Q+A: The Brave House

Fleeing one’s country due to gender-based violence and then navigating a complex legal system can be both traumatizing and isolating. The Brave House is a non-profit that grew out of this recognition, offering a sisterhood and a community for survivors with not only free legal and healing resources but also companionship to gain a sense of belonging while starting a new life. We met with Lauren Blodgett, founder and executive director, and Morgan Perry, program manager at the Brave House to learn more about their work and future directions of the organization. Make sure to check out the ways you can get involved and help the cause!

The Brave House Event. Credit: The Brave House.
The Brave House Event. Credit: The Brave House.

Could you tell us about the Brave House and what drove you to start the organization?

Lauren: I started the Brave House in late 2018. I am an immigration attorney, so I created the organization after seeing patterns in some of the needs that my clients were having. I was working at another nonprofit where I was representing young immigrant teenagers and children who are facing deportation, and saw this constant lack of community for this population as well as a gap in access to critical services for this population. So the Brave House is really meant to be a one-stop shop and a sisterhood for young immigrant women in New York City. It's a place where you can come for not only legal support but also a whole range of other support and resources that someone who is new to this country, or even just navigating life in this country, might be seeking. 

An additional layer of what we do is that many of our members, if not most of our members, are also survivors of gender-based violence. So, there are additional layers of support that they might be seeking, whether that be wellness workshops, mental health support, emergency resources such as shelters, or domestic violence support.

So, it's really meant to be an innovative way of thinking about legal services, viewing the person as complex, beautiful, deserving and worthy of support in all different aspects of their life, as opposed to just focusing on the case. It's hard to focus on one’s legal case when one is struggling with mental health, and it's also hard to seek mental health support and other resources when there are language barriers. It is a cycle, and we try to support our members in all the ways that we can while creating a space where they feel like they're not alone.

The Brave House is really meant to be a one-stop shop and a sisterhood for young immigrant women in New York City.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part is seeing a member who is able to pursue the dreams that they've decided for themselves, for example, when we won a green card, which is really hard, especially over the past few years. It's been like a very, very uphill battle, so something like that is very rewarding because I just know all the doors that are going to open for that person after all the work, hours, and energy that that person put into that case. It is not just a short-term win but it is the endless possibilities of what the person can achieve in the future.

It is also very rewarding to see someone graduate from high school or their GED program, to see someone taking that next step and exhibit bravery, whether it's coming to one of our leadership training or conquering a public speaking fear that maybe they've had for a while.

Every day, I'm blown away by the people I get to interact with. They are the most resilient people I've ever met, and I’m very proud to see the impact that they're having in their own lives, in their networks, their schools, communities and neighborhoods. That's really our goal: we do very on-the-ground grassroots work, but at the end of the day, our vision is this big picture of more women and immigrant voices in positions of power. We're trying to be one of the steps on the path, helping our members to have their immediate needs met. In doing that, we want to plant seeds for these longer-term opportunities that will, hopefully, create this beautiful snowball of more immigrants and women having resources, being in leadership positions, and eventually being in those positions of power where decisions are made, from basic human rights to our school systems to resources allocation. That big picture vision drives us every single day.

We do very on-the-ground grassroots work, but at the end of the day, our vision is this big picture of more women and immigrant voices in positions of power.

Since its inception, how has the Brave House community grown, and what are your future trajectories?

We started with 10 members a couple of years ago, and now there are over 100 people in our community. We now have a mobile app that's allowing us to really grow, especially during the pandemic when so many things are virtual. On the app, everyone has their own profile showing the borough they are in, the languages they speak, the country they're originally from, and their interests to foster members’ connection. The app also features all of our events and free events that are accessible in NYC. Technology is one of the tools that we are using to help us connect on a bigger scale.

In 2022, we're really focusing on growing our membership even more through partnering with some local high schools and colleges like City Tech and John Jay to invite more people into our community.

We're also going to continue in this new hybrid world that we all are navigating now, having our events in a way that feels safe and accessible. For example, next month we're going indoor rock climbing at The Cliffs, we're also having Know Your Rights workshops on our Instagram Live and art class on Instagram once a week. We will have more private, curated digital events as well! Last night, for example, we had an astrology workshop led by someone who is a psycho therapist and an astrologer.

