Interview by Sarah Shumick
When Maylin Sambois-Sanchez and Christina Vera-Reid started the journey that led to the founding of Femergy, it was with the simple idea of connecting women and providing them with added support. This “mustard seed” of an idea has transformed lives across the community, state and beyond. Femergy’s mission is to provide holistic programs and products that enhance teen girls and women in the areas of Education, Leadership, Health, & Wellness. A native of Dominican Republic, Maylin carries her own life experience with her as inspiration, living to serve others– “the rent we pay to live in this beautiful world.”
Give us a short overview of Femergy In 2011, Christina and I started with a mustard seed idea of wanting to find a simplified process for sharing community resources to women. We wanted to create opportunities for women to connect and create an additional layer of daily support. It was during those meet-ups that we identified many similarities among participants. They openly shared much about their childhood struggles, regrets and/or challenges they were facing with their daughters. Often, the consensus was, “We all had wished we would have had more support and enrichment-based opportunities/access as girls.” It was passion and faith that led us in 2014 when we officially launched Femergy (Female Energy). Since Femergy’s inception, we’ve gone on to create exploratory programs and events that serve girls and women in the state of Ohio and surrounding areas.
Tell us what’s innovative about your organization or how you are innovating in the nonprofit space: Femergy has an intentional focus on identifying career fields that have a shortage of women representation, and we host career clinics and leadership camps with a sports exploration focus in efforts to ignite interest amongst middle and high school girls. In addition, we have taken leadership development for women and created holistic strategies on how women can create and maintain economic self-sufficiency while living a healthier and more balanced lifestyle. Having the ability to create programs based on participant feedback has been such a unique and fulfilling experience. We are free to create programs and experiences and provide strategies for present-day girls and women.
How is your organization making an impact in Columbus? Through amazing partnerships with partners like the Ohio State University, The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Otterbein University, Dominican Sisters of Peace, Y2Y, Columbus City Schools etc. Femergy has gone on to serve thousands of girls and women in the past five years. We have had high school participants who have graduated and come back to serve Femergy in leadership capacities. Our program curricula continue to attract attention from institutions that serve youth, which led us to the decision of launching our “train the trainer” model to help expand our reach in 2019-2020. By creating programs for women and girls by women and girls it has allowed us to provide effective and engaging 21st Century programming.
What makes your organization thrive? Femergy continues to Thrive because of our program participants, volunteers, and donors. Without them none of what we do would be possible!
As a leader, how do you come up with innovative ideas, and what helps put those ideas into action? I love helping people find that thing that brings them joy! During my years in corporate I noticed that people had lost the spark of life, they were existing but not thriving. I started by leading women workshops with the focus on reading a book a month, but that was just the tool I used to help me find what was really missing in the lives of these amazing and strong women. I quickly realized they had stopped dreaming and many were so afraid of change, they had become internally sad. This ignited a fire in my heart showing me that there was more to my own purpose in life and that I needed to do more! Based on my findings from what I heard and observed from these women I was able to develop more workshops to address their needs. We use a very similar approach in Femergy. We survey the girls (middle school and high school) as well as the women (18 years old and over) to really find out what they need. We only create programs that provide value and truly create change. Once we know what they want/need, we (the Femergy team of directors, board members, advisors and committee members) come together to create and implement a plan of action. Once those plans are executed, we evaluate the process and the outcomes. A post survey is administered to ensure we have achieve our desired goals and social change is and will take place!
Give us a snapshot of your career path—what is your background, and what led you to work in the nonprofit sector? Growing up my dad has been an entrepreneur all his life and I saw how much he struggled due to lack of resources and effective guidance. I told myself then, I will never have my own business, it’s too hard so I’d better get a college degree, a great corporate job and work 9-5 for the rest of my life. That was safe! Right after college even before I had my degree at hand, I was hired to work for a large company in New York. I worked for corporate America for over 10 years in the areas of customer service, sales, finance and IT. I had the opportunity to travel the world to open new centers and grow our company’s footprint. Everything was going according to plan until we (Christina and I) started doing resource/community workshops for women outside of my workplace. What we found outside my corporate walls opened my eyes to the larger need in the community and how I could no longer assume others were making a change and that was good enough. I had a responsibility to do my part. Service is the rent we pay every day for living in this beautiful world. I left corporate to work for a nonprofit, it was less money but the rewards were amazing!
