JP nonprofit boosts women’s self-esteem

October 7, 2011
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Self Esteem Boston Educational Institute (SEB) does work that is often trying to undo decades of harm.

SEB, a nonprofit training provider based in Jamaica Plain, is dedicated to preparing low-income and at-risk women for social and economic success by helping them improve their self-esteem.

“We work in recovery programs, transitional programs. We go in and provide an on-going workshop,” co-founder Marion Davis told the Gazette in a phone interview.

SEB has programs for individuals and groups as well as staff-training sessions. They cover topics like managing stress, techniques for dealing with conflict and setting priorities.

“Everybody’s experience is going to be different coming into the group,” co-founder Jeri Levitt said in that same interview. “They’re working to reconnect with the fact that they have value and that they’re capable of having a good life.”

It’s not always easy work.

“If someone hears their whole life, ‘You’re not worth anything and don’t you forget it,’ how do you grow up with that?” Levitt said.

SEB was founded in 1993 by Davis, fueled by her experience in the development of her own self-esteem.

“I was 35, and I really wanted to do something that made me feel like I was making a difference in the world,” Davis said. “Self-esteem was something I was working on in my own life… It was one of those things where you ask a question, and the answer presents itself,” Davis said.

SEB’s programs have since grown into shelters and transitional facilities across Boston, including the Kitty Dukakis Women’s Treatment Center at JP’s Shattuck Hospital and Roxbury Office of Mass Rehab Vocational Training Program. SEB also works with businesses for private seminars and workshops.

SEB is the only agency in Massachusetts whose primary purpose is to teach self-esteem skills to the homeless, substance abusers, victims of domestic violence, individuals transitioning out of the criminal justice system, and the unemployed. They work to upgrade the skills of people to become socially and economically successful.

“The ultimate goal is for the women to become self-sufficient and do what they need to do in their life,” Davis said.

“And to believe they can do it and that they’re worth it,” Levitt added.

“We’re not psychotherapy. We’re psycho-education,” Davis explained. “[The participants] might be dealing with feelings because of therapy,” and SEB helps them learn to deal with those feelings, Davis said.

“We live in a society that is highly addictive and people think it’s no big deal. It’s easier to not look at that,” Davis said. “Our challenge is to try and get people to understand the connection between self-esteem and what you do to your body and the people you hang out with.”

Davis told the Gazette about a woman in her 60s who lived in a transitional facility for the homeless. After over 100 sessions with SEB facilitators, “She decided that she felt so good about herself that she decided to get help in writing a book about her life as a homeless woman,” Davis said.

Davis said she can also think of “lots of people who’ve cleaned up” and stopped using drugs and alcohol.

“It’s a big deal, dealing with your pain,” she said.

“Women don’t get a lot of support services, compared to men. We want to fill that gap,” Levitt said.

SEB is funded by a public/private partnership of state government and private foundations.

To keep their organization going, SEB will host a fundraiser and awards ceremony on Oct. 12, which will honor state Rep. Gloria Fox, Verizon public affairs liaison Stephanie Lee and former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy as well as five women from the nonprofit community.

The fundraiser? A disco dance party.

“We decided to have a night where people have fun instead of sitting around a table listening to a speaker,” Davis said.

Information about SEB can be found at selfesteemboston.com.