Laura Bulluck gives disenfranchised women tools to achieve a better life
Every time I see Mary at her life skills class at Hope’s Crossing, she says I saved her life. She left home at 14 because of her father’s abuse. When he discovered that she had become a prostitute to survive, he made her work for him. That led to a life of drugs, alcohol, and more abusive relationships. She was incarcerated in her 30s for aggravated assault. I started Hope’s Crossing for women like Mary whose traumatic experiences have led to bad choices. They need tools to transition to a successful life. That’s our mission.
I founded my nonprofit in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2010, the same year I graduated from Walden with an MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. I had worked in healthcare for 20 years when I decided I wanted to make a change. My husband encouraged me to go back to school and suggested Walden. At orientation, I was moved by the university’s philosophy of academic excellence and commitment to social change. One phrase stuck out: “scholar-practitioners.” I wanted that badge.
I had started a small group called “Ladies in Power” and hosted quarterly meetings where guest speakers would talk to women from underprivileged communities about empowerment and other issues. Through these lunches, I met many women who had been incarcerated and did not know how to transition back to the normal life we all take for granted. They were starving for knowledge—they just didn’t know where to find it.
That inspired me: Maybe I could give them the tools they needed. That idea started small but grew into what became Hope’s Crossing—thanks to Walden and to my late husband, who suggested the nonprofit’s name (and designed its logo) and encouraged me to make my passion my career.
In an early course, we had to define the organization we wanted to lead. That exercise helped me zero in on the leader I needed to be to make Hope’s Crossing succeed: loving, caring, and nonjudgmental. A class on strategic planning helped me redefine its mission: to help underprivileged women lead successful lives by teaching them basic life skills, from balancing a checkbook to setting boundaries and having integrity. We also focus on stress and anger management as well as co-dependent behavior.
Most of our funding comes through private donations—my strategic planning course helped with this as well. I realized that I have to convince donors that the women I’m serving have value and that they are worth more as vital participants in our world and economy than behind bars. But first, I have to make the women realize that they are worthy. That they can get beyond their trauma and lead healthy and successful lives. Like Mary.
I have witnessed her blossom. She got a job at a call center and is moving into her very first apartment. She is becoming a vibrant member of society. Stories like this inspired Hope’s Crossing. Walden helped me make it a reality—for me, Mary, and more than 100 other women.
Laura C. Bulluck ’10, an MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership graduate, is the founder and CEO of Hope’s Crossing. The Phoenix-based nonprofit helps women restore hope in their lives and create a pathway to personal and economic sustainability.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Bulluck.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Laura. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there. I like to say my story began 20,824 days ago, I was born into a purpose I had not yet discovered. As a native Phoenician, I had never met anyone who had a story about living a life on purpose. So imagine my amazement when on what I felt was my death bed, God spoke to me telling me the assignment I was working on, as part of my Master’s Degree program, I was to take that assignment and bring it to life. Approximately ten years ago, I was a student at Walden University studying Non-Profit Management and Leadership and I had to identify a social issue in my community and write a hypothetical solution to it. Little did I know that the solution would be named “Hope’s Crossing”. The social issue I focused on was the rapid incline women being incarcerated, losing custody of their children to the foster care system, and caught up in the cycle of recidivism. My research leads me to amazing statistics of women committing non-violent crimes, due to a number of social inequities, but once they had the felony conviction on their record, the opportunity to reclaim their lives and reconnect with their children was little to none. But the most riveting discovery I found was that most of the women incarcerated had been the victim of trauma, addiction, domestic violence, and experiencing very low self-esteem and self-worth.
In 2010, I answered God’s call to bring Hope’s Crossing to life. Interestingly enough, I feel like that is when my story truly begins. Every part of my life up to 2010, we in preparation for me to become the CEO of Hope’s Crossing. Within three years of operation, It became very clear to me that there was a need to expand our mission beyond previously incarcerated women, to help all at-risk women (18 years and older) become whole and healthy. Hope’s Crossing offers life skills programs, employment support, providing resources to other community resources for housing, family reunification, and promoting health and wellness.
All of this great work could not be possible without the passionate volunteers, supporters, and my late husband Darryl Bulluck. He carried out the mission of Hope’s Crossing for the first year of operation until I could take my assignment of CEO. Over the past nine years, we have served over 300 women and look forward to 2020 where we will be celebrating ten years of service to women in our community.
Has it been a smooth road? Let me first begin by saying, no it was not smooth. What I have found through my faith walk as well is anytime you are working in your purpose, it is never easy. As with any non-profit, funding has been a real challenge. You would think that helping women to become contributing members of our community, help them to obtain employment and affordable housing would be a no brainer for funders, but not the case. But in absence of state and federal funding, there are some amazing small business owners, passionate individuals, and the community-based group that believes in giving women a second chance.
