By Paula Stevenson, volunteer since 2010.
Lakina Edwards is a force of nature. Not even a pandemic can stop her.
“Learning never ends…paying it forward never ends,” she says as she juggles work, family and a passion for helping others.
There is a smile….a gracious sort of laugh…and a sense that this is a woman committed to changing things for the better.
She started by changing herself.
Her “aha moment” came when she realized that she had an extraordinary power within — that she could “right my wrongs, heal my broken places and become a positive contributor within my community.”
Lakina dug down deep. She relied on her faith, her commitment to her two children, and her gut instincts as a survivor of domestic abuse. Gradually, she learned to not only survive but thrive.
She began by signing up for Project Empowerment — a program run by the DC Department of Employment Services.
“I joined the program because I needed a fresh start in the right direction,” she recalls. “I wanted to increase my chances of becoming self-sufficient and employed. I think this was the only way to become the kind of mom my children deserved.
And then there was this: “I finally accepted that only I am in control of my life.”
She worked hard, honed her skills, and got the necessary certification. Only one thing was left. If she wanted to be a professional, she had to look the part.
That is when Suited For Change stepped in.
The volunteers who worked with Lakina provided her with three complete office-ready outfits. But their impact was far greater than the suits, shoes, and earrings they helped her choose.
It was something intangible….but incredibly important.
I was made to feel respected and valued,” says Lakina. “The volunteers who took care of me that day were attentive and non-judgmental. Their only concern was helping me to feel good about myself.”
She says she left feeling encouraged and uplifted — so much so that she followed her gut and went to the DC Superior Court without an appointment and snagged an internship.
That experience built on her passion for the law and social justice. She continued her studies at Georgetown University and got a second internship with LINK Strategic Partners - a firm that helps strengthen communities through new-tech messaging and traditional outreach.
The folks at LINK were so impressed with Lakina that they offered her a permanent job. It’s a perfect fit for a woman whose life embodies the company’s goals: “to translate challenges into opportunities for success.”
Lakina says over time she has learned that success is about more than hard work. It also takes, in her words, “responsibility and accountability.”
Responsibility to herself….and to those two kids.
Her son Eric is 10 years old. She describes her older child as “the cool, calm and collected one” — a boy who dreams of becoming a Secret Service agent.
And then there is little Serenity — a six-year-old girl whose vivacious, creative spirit stands in contrast to her name.
“They are very proud of me” Lakina says, adding “my tenacity has, in turn, inspired them.”
Now all three are dreaming big dreams.
Lakina still remembers the first time they saw her all dressed up and ready to head to work.
She says she will never forget the smiles on her children’s faces.
And then there was a simple request from her daughter: “mommy, can I dress like you?”