Through my experience working for nonprofits I learned that I love the work and the people I was serving, but I wanted to do more. We started Femergy while we were working for other people! So after much prayer and moving forward even with feeling a bit of fear, I took a leap of faith and left my job to focus on doing more and making Femergy our ONE thing. I will not lie, there are days that are really hard, those days I remember why I started and how this work is bigger than us, it’s about all the girls and women we serve. However, no matter what we make it happen and with the support of the community we are able to accomplish so much with limited resources. We promised ourselves when we started, that no girl or woman would ever be turned away because of financial need. We were those girls and our mothers were those women that didn’t have much. Every opportunity given to us was something we truly appreciated and took full advantage of to help us move forward. The best decision I made this far in my life was to co-create Femergy with such an incredible woman, Christina!
What is the one thing you are most passionate about? The most gratifying moments of my life are moments that I have been able to witness the transformation of how a girl or woman views themselves. Watching them start in a phase of uncertainty, doubt, fear almost like a caterpillar. Then that watching them transform into this beautiful butterfly who knows her worth, knows her voice matters, and knows her purpose. Nothing feeds my soul more!
Who inspires you? My parents, especially my mother. She is a true example of a warrior and resilience. She is kind and a community builder! She raised me and my brother and suffered a lot to keep the family together. She did not have much support and only a 3rd grade education. She always encouraged me to get a college education and she said, “It’s the one thing that no one can ever take away from you!” She took care of my grandmother until my grandmother passed. Through her love for family, community and her determination to never give up, I learned so many valuable lessons that guide a lot of my life today.
How do you stay motivated? What drives you to take things to the next level? Knowing that the work that we do saves lives drives me. Getting a text form a participant we serve that says, “Thank you for everything you have done to give me hope and show me what’s possible. You inspire me, just wanted you to know!” Those kind of messages push me to take our work to the next level! I wake up every day knowing my life has purpose and that I have gifts that only I can give to the world! You do too!
What struggles or adversities have you had to overcome to get to where you are today? I grew up in the Dominican Republic with very limited resources. I had no idea we were poor because we didn’t talk about those things. I remember one month we ate the same vegetable as food for the month (cooked in different ways) but that was all we had. Coming to New York, I was told life would be easier and we were coming to paradise. I will say, I thought Disney was in NYC, no one told me any different! What I was not told was that I would be judged by the color of my skin and not by my talents, that by not speaking English to no fault of my own, people would put labels on me and not see past my challenges. Overcoming a new culture change, language barrier and the feeling of not belonging helped me to become a kinder person. I see the good in almost everyone I meet and I do my best not to judge. I never want anyone to feel what I felt. It was very painful. I was lucky that I found strong women and men along my journey (My Femergy) that saw greatness in me before I had discovered it within myself. That pushed me to see beyond my circumstances and thought me to never give up. I am here today, 1) by the grace of God, 2) by the sacrifices my parents made to come to this country to give me a better opportunity, 3) those individuals that took it upon themselves to mentor me, 4) my determination to keep going even when I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel, I know there is light!
Why do you think people should care about innovative nonprofits? Innovative nonprofits are the ones doing the work it takes to create real and effective change. They are not afraid of trying new things, adapt and adjust as needed to ensure the work gets done! They operate in a growth mindset environment and use technologies and other tools to reach their goals. They do the work because is the right thing to do! People should care because it’s hard to do it alone, we need everyone to get involved by giving of your time, skills, talents, resources and treasures! It truly takes a village!
As a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? A teacher or a doctor! I loved helping people. When I was about 9 years old I used to teach the little children in my neighborhood how to read in Spanish after school!
What might others be surprised to know about you? I am a Zumba instructor! I love to dance.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? The people (YPs)! I have met the most amazing and driven people in Columbus! They are the PULSE that carries extraordinary change!