By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
As a child, Cathlene Miner vividly remembers riding to the emergency room with her injured grandmother who was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Miner’s grandfather. It happened far too frequently, and Miner’s grandmother never left the abusive relationship. Later in life after her grandmother passed away, Miner wondered if her grandmother would have felt safe enough to leave had she known that help existed. It is this experience that drove Miner to start Hopefull Handbags, Inc., a non-profit that serves as an advocate and “bridge” organization for domestic violence victims. What began as a local effort has grown into a global organization currently operating in six states as well as in the Caribbean, Barbados, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Uganda. Hopefull Handbags, started in 2017, collects donated handbags filled with personal necessities and gives them to local domestic violence organizations. Each handbag is cleaned, filled with personal hygiene items, a scarf, a journal and a hand-written note — all geared towards getting a woman back on her feet. It is what Miner likes to refer to as a “Bridge to Hope” to so many women, providing whatever is needed in that moment. The next step is to open “Carolyn’s Haven of Hope Bridge Housing,” appropriately named after Miner’s grandmother. It will help survivors qualify to rent a place and start a new life once they leave the shelter — a step that Miner’s grandmother never got to take.
Q: Explain how Hopefull Handbags works.
A: Hopefull Handbags provides invaluable resource connections to shelter, services, counseling, education, job training skills, self-perception and self-defense classes. We have a free shop where women can secure clothing for professional job interviews, and, most importantly, we are here to listen and to offer hope and help. We also have online free workshops for our survivors. For those who want to take the online courses and can afford to pay, that money goes back into Hopefull Handbags to pay a survivors’ rent or car payment. This is so important because 85 percent of survivors will return to their abuser because of financial reasons.
Q: Please explain the importance of self-perception in relation to the women you help.
A: Many people confuse self-care with self-perception. Self-perception is what you think and feel about yourself. It dictates everything that you do. Over the years, I have worked on my self-perception through having an eating disorder in high school, becoming a young and single mom to two kids, becoming a certified trainer and by simply paying attention to the things around me. I have written two books on this topic. While it is geared towards women, teens and domestic violence survivors, it could really apply to anyone.
Q: How did the experience of being a single mother shape you?
A: Even though, initially, I was a single mother with two children, trying to make it like so many other young women, I always envisioned “the other side” — being able to contribute to other women’s health, joy and their inalienable right to live a safe, fulfilling and productive life. I knew I could manifest my own destiny if, in spite of setbacks, I was able to hold on to hope, optimism and gratitude.
Q: You are a mother of four now. Share a snapshot of your life today.
A: My family (four beautiful children) and my husband, Dr. Brendan Miner, are my top priorities in addition to keeping myself physically fit so I can be the “best version” of myself. I’m an author, podcast host, Self-Perception Guru, motivational speaker, kickboxer devotee and, when time permits, aerobics instructor and concierge trainer. We also have three grandchildren.
Q: How has the pandemic impacted victims of domestic violence?
A: Right now, the statistics are surging as people are struggling with the loss of jobs and economic challenges because of COVID. Every time I read the statistics that nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused and that one in three women, and one in four men, have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner — it is hard to wrap my head around these facts. But this reality, combined with more than 20,000 calls to domestic violence centers for help, is why I am committed to making a difference.
[Author’s Note: Hopefull Handbags drop-off spots are located in Nocatee, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Augustine and throughout Jacksonville. The Ponte Vedra Beach drop off is located at Ponte Vedra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, 880 US Hwy. A1A N., Unit 14. The Nocatee location is at Lululemon, 152 Capital Drive, #28. Visit www.CathleneMiner.com for more information.]
Photo courtesy Cathlene Miner