From Homeless to Entrepreneur
Karen Petterson is a multi-passionate woman who went from homeless to entrepreneur and created a personal brand on the foundation of service.
She is the founder and Executive Director of Women of Harmony, Inc. (W.O.H.), established in June of 2014 as a non-profit organization operating under section 501 (C)(3). Karen has over 30 years of experience working with women and children, as a foster parent, personal care assistant, case manager, consultant, mentor, teacher, parent educator, and Doula. Among Karen’s credentials are certified lactation counselor, full-spectrum doula, and the owner of KMP Doula Service which offers private practice birth and postpartum doula and mentors doulas and trains doulas for CAPPA, Childbirth, and Postpartum Professional Association.
Women of Harmony, Inc.
Women of Harmony provides services to local shelters in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. W.O.H. was established for the purpose of mentoring, empowering, and engaging all women to pursue their dreams beyond their circumstances. It is designed to encourage women to be educated and self-sufficient, to maintain healthy lifestyles for themselves and their children to connect women to other women and resources that assist them in attaining their goals while limiting their barriers.
Through faith and hope, anything is possible, Including going from Homeless to Entrepreneur
Karen started Women of Harmony, Inc (W.O.H.) because she was homeless about twenty years ago with a one-month-old baby. But before this time period, at the age of 25, she had three young children of her own and became a foster parent to young girls and their babies. At any given time, she would have six children under her care.
This experience was the seed that was planted and later grew to be Women of Harmony, Inc. During the six years as a foster parent, she began to see herself as someone who would work with women and children in the community. Her entrepreneurship journey in the making.
In 1999, hurricane Floyd hit, and Karen’s apartment was destroyed. She went from house to house and stayed with relatives but wasn’t able to find any stability. During this time frame, Karen became pregnant.
While pregnant, Karen’s lung collapsed, and she delivered her baby a month early. Karen left the hospital and within a month she lived in a shelter with her three young children.
The rules for living in the shelter:
You had to work.
Children had to go to school or the daycare on site.
You had to save part of your earnings.
Weekly case management meetings.
Every morning at 5 am Karen took her children to a family member who would get them to school and she would go to work. Her days were long and exhausting as she was also responsible for chores at the shelter and her baby was born with an underdeveloped stomach which caused her to cry for an hour every evening.
This was a very trying time for Karen. She was not only exhausted from the long days, but she was still healing from the surgery she had on her lung after her daughter was born.
During this time, Karen built relationships with the people at the shelter. She had fortitude that she would survive and thrive again.
Upon leaving the shelter, she developed an 11-week educational program to help other women do what she had done. The women all came from different backgrounds, but they had homelessness and hardship in common. This program was the beginning of Karen moving from homeless to entrepreneur.
Homelessness was not part of hers or their plan, but they ended up homeless one way or another.
Karen’s goal was not only to pull herself up but to pull someone else up with her. The 11-week program was the answer. The program was another bloom or blossom for starting a non-profit, and this is how Women of Harmony, Inc.
Women of Harmony, Inc. was started in 2014. The goal of Women of Harmony, Inc. is to help women who live in shelters. Today the organization helps women in three shelters.
The three shelters are:
The Westley House – West Chester, PA
The Pathway Center for Families – Media, PA
Mother’s Home – a Maternity Shelter
Women of Harmony helps women build relationships with other women. They offer scholarships to women who have secured affordable housing, but perhaps they have a barrier that would keep them from maintaining it, like a former line of credit. W.H.O. also has a focus on helping children.
When the mothers are young, there are times they end up having to raise their children in a shelter. W.H.O. does activities to give the children a sense of fun, hope, and excitement. Things to look forward to.
They also partner with other organizations to provide funding for women to go to school or find work or housing.
WOHI also provides holiday joy through gifting women and children in shelters and making them feel special.
Because Karen experienced homelessness herself, she can genuinely connect with the young women and learn their story and give them hope.
Karen is ultimately mentoring young women and giving them guidance and hope. You can also listen to Episode 57 in which Betty LaMarr shared her personal journey with entrepreneurship, and how she mentors young girls in L. A.
It is not necessarily the result of an act by an individual. There can be catastrophic circumstances, like in Karen’s instance, or mental illness, or domestic violence, or simply a lack of familial support and resources.
Karen gives women the tools and skills they need to move forward and transform their lives so that they don’t have to stay stuck in residual homelessness and helplessness.
The word harmony comes from alignment and rhythm. Karen believes everyone has a gift or talent. No one says they can’t wait to be homeless, no one plans on that. But everyone comes across roadblocks for that harmony in our lives.
The key is to give these women the tools, support, and hope they need to get back into alignment with the harmony they have set out to achieve for their own lives and their children. And, to give support in a way that the women do not have to feel shame but can take the support to build independence and confidence.
There are generations of families who cycle through homelessness and living in shelters because of mental illness. They lack good medical benefits and can’t get the care they need. Shelter employees are not trained in mental health treatment thus mental health doesn’t improve. There is much to unpack related to homelessness and mental illness.
There are homeless children in every school district, you just don’t know about them. At any given time in Delaware, County there are at least 600 families who are homeless, documented homeless, not people going from house to house or living with relatives. Sixty percent of these people are women and children.
A Multi-passionate Woman, from Homeless to Entrepreneur
The common thread throughout Karen’s work is family. Karen’s goal is to get the fathers involved. Whether the father is involved with the mother of the baby or not, they need to be involved with the baby/child.
Often times the fathers only hear is “you have to provide”. But the reality is so much celebration happens for women, but fathers are often left out. Fathers experience postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder after traumatic births.
As a doula, Karen works with fathers to teach them what to expect and to help prepare them for birth, nutrition, and more. Karen’s mission is to ensure the dads know as much as the moms.
What mothers bring to the table is undeniable. Women have a unique power to bring children to life.
We aren’t born with self-esteem we learn self-esteem through experiences. Childhood trauma, which is in the eye of the beholder, greatly impacts self-esteem.
The key is to be present and help young women, but never to judge them. If girls have a good mentor, their lives can be much different than if they have no one.
Karen’s philosophy is to do things with heart and a smile. When coming from a place of surface, not a place of making money. This philosophy led her to her work as a Doula.
A doula is a person who helps others emotionally and physically through the pregnancy and birthing experience. Karen not only educates pregnant women and the fathers of their babies, but she empowers them. She also mentors other doulas and educates them to do the work she so dearly loves. Through her work, she gives others hope and peace.
To learn more about your host, Robyn Graham, click HERE.