Tonawanda News — In 2005 Sharon Morgan was working full time, going to college at the University at Buffalo for a degree in social work and raising a son as a single mom. She had separated from her son’s father after more than a year of abuse and she was on her own, struggling to take care of her small family without any child support.
It wasn’t easy, she said, and it’s not something many people may be able to juggle if they were in her shoes.
Morgan, who lives in Amherst right near the Town of Tonawanda border, has since spent more than a decade as a domestic violence advocate at the YWCAs of the Tonawandas, the Erie County Sheriff’s Department and, most recently, the Family Justice Center in Buffalo.
She recently began her own jewelry-making business, Lunar Light Studio, thanks in part to a business workshop program, Project Fresh Start, at Everyone Woman Opportunity Center Inc. funded by Verizon Wireless Foundation.
After just a few months of taking workshops on how to develop a business plan and promote her small business online, and getting advice from retired businesspeople at Buffalo Niagara SCORE, Morgan had learned the skills needed to apply for the Verizon Wireless Domestic Violence Entrepreneurship Grant. Verizon awarded $5,000 to Morgan, money she was able to put toward advertising and supplies for her small, but growing handmade jewelry business.
“It helped me immensely because I’m a single parent and receive no financial help for my son,” Morgan said of the funds.
And while Morgan was just the first Buffalo-area businesswoman to be awarded the grant — Verizon has handed out a total of 14 grants worth $60,000 across the state — Everywoman Opportunity Center Executive Director Myrna F. Young said the program and grant opportunity opens the door for other domestic violence survivors to get a much-needed leg up.
“The thing that keeps (domestic violence victims) staying with their abuser — or going back — is their inability to support themselves. For those individuals who have an idea, who have been providing services or products, this is a way to develop all the tools they need to become financially independent,” Young said.
Project Fresh Start gives domestic violence survivors “an opportunity to meet experts on establishing a business and gives them the best opportunity to have the information they need to be sucessful in that start,” she added.
John O’Malley, spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, said the company started the grant program a little over two years ago, but found that some applicants had trouble providing a detailed business plan and projecting sales.
“We found many times a survivor might have a great idea for a small business and a great passion but a lot of times she might be unfamiliar” with the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a business, he said.
At the beginning of the year, Verizon began funding the training programs — like Project Fresh Start — at domestic violence organizations throughout the state as a precursor to applying for a grant.
“We went to work with Everywoman Opportunity Center Inc. to fund the development of their Fresh Start program that provides training and ongoing coaching,” O’Malley added. “We want to make sure the programs are viable and successful.”
Morgan said what she appreciates the most about Project Fresh Start is how flexible and open-ended it is. Workshops and programs are offered at no cost to participants and there’s no requirement to take specific classes at specific times.
“I began this process in March and I’ve taken six workshops since then and a few meetings at Buffalo State College for online marketing,” she said. “As my situation changes, so does the program ... it adapts to each individual.
“They help you assess where your needs are to build on your strengths but also teach you the skills you need to be successful,” Morgan added.
She said she’s recently learned a great deal about online marketing and presence. She currently sells her jewelry — made with beads and a separate line made of recycled materials — at www.lunarlightstudio.bigcartel.com and www.etsy.com/shop/lunarlightstudio and at assorted craft and art festivals throughout the region. The $5,000 grant she received helped her to purchase festival tents featuring her logo.
Domestic violence survivors interested in starting their own business and taking part in Project Fresh Start at Everywoman Opportunity Center Inc. can call career counselor Virginia McIntyre at 847-1120, or visit
www.everywoman.org.Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.