Bryant University (in Rhode Island) and was lucky to get a full academic scholarship.
Life was still super hard, we had no money and no family living near by to help. I had to go on welfare and work a campus job to get by. My daughter’s farther and I rotated watching her since we couldn’t afford daycare, he went to school at night and I took morning classes. He was from Bermuda and on a student visa so he wasn’t eligible to work either and all his family was in Bermuda so we really had no helpers. I took on 6 or 7 courses at a time so I could graduate early. Like a true fighter, I was determined to not become another statistic. My greatest motivation was proving everyone wrong and making something of myself and I did just that. I graduated with honors and went on to work for a top accounting firm (PricewaterhouseCoopers). While working for PwC, I also got a Master’s degree and a CPA license. My financial situation had dramatically changed in just a few years and I was making my way up the corporate ladder.
Now if you think being a full time student, taking 6 courses, working 20 hours a week and having an infant child was hard…that was a piece of cake compared to what was the most difficult thing I had to overcome. Being a teen mom was one hell of a title but so was young wife. We got legally married at age 20 (of course we couldn’t afford a wedding). About a year into the marriage, he started to abuse me. It was 4 years of living in hell and experiencing the horror of physical and sexual assault before I was in a good position enough to break out and survive on my own. Like most abused women, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on for so long. I felt so trapped. I depended on him to help watch my daughter and worried that I would have to transfer schools again if I really wanted to leave him. I was obsessed with school, it was my golden ticket. In a sick and twisted way, I was willing to go through that horrible abuse as long as I could finish my undergraduate program. Maybe it was a survival mechanism but I was so good at hiding what was going on. To this day, when people find out what I had endured they are so shocked and tell me that I must’ve been so good at keeping it together because they had no clue. At some point my nerves became so shot that it was hard to conceal my plight anymore. I worked in the Admissions Office at my school. One day my supervisor told me she needed to talk to me and asked me to step out into the hallway. She said she knew something was wrong with me because she could see my hands shaking. I was able to keep my facial expressions normal but eventually I couldn’t control the shock to my body from the abuse which started to show to others. I did tell her he was hurting me but for some reason I couldn’t talk about the rapes. Only until recently have I found the courage to mention that additional detail.
Like most women, we all have a particular threshold, a breaking point, a limit to how much we can take. I got to that point in 2013. We were living in Bermuda at the time where I worked for PwC and had a successful start to my career. I gave it all up to flee and go back home to NYC to start fresh with my two kids (I had another child at age 24). My dignity and self-respect was priceless to me. I tried to leave him a few times before, I even once checked myself and daughter into a domestic violence shelter in Rhode Island but i’d always run back. I knew it would be impossible to be on my own and in school full-time. But this time I was finished with school, had all my degrees and a CPA license, had saved up a decent amount of money so there was nothing holding me back. He always accused me of “using” him to get my footing in life. Maybe he was right, but I had to do what was best for my kids. I knew I would have to be strong for them. I knew I could handle being a single mom once I was educated with a corporate job so for years I patiently waited for the day I could break free. I left just about everything behind, material things meant nothing to me. On June 26, 2013 with two kids, two suitcases and a pet carriage with two kittens, I boarded a plane to NYC and made a final decision to never endure that treatment again.
This time around, I had a lot of support. My parents and close family members were so happy that I was home and safe. Although I had a shaky start eventually I got on my own two feet and one great thing after another started to happen. Maybe it’s karma, who knows! I eventually found love again, landed a great job with people that were so flexible and supportive and became financially comfortable again. Being the typical LEO, I can’t seem to sit still. If I’m not volunteering then I’m taking on a new business venture. It’s just who I am.
So how did Hillary Clinton find out about this?
Earlier this year I got the attention of Hillary Clinton, who I am a big supporter of because I wrote a letter to her campaign. I was just as shocked as anyone else to find out that her campaign reads every letter that comes in the door. I wrote the letter because I was so bothered by the headlines stating she was doing so poorly with millennial voters. I knew that some of the policies she fought for, continues to fight for or issues she has taken a passionate stand on had serious implications in my life. For example, I really benefitted from the CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) she helped set up which gave full health coverage to certain kids of low income families. This was a life saver while I was in college. I would often struggle with eligibility for most of the welfare programs because of my student status or scholarship which is ridiculous because as a teen mom, I clearly needed the help. But the CHIP program never let me down. Health insurance for my daughter was critical for me. I would never risk her being uninsured. That factor alone could’ve forced me to drop out of school. As a survivor of domestic violence, I feel so passionate about her positions on ending violence against women and a woman’s right to choose. I could keep on going but I don’t want to make this too much about political policies. I wanted to simply send her a few words of encouragement, I could never anticipate what would follow. Her campaign was so inspired by my story that I was quickly thrust into the political arena. Not only was I asked to feature in a promotional video for the campaign, and do a variety of speaking engagements but I also got to speak with Hillary Clinton at a rally in Staten Island (definitely the highlight of my year).
