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Meet Heather Gaylord of The Urbane Flower Project in Metro

Today we’d like to introduce you to Heather Gaylord.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Heather. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was “born and raised” in New Orleans, LA and I relocated to Georgia after earning my bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Alabama State University in 2007. My career in Social Work began with the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) as a Case Manager that same year. It was, bar none, the most impactful experience and the most challenging. It is also what helped me to cultivate the heart of compassion that I have for women and girls.

However, I realized that there were often disconnects between policy and best practices. I knew that micro level social work was not where I felt my skill set would be best utilized and that I was more suited for the macro level of involvement. From then on, I knew that my goal was to one day become a policymaker. I am currently a graduate student at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University with a concentration in Social Policy for Families and Children.

I resigned from DFCS in December 2015 to start my business, The Urbane Flower (TUF) Project, which was created to help empower women and girls. By that time, I had spent two years envisioning and planning what I wanted TUF Project to be. I prayed about it and began to receive so many confirming messages from people I didn’t even know who said, I had a calling and a purpose for my life that I had to pursue. I also found the support of those who I entrusted with my vision, and they all encouraged me to move forward. I knew that the longer I waited for the right moment to start, it would never come. So, I decided to take a giant leap of faith- and I am still flying high.

Has it been a smooth road?
As much as I would like to say that the decision to pursue my goals as an entrepreneur was the easiest decision I’d ever made, I would not be telling the whole truth. I remember being on an emotional high and being so eager to be successful. I set so many first-year goals for myself and felt so accomplished when I crushed them. Four months later, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table with my laptop open and updating my resume. My savings account was starting to dwindle down to me only being able to afford the bare minimum of my living expenses, and I was in panic mode wondering if I had indeed made the right move. I must have applied for nearly every job I thought I was qualified for and yet no one was calling me back. And they weren’t supposed to.

The one thing I learned about myself in this process is that, my faith has always kept me going. My anxiety and stress levels may have been through the roof, but I kept working on TUF Project. I remember praying and I just heard God ask me a simple question. “Heather, do you want a job or do you want a purpose?” At that time, I had to focus on the real reason why I started TUF Project because it wasn’t about me or my dwindling bank account. It was bigger than all of that.

When I was a Case Manager, I noticed a strikingly grim and sobering commonality in most of my cases – which was the sexual assault and trauma of little girls. This is a taboo subject in most communities, especially those of color, but it is also something that I, too, experienced as a child. As a survivor, I wanted to empower other women to speak up and come forward. It was tough, but I found healing through transparency and a support group of women who had similar life experiences. And when I thought about giving up, I knew that this was the reason why I had to keep going. My purpose is to help other women find healing through their stories, as I had found healing through my own.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Urbane Flower Project – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The Urbane Flower Project, Inc. is a charitable organization that provides women with quality programming to promote personal growth, awareness and advocacy. We focus our attention on bringing awareness to issues affecting women and girls, such as domestic sex trafficking, sexual assault and intimate partner violence through outreach and other initiatives. TUF Project, Inc. serves women in communities throughout Metro Atlanta while influencing growth and change.

TUF Nite Out is our annual Summer outreach initiative that raises awareness to help end the domestic sex trafficking industry in Metro Atlanta. We empower women and girls in the most vulnerable areas of Metro Atlanta by giving them resources and information about human trafficking. We have reached over 225 women and girls since out start in 2016 with the help of our amazing volunteers!

In addition to our outreach efforts, we have launched new programming that has helped to connect young women. I am most proud that this project, my labor of love, is a compassionate grassroots organization that is helping women grow through life.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love that Atlanta is a city full of compassionate people. I have the general sense that we all want to see and live in a unified Atlanta that rallies for the social good of others. We also have a large amount of NGOs and interest groups who advocate for social justice and human rights. Due to these characteristics, I believe Atlanta has the potential to lead in social innovation and progressive thinking that can solve domestic and global issues. However, the way in which we engage ourselves with issues of concern often depends on what causes the most discomfort within social settings (i.e., homelessness in downtown Atlanta, the sex trafficking industry in Metro Atlanta, etc.).

Domestic sex trafficking and homelessness are highly visible and complex issues but there is often no intervention without a focusing event that draws widespread attention. It is so important that we draw the parallel and help spread awareness to these issues. When I learned about the sex trafficking industry in Atlanta, I wanted others to know what it was, and why it was a social problem. In March of 2016, I used the research I’d gathered inform others within my community about it which led to the start of an outreach effort in DeKalb County. Within two years, this outreach has grown from 5 volunteers (my closest friends) to those who have helped us reach over 200 women by increasing awareness, giving them free resources and linking those in need with other organizations that have the capacity to support them.

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Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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