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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Uplifting womanhood: What Gainesville women are doing to create meaningful connections

Women share initiatives for juggling responsibilities, push for balance and relationships

When Shereka Nicole immersed herself into the obstacles of motherhood, she felt overwhelmed, yet an aspiration still flourished. She wanted to provide other women with the guidance and confidence she had been missing throughout her journey. 

“Just knowing that every day, your focus should be yourself because once you put yourself first then you can support everyone else around you,” she said.

The 40-year-old mother started the business Premier Moms in 2018. Since then, she’s helped dozens of mothers build their lives through mentorship, training and community.

Beyond the resources the city offers for female wellbeing, Gainesville women like Nicole have taken an approach of their own, pushing to connect deeper within their circles and strive for individual relationships with other women rather than relying on across-the-board solutions, she said. 

After conducting research through focus groups and interviews for a year, Nicole said a pattern she’s seen in many women is their devotion toward serving everyone in their lives besides themselves. 

“One of the biggest challenges is getting them to understand that you need to put yourself first,” she said. “They're used to doing stuff for everyone else.”

Premier Moms touches on multiple areas present in womanhood like finances, cooking, health and relationships. The program is also flexible to focusing on more specific topics based on member’s interest. 

The program has worked doing conferences, special events and diaper drives and overall aims to assess the specific needs of mothers and all women.

Nicole’s experience as a cancer and sexual assault survivor has led her to heavily advocate for health and empowerment initiatives, she said. She also believes the help she provides can be expanded through partnerships with similar goals.

“It’s a continual growth process because anytime you're working with families, you truly need the partnerships and the resources to make a change,” Nicole said. 

A member of Premier Moms who’s benefited from the resources is 25-year-old UF psychology junior and single mother Tineka Benjamin. 

Benjamin joined the program in 2018. She had been interviewed for an Alligator article and spoke about limited resources for UF student parents, and Nicole reached out to her after reading it.

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“It [the program] sort of helped me to have a path and like a sense of direction,” she said.

Benjamin had college credits that carried over from high school and received a full-ride scholarship to UF for Summer 2017. 

She was thrilled to start her professional college career, but saw three to four years of schooling turn into seven after being a single mother changed her priorities, she said.  

“I was so committed to finishing and then life just sort of turned upside down with all of the responsibilities that came with being a new mom,” she said. 

Despite returning home from UF and enrolling online to make time for herself and her son, Benjamin still felt the guidance from Premier Moms from afar through Zoom sessions and social media interaction, she said.

Benjamin’s experience raising her son and finding relationships within Premier Moms has led her to develop a healthier mindset, she said.

“Even though things don't necessarily happen in the timeframe that we want it to happen, every step matters,” she said.

Beyond motherhood, women like 45-year-old Venezuelan Sirelys Valera are placing their best foot forward to break down workforce challenges like financial intricacies and language barriers.

Valera is a tax preparer at Liberty Tax Service on Tower Road and Michael Turner CPA. She notices a pattern of financial confusion mixed with a lack of language accessibility among immigrant women. 

“A lot of people arrive here and are very lost, so I’ve had the opportunity to guide them through that process,” she said.

Among W-2, W-4 and W-9 forms, Valera said she makes sure she carefully explains the differences. She also teaches clients the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. 

As a notary, Valera has been able to guide people through the process of filling out forms and can also officialize documents, she said.

Valera has transferred her work skills into Latina Women’s League, where she volunteers. The organization has allowed her to help a larger group of residents in need but also let her connect with other women, who have been able to help her.

Although catering to women's wellbeing, the league is open to helping all community members, she said. 

“It’s incredible the amount of support and help,” she said. “They are always willing to help, and if they can't directly, they know in what direction to steer you in.”

Through the league, Valera led a workshop on the fundamentals of taxes in February. She was able to answer people’s questions as new taxpayers in Florida, she said.

She said she’s planning a workshop on property purchasing and hopes to continue with the mentoring sessions monthly.

Another Hispanic resident helping the community is 49-year-old Coro Borjas, who’s turned to the media platform Whatsapp to create connections with her neighbors.

“It’s a community created to unite Hispanics of different nationalities,” she said. 

Borjas is the administrator of the Whatsapp group chat, “Trabajando Juntos GNV,” which translates to “working together Gainesville.” The chat aims to create relationships between different Gainesville residents, and it is also focused on assisting with any questions, concerns or remarks group members may have.

“People may need guidance on confusing topics,” she said. “The systems here are so different, so we want to answer to people.” 

The chat is not tied to a nonprofit or a business but it has turned into communal participation of citizens wanting to help each other out, she said. 

Borjas said it’s a resourceful tool for residents who’ve recently settled into the city, the state or the country and need people to reach out to for some newcomer stability. 

The chat has grown through people adding their family, friends, coworkers and classmates, she said.

Brojas said there is really no advertisement to join this group. It travels from person to person, and people get added if they're interested.

The chat also updates people on weekly events and resources like opportunities to learn English.

Borjas said health is a large concern for many group chat members, women’s health being a recurring concern. She said she makes sure the chat is aware of free healthcare opportunities like health fairs and drives. 

One community member who’s benefited from both Valera and Borjas’ guidance is 54-year-old Peruvian Martha Ormaeche.

Ormaeche moved from Peru to Gainesville over a year ago after her children were accepted into Santa Fe College. She said when she arrived in the US, she felt lost, but after connecting with Valera and joining “Trabajando Juntos GNV,” she realized there was communal interaction. 

“Little by little I started realizing there is a community here,” she said. “It is truly a blessing to find people like that,” she said. 

Valera was able to help Ormaeche navigate her financial concerns.

“She helped me during a very important time,” she said. “I was able to observe the commitment she has for the Hispanic community,” she said.

Ormaeche said as a resident with limited English proficiency, language access is still a huge challenge across Gainesville, and she believes Hispanic women may feel intimidated putting themselves out there in a new setting and a new language. The step-by-step guidance can feel more comforting, she said.

“That is really important for Hispanic womanhood,” she said. 

Beyond life’s obstacles, mothers like Benjamin, believe women do enough for their loved ones, their jobs and all their obligations, and they should remember to place themselves first. 

“The most important thing that we can do that sort of guarantees our success is not to work harder or to run ourselves through the ground but to find that balance and to take care of ourselves,” Benjamin said. 

Contact Nicole Beltran at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on X @nicolebeltg.

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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