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Meet Sonya Passi of FreeFrom in Mar Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sonya Passi.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Sonya. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I launched FreeFrom in November 2016 to meet a significant gap in the domestic violence movement – a lack of financial capacity building services to address the number one reason why survivors stay in and return to abusive relationships – financial insecurity. In 2017, we began our work by offering one-on-one direct services (credit repair and entrepreneurship support) to survivors residing in domestic violence shelters we partnered with. Based on the overwhelming demand for these services, we developed a train the trainer program to quickly scale this work and equip domestic violence organizations with the information and tools needed to incorporate financial capacity building programming into their service delivery model.

Additionally, we launched other key programs, a social enterprise project, GIFTED by FreeFrom that builds survivor wealth through entrepreneurship and living wage employment, economic justice policy advocacy efforts to expand access to resources for survivors who are financially rebuilding their lives, an online compensation tool to support survivors in accessing compensation for the costs they have incurred related to domestic violence, and this July, we will hold our inaugural Survivor Wealth Summit in Los Angeles, bringing together the asset building sector and the domestic violence movement to work together in building survivor wealth and long term safety.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The greatest struggle we have encountered has been the challenge of meeting the demand for financial capacity building services – and addressing the biggest barrier to institutionalizing this work in the field.

In working with frontline advocates to understand why financial capacity building wasn’t being done in shelters, we kept hearing the same thing – advocates, the majority of whom are also survivors, are themselves struggling with their own financial insecurity and do not feel comfortable working on income building and credit repair with survivors when they themselves are not pulling their own credit, addressing personal debt, creating savings goals, etc.

We knew that in order to effectively institutionalize this work, we would need to create opportunities for advocates to understand the tools and opportunities available to build their own financial resources. We developed the Survivor Wealth and Wellness Train the Trainer program to take advocates through the journey of financial growth so they can authentically approach this work from a place of hope and abundance, versus a place of scarcity and shame.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with FreeFrom – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
FreeFrom utilizes technology, law, asset-building practices, and policy advocacy to create both remote and direct service programs for survivors in ways that have not yet been introduced to the field. The current domestic violence movement focuses on providing emergency services to survivors in the form of shelters and restraining orders, but there are few resources directed toward achieving the economic justice needed for survivors to rebuild their lives, post-abuse.

FreeFrom has addressed this lack of services and accessibility by creating a business model that is replicable within shelter systems and community organizations throughout the city and the state, and by using technology to reach survivors who otherwise cannot reach traditional direct services. The unprecedented nature of our work has enabled us to partner with over 60 service providers within the domestic violence field, and to reach over 100,000 survivors throughout the state of California.

Survivor Wealth and Wellness – Train the Trainer Program We train domestic violence organizations on income building, credit repair and protection, and entrepreneurship opportunities so they can incorporate holistic financial capacity building programming into their day-to-day work with survivors. The training includes one-on-one financial coaching for trainees and one year of technical assistance.

Online Compensation Tool This tool walks survivors through four pathways to compensation (Small Claims Court, Criminal Restitution, Tort Litigation and Victims of Crime Funding) to recuperate the costs of being abused (medical, legal, relocation fees, property damage and lost wages), with easy to navigate technology, accessible on any smartphone.

GIFTED by FreeFrom is a social enterprise focused on building survivor wealth through entrepreneurship and living wage employment. We sell online gift box collections of all natural products made by survivors, allocating 70% of sales to the survivors who create the products, 15% to pay survivors who process store orders ($20/hour), 10% is reinvested into our work, and 5% covers the costs of eco-friendly packaging.

Survivor Wealth Summit This July, we will convene the domestic violence movement, the asset building sector, survivors, funders and policymakers to develop a deeper understanding of financial trauma and healing and to develop new strategies, skills, and tools to support survivors’ financial security and long-term safety. An onsite expo room will offer survivors free services: financial coaching, small business legal consultation, professional headshots, business card design and more.

Policy Advocacy FreeFrom works in partnership with domestic violence state coalitions, regional committees and policy stakeholders to drive systems to change in the following areas: increasing the statute of limitations for survivors of domestic violence to bring compensation claims; removing the police report requirement for credit repair after identity fraud; and recognizing financial abuse as a form of domestic violence.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
FreeFrom’s programmatic activities are on track to achieve the following outcomes through 2021:

• By the end of 2019, we aim to train over 60 domestic violence service providers through the successful implementation of our Survivor Wealth and Wellness Train the Trainer program. These service providers will incorporate the key components of our curriculum into their daily work with over 2,500 survivors.

• In July 2019, FreeFrom will host the first Survivor Wealth Summit with a projected audience of over 275 attendees.

• We anticipate closing out 2019 with over $150,000 in sales from GIFTED by FreeFrom, which will allow us to employ more survivor entrepreneurs to create products and more survivors to work in the fulfillment department of the store.

• By 2020, we aim to make our holistic financial capacity building curriculum an integral part of the work done in domestic violence organizations nationwide.

• By January 2020, we aim to make our Online Compensation tool available in all 50 states.

• In early 2021, we will publish the findings of our Financial Freedom in Los Angeles Study with Cal State Long Beach, documenting the impact of our Train the Trainer model.

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