She was personally so impacted by my story that she got her campaign to continue to get me involved. She felt my story was so important and people needed to continue to hear it. They empowered me use a voice I didn’t even know I had. I went on to be selected by her campaign to be the youngest delegate from NY at the democratic convention and was recently selected as her special guest at the first presidential debate.
I got to sit in the front row, next to Mark Cuban and the Clinton family. It is just a testament to her commitment to the “little people”. And the end of the debate when she came to the front to greet us she was ecstatic to see me. She introduced me to Chelsea Clinton and told her how much I inspired her throughout this election. It’s quite motivational when one of the most powerful women in the world says that “YOU” inspired her! It wasn’t just the fact that I had endured all those difficult challenges and overcame them that impressed Hillary but it was the perseverance, the unwavering strive for greatness, the courage to end a cycle of violence and poverty for my kids and the determination to live up to my greatness potential.
Hillary was equally excited to learn about my ambitious drive and desire to found a startup. I talked about how the idea for Bungee Girl was inspired by my first solo trip, a 12 day vacation to London and then South Africa in 2015.
I had a very close friend living in each of those locations that I stayed with. It was the best trip I’d ever been on. I had the best of both worlds. I got to do my tourist thing during the day while they were at work or carrying about their lives and then on nights/weekends, they would show me the city “their way”. My favorite night in London we went to a pop-up food market, it was in this sort of dungeony looking warehouse from the outside but inside it was a really rad spot full entirely of local hipsters, a delicious variety of finger foods, great music and amazing drinks. The vibe was so nice and I quickly realized I would never have found that spot without my friend nor would I feel like I “blended” if I wasn’t with a local. It was awesome. She kept taking me to new spots and unique locations only a local would know. I had a similar experience in South Africa . Not only did I save a ton of money that way, but my friends really helped me feel comfortable navigating their cities alone whether it was detailed instructions on taking public transportation, tips on saving money, advice on what spots to see and where to eat. I felt like I was traveling more like a local than a tourist, and I felt safer that way too. Even when I would get lost or confused, I would find a Starbucks for wi-fi, turn on my phone and start messaging my friends for help, it made me feel so much more confident than the intimidation of solo travel. When I returned from my trip, I wanted to replicate this type of travel experience in other parts of the world but I thought “If I don’t know anyone there how can I do this? I don’t want to just keep going to the same places where I already have friends and I can’t think of an opportunity that would arise to allow me to meet new people living where I want to go”. I’m a woman living in NYC with this dilemma, so I figured there must be someone in the spot I want to visit that has the same dilemma and desire to come to NYC, how great would it be to create a connection that would allow us to solve our problem. That’s where the idea for Bungee Girl came from. It’s an app that connects solo travelers, and the connection is specific to the equal interest in visiting each other’s city. Users get connected when they click on each other’s city, showing a mutual interest. My researched showed that sites that help travelers find accommodation or locals to crash with like Airbnb and CouchSurfing aren’t made for women who are much more personable by nature and need to first interact with and find a connection with someone before feeling comfortable enough to just wing it and go visit them. On the app users can also find potential travel buddies in their own home city. I am a loud and proud feminist so the underlying mission of Bungee Girl is to grow into a lifestyle brand that encourages and empowers women to get out of their comfort zone, take on more challenges, develop themselves by interacting with and learning about the rest of the world, sticking together so we can have these experiences but in a safe manner and experience some amazing things in the prime of our life (hence the target to millennial women). The app just launched and started out in 6 locations (San Fran, Nyc, Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen and London) with new cities being rolled out soon based on demand. I wanted to do it that way to make sure there was always a match and enough people to be equally interested.
After every speech I give where I detail these difficult personal experiences and my overly ambitious personality, I have women come up to me afterwards telling me how much they can relate, how much my words touched them and gave them much needed encouragement. If you get nothing else out this post, which is my first blog post EVER, I hope you know that you are in control of your destiny. We may not be able to control each and everything thing that happens to us but we can control our reaction, our attitude, our thoughts and feelings, our future. My favorite quote from my favorite book (Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill) is “Thoughts Become Things”. This concept governs my life.
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