So, I see the future being this combination of adapting to the hybrid-tech model and still really holding on to that in-person element as much as much as we can in a way that's safe. That's really a core part of the community, a hard thing to replace with technology, and the part where our Youth Leadership Board plays a huge role. The board is a committee of seven of our members who meet once a month to elicit ideas and feedback or anything that is coming directly from our community; because when you ask me about my vision for the future of the organization, I can have a million ideas and all the energy in the world, but what's most important is what is useful, and what is being asked for by our community. We provide them with training workshops such as leadership development, public speaking, and time management. We really want it to be an organization that is for young people and led by young people.

The mural designed and created by The Brave House Community. Credit: The Brave House
The mural designed and created by The Brave House Community. Credit: The Brave House

How do people who are in need of your service find the Brave House?

It's really a range of ways that people find us, which is just beautiful. On one hand, I would meet with people who were needing legal help in immigration court. Immigrants in the United States do not have the right to a free attorney in deportation court. That means that any immigrant, even as young as five years old, has to represent themselves in a court of law if they can't afford a private attorney. So, the original group of the Brave House members was made up of a lot of people who I met in the hallways of immigration court and took on their case. Through that relationship, we actually built the Brave House together, starting off as a small group called Las Mariposas, which was the Butterflies.

And then the group grew through very informal channels that I call “whisper marketing”. A member would tell a friend or a sister, “Hey, I'm a part of this organization and I think that it can be helpful, or I think you would find these events fun” and people would just ask if they could bring a plus one. We would also be really active on social media and people would send us messages asking if they could join. Another way that people would join is through referrals; for example, a school guidance counselor would reach out and ask if their student could join the Brave House. On our website, we have a member signup form that people can also just go and sign up. So it's been through these really organic, kind of informal pathways that people have learned about us and joined.

In this new year, we're shifting to more formal partnerships with high schools and colleges so that people are at least made aware of the Brave House and know that it's an option. It'd be a tool in their toolbox, and they can reach out to us and feel welcome. It's free to join, and everything that we offer is completely free.

And what about those who want to join the community to help?

There're lots of different ways to be involved or to help. One major way of helping is through donating. Since we don't charge any money for the services that we provide, people can help through their personal contributions. We also rely on foundations and other charitable funds.

On a more personal level, we have a mentorship program where we pair our members one-on-one with someone in the community. These relationships are so beautiful, they have blossomed into some of the closest relationships I've seen. The mentor would meet up once a month with the mentee. They can focus on career readiness, or the mentor can just be a positive force in the mentee’s life.

I also host a quarterly coffee with the community called Brave Cafe where anyone can participate and hear about the work that we're doing, ask me any questions, or talk about potential collaborations. In the summer in June, we always do a World Refugee Day celebration in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and that's open to the public. We had live music, a flower bar, a sharing circle, and an art corner. So, that's also something to keep your eyes open for, especially if you're in the area.

Other than the World Refugee Day celebration in Brooklyn Bridge Park, what are the other ways that you are engaging with the community around you, especially in Dumbo?

We love being a part of this community. We are right next to the Manhattan Bridge, where there are many fun events, so we've attended some of those.

We also have gone around the neighborhood to some local businesses, introducing ourselves and handing out our stickers that say “All are welcome”, which is really the core of our mission: creating a New York city in which we are all welcome. As we're kind of new to the neighborhood, we are eager to find more ways to engage with folks.

Lastly, what’s your favorite place in Dumbo?

We have a couple. One of our favorite spots is Legacy, a record store in Dumbo. They are an incredible small business. We've been there a few times, and they're always so warm and welcoming. We just really respect their integrity and commitment to what they do. 

I’d also say Em Vietnamese Bistro, where we had lunch today. We are really inspired by their story of how they were founded by a female immigrant. It was a beautiful experience, and the food was out of this world.

One space that our community loves is actually our office rooftop, where one can see the Manhattan skyline and the Manhattan Bridge. It is a really special place that has been filled with laughter and selfies.