6 minute read

The Brave House

"I, like a butterfly, flew from one place to another. I was lost, until I met other wonderful people like me, who helped me fly again."

Belonging, being seen, loved, and understood play an important role to our wellbeing. Lacking any of these pillars at any time of our lives can fracture our mental, spiritual, and physical stability, which can take a lifetime to reconcile – heal. Lauren E. Blodgett, Esq. is the founder and executive director of The Brave House, the first and only non-profit in NYC that works specifically with immigrant women, ages 16-24 and youth who identify as female, gender non-conforming, transgender, or non-binary.

As an immigration attorney and youth worker living in Brooklyn, Lauren is a self-described hugger, meditator, optimist, feminist, and a kid at heart who loves dreaming big, creating new things, and connecting with people. She describes The Brave House as, “Love. A reminder that we all need support, and that life is so much easier and more beautiful when you’re going through hard times while in a community. It’s a reminder that we are not alone, and that sometimes there’s no better feeling than connecting with someone who has walked similar paths to you and just gets you. It’s a space to feel understood, supported, and loved.”

Lauren comes from long decades of Portuguese immigrants living in Boston, working in either education or government. They supported the creation of a Portuguese immigrant community outside of Boston where in “a cramped church basement, people could go to seek help with anything from English tutoring, to learning how to file taxes, to sharing a hot meal.” Lauren’s family’s immigrant stories instilled her commitment to public service, along with the power and importance of community spaces for immigrants who are trying to navigate life in a new country. Living abroad after college gave Lauren “a deep respect for other cultures and a glimpse into the immigrant experience, though very different from what people experience when coming to the U.S.” This led Lauren to her current work with The Brave House. I asked her and some of The Brave House members a few more questions about the non-profit.

“The Brave House is an attempt to provide trauma-informed, holistic services to this community so that they can thrive and live the type of life they choose for themselves.”

Lauren, what drove you to start The Brave House?

During my years as an immigration attorney representing teenage girls, a recurring theme I observed was a lack of non-legal support for my clients.

They often asked me for assistance with many issues that fell outside the scope of their legal case, from enrolling in Medicaid, to obtaining birth control, to applying for financial aid for college, to signing up for English tutoring, to making friends. Many of these social services exist in New York, but the barriers this population encounters in accessing them is often prohibitive, including: a lack of information, language barriers, a hesitancy to trust a new person/organization, and the challenge of having a young person locate a new office in a large city on their own.

I saw a real need and opportunity to create spaces for them to connect with each other, heal together, and navigate the complex legal and social systems with the support of their peers. The Brave House is an attempt to provide trauma-informed, holistic services to this community so that they can thrive and live the type of life they choose for themselves. The more resources we connect them with, the more legal rights we can fight for, The more community we can cultivate, the more fully they can show up as their amazing, brilliant, radiant selves and achieve their dreams.

Do you find doing this work healing?

Absolutely. It is the biggest honor in my life that our members allow me to be a part of their journey. I find inspiration and strength from them every day, and I feel so fortunate that I get to spend each day in love and service. I’ve experienced forms of trauma in my own life, and I’ve found that peer support and friendship has been the most healing response, so being able to do this work really speaks to my soul.

Do you find that the services provided by The Brave House are healing to its members?

I hope so! But I’m very aware that I can’t speak for them and their unique experiences. One of my values as a leader is to be radically open to feedback. To that end, we’ve launched a youth leadership board

with seven of our members. We meet monthly and offer them a stipend for their time and input. We use those meetings to discuss what’s going well at The Brave House and what we can be doing even better. The goal is to have more of the young women in our community in leadership roles at our organization in order to make our services truly youth-led and youth-designed. We also want to create leadership opportunities so that they can continue to grow into leadership roles in their communities as well.

How do those who need the services find you?

Our members find us in a variety of ways: from coming to us seeking legal help, to joining because their friend or sister is also a member, to learning about us from their school counselor, to even finding us on Instagram!

A major reason that members seek us out for legal help is because immigrants do not have the right to free legal representation in immigration court. This means that children as young as six years old must represent themselves in court. Facing this complex system alone is not only traumatic, but it has serious legal consequences. With an attorney, these girls can win their case 90% of the time, but without an attorney, those chances plummet to 20%. This statistic is even more shocking when considering that over 18,000 youth currently in New York immigration court do not have an attorney, creating a real risk that children are being sent back to life-threatening situations. This is truly a human rights crisis of our time, and it is why offering free legal services is a cornerstone of our work at The Brave House.

Mia is one of many members whose healing and wellbeing journey has been supported by The Brave House. She calls it her second home, a place where she has learned many skills and from other members’ stories too. “Lauren and her amazing team have helped me a lot in a long journey,” Mia said. “Thanks to them, now I’m not afraid to speak mine or even share my story as an immigrant or even as a trans woman.”

Mia immigrated from El Salvador with low self-esteem and with dreams of becoming the “next top trans person to educate the younger generation that it’s OK to be you, and the only opinion that matters is yours and no one else’s.” Mia aspires to be the first member of her family to attend college and join the professional workforce, too.

We can see how the community support Mia has received from The Brave House is helping her soar, and she has some great advice for us all starting with the need to “work 10 times harder. “You’ve got to be consistent when you want something,” Mia stated. “In this world, people would give you lots of ‘no,’ but that can’t stop you. Just keep trying again, and again, and again.”

It takes a village to heal, and The Brave House is a light to many in The Big Apple.

Learn more: thebravehouse.com

“The goal is to have more of the young women in our community in leadership roles at our organization in order to make our services truly youth-led and youth-designed.”