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Leap To Success


Before Connie became homeless, she attended paralegal school. A big Law & Order fan, she looked forward to playing even a tiny role in America’s legal system. “Then my alcoholism really took off and I wasn’t able to find work, especially in my field,” she says.


The first time Connie ended up at St. Vincent de Paul, she was with her husband and young daughter. “He and I drank all the time and didn’t do anything,” she says. The next time Connie arrived at the shelter, she had only her daughter in tow. And she finally was serious about getting sober. But sobriety wasn’t her only hurdle to recovery.


“When you’re homeless, you feel like everyone can tell,” Connie says. “I didn’t want to feel like that anymore.”


That’s when she heard about Leap to Success, a local organization that helps women break the cycle of homelessness and domestic abuse and rebuild their lives.


Dana Bristol-Smith founded the Leap to Success women’s leadership program in 2008. At the time, she was a popular corporate public speaking coach running her own company, Speak for Success. Consistently positive feedback — especially from women, who described promotions and newfound respect in the workplace — got Bristol-Smith to thinking: Who could use this most?


“Not only can these skills change professional lives, but a woman’s personal life, as well,” she says. “They can even save a life. That realization was profound for me and shifted my whole direction. Leap to Success is about building confidence, moving forward, and becoming self-sufficient.”


Bristol-Smith’s young nonprofit works closely with local agencies to get the word out at homeless and domestic violence shelters. The women who go through Leap to Success represent a wide range of ages, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds.


“Our six-week empowerment program, Leap to Confidence, creates a really safe environment for women to start trusting themselves, changing their thinking, and reframing from negative to positive,” explains Bristol-Smith. “We help them build communication skills and see their own self-worth.”


Leap to Success also offers the more intensive yearlong Transformation Leadership program. Connie participated in both.


“I wanted polish,” Connie says. “But I also learned about setting boundaries, and the fellowship that you feel with a group of women. I’m a recovering alcoholic, so that’s important to me.”


In 2012, Connie got a receptionist job at a small law firm. A year later, she was promoted to legal secretary. She and her daughter moved out of the shelter a year ago, and just found a nice condo in the same complex as Connie’s mother. “These last two years have been mind-blowing,” she says.


Bristol-Smith hopes she’ll see many more such stories with Leap to Success, which will raise funds on October 25 with a one-man show, Tallest Tree in the Forest, written and performed by Daniel Beaty, at the La Jolla Playhouse. The evening’s festivities include a VIP meet and greet with Beaty.


She says 250 women have already been through the program, and she plans to expand to Los Angeles and San Francisco.


“These women transform their lives,” says Bristol-Smith. “They know they’re never going back.” (760.726.5272, www.leaptosuccess.org)    ANNAMARIA STEPHENS


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