Patrice Pike here. I am co-founder and executive director of The Step Onward Foundation, which started as the Grace Foundation. I am grateful to have met Eliza Grace in my life as a traveling musician, because I am a survivor of homelessness too. Humbly I will tell you that I didn’t know what was coming when I met Eliza, but it changed my life forever and that has also changed the lives exponentially of others. Her story was my story, though hers was so much more challenging. She shared with me, unexpectedly after a chance meeting on the road, the extraordinary journey from unsafe childhood, to recovering young adult with a life threatening medical condition with little hope and a lot of pain, to her decision to heal herself when she was told by two best friends, “We see you and we will walk with you. Trust the power of community and let’s do this.” SHE DID IT. And the Grace Foundation, now named Step Onward Foundation was born. Todd Young, our co-founder, was that best friend, and our community showed up for Eliza. Read part of her story here, and see throughout the site how the mission has rippled into many lives.
ELIZA GRACE’s TRUE STORY INSPIRES
My story is not unique; I am one of many who have experienced systematic oppression. I know that is a heavy word to use and I hope the weight of it is not lost on those who read this. A system that was supposed to protect us, has failed us. I am a survivor yes, but now I am a leader. Today I live in NYC with my partner; I have a successful career, a home, positive community and roots. My passion and job is working with girls and young women who have been Commercially Sexually Exploited and Domestically Trafficked as the Criminal Court Advocacy Coordinator at GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Program). It is one of the most important roles I will have in my life, supporting and serving these young women is a privilege. I am grateful that I have the capacity to walk into a courtroom in NYC and have a platform to speak with Judges, District Attorneys, Defense Lawyers, Police Officers, and Detectives about vulnerabilities and risk factors. I speak about these young women as whole people who have had full lives leading up to the day they were arrested, that they are not criminals but victims of a system that has failed them and taken options from them. I advocate with absolute confidence and a fierce heart. My story is not unique, because I hear my story every day. I have found a way to use my shared experience as a positive force inside of a system that ignores and criminalizes based on race, class, and gender. How did I come to this, How did I become the Eliza Grace that exist today? The answer is simple, daily small victories, daily intention to move forward and stop believing the lies I was told growing up. What began as The Grace Foundation, and is now the Step Onward Foundation helped begin my untangling, helped me begin to open up, to believe that I could do something better, be something better and that I was in fact gifted and contained greatness. Given the specific support from The Grace Foundation changed the trajectory of my life, which has changed my legacy and broken the cycle. A few of the ways that I am able to thank Patrice Pike and Todd and Tiffany Young is to live my life in a noble and honest way..to never give up..to give back and keep fighting for truth and justice, to trust that I am brilliant and capable. Even when I’m afraid and having those days where the lies I was told as a child start to creep in, alongside my loved ones , I can close my eyes and remember the steadfast love and hope that they and others have given me. I was told years ago that all you need is a handful of hope, and the Step Onward Foundation is that handful of hope.