Access to transitional housing resources for single women was a greater barrier than expected. What became clear very quickly is that there is a real shortage of transitional housing for not only women but for men as well. My goal is to seek out these providers and form collaborative relationships to ensure these resources are available when needed.
Creating community awareness and connecting to the population we serve has also been a challenge. Because this population of women is virtually invisible, it is hard to find someone that doesn’t want to be found. But we are seeing a shift in this area where women are tired and ready to come out of the shadows and reclaim the life they so desire.
Please tell us about your organization. Hope’s Crossing was founded in 2010 with the desire to help women returning home from our prison system, get back on their feet. Little did I know that this vision was so much bigger than that. There are thousands of women in our communities all over this world that are hurting, struggling, hopeless, homeless, and in recovery from serious trauma, and these are the women we feel compelled to serve. As the founder and CEO, it is my strong belief that women are the backbone to our families and you know as well as I do when your back hurts, nothing is right and nothing gets done. That is what is going on in our lives, in our families and our communities and Hope’s Crossing is here and ready to serve each person that walks through our doors; ready to tackle together the barriers they are facing, the obstacle they need to overcome and welcome them to a place of healing and transformation. This allows women to become whole and healthy and break the cycle not only for themselves but for their children and their children’s children.
In 2020, Hope’s Crossing will be celebrating ten years of serving women in our community and we can’t wait to share with the world the great work we are doing and the countless number of women that are being transformed by the programs and services we provide. Our organization is a volunteer-run and we have some of the most amazing facilitators, social work interns, mentors, and volunteers. We are always looking for the right talent to grow our programs and services, and if that is you, God is calling you to serve and I look forward to meeting you.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least? I love the year-round weather found in Phoenix and the fact that you can drive four hours and reach any other climate you would like to experience. From skiing, hiking, swimming, fishing, camping and so many other outdoor experiences you can think of. The diversity of Phoenix is one any Phoenician can be proud of and we are finally, I say finally beginning to develop a culture we can claim as our own.
What I like least about Phoenix is that our transits systems, including roadways and highways, are not keeping up with the demands residents are putting on it. We are one of the fasting growing cities in the US, but our commutes are still a little archaic. I am seeing some improvements and I look forward to the continued growth and diversity of the city I call home.
If individuals are interested in investing in the lives of the women we serve, $25 a month can give women a fresh start toward changing their life and getting back on their feet.
Picture a young woman with five children whose drinking and incarcerations led her to lose custody of them. Nowhere to go but home to a toxic environment, she knew she needed help to get clean and sober and get her children back. Enter Hope’s Crossing, a Phoenix, Ariz., nonprofit organization founded by Laura Bulluck, a 2011 MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership graduate. Within 18 months, that troubled woman was sober, employed, a peer mentor, and a member of the board of directors at the same nonprofit organization that gave her hope and the tools to overcome life’s challenges.
“We helped her identify triggers that drove her to drink, and she started having more confidence in her ability to remain sober,” Bulluck says. “We worked with her to design a résumé, offered mock interviews, helped her obtain a job, and connected her with a mentor. She recently received a promotion to a management role.”
As CEO and interim executive director of Hope’s Crossing, Bulluck has helped turn lives around. Her nonprofit offers programs and services to women who have experienced trauma and empowers them to be productive community members. Bulluck understands their circumstances: As a single mother of three children, she had faced domestic violence and had no other choice than to live in a shelter.
“I gained wisdom about how to navigate the process and helped other women through some of the same experiences,” she says. “I also began to volunteer and take on a mentor role with the women, and the social service bug bit me. I kept thinking about how I could do this full-time on a larger scale to help more women. I went to Walden to turn this dream into a reality.”
While completing her degree, Bulluck decided to leave her career as a senior information technology manager for a large healthcare company to create Hope’s Crossing. “I was typing papers and doing my homework when it really got me thinking, ‘What am I waiting for? I could lose my life and never live my dream.’”
As the leader of a small nonprofit organization, Bulluck now relies on others who are willing to volunteer to help women in transition. “Volunteers are critical,” she explains. “We wouldn’t be able to operate without them. They are our administrative staff and our assessment coordinators. Our board members are volunteers, too.”
For those interested in volunteering but not sure how to start, Bulluck offers her advice:
Assess your skills, knowledge, and interests. Think of everything you have to offer: Are you a whiz at Excel? Have you organized a group event? Everything you’ve done can be applied in a volunteer role. “I guarantee nonprofits can use your skills,” Bulluck says. “Search your heart, and find your passion. Then seek out the agency that’s doing what you really like to do and go ‘feel’ the experience.”
Look at websites or social media pages of organizations that interest you. These pages will give you insights into the types of volunteer opportunities available to you and may also describe the experiences of current volunteers.
Dig deeper by talking to staff. Meeting face to face will give you an opportunity to learn more about the match between your skills as a volunteer and a nonprofit organization’s needs. “We encourage people to visit us, to feel the energy and the emotional experience they’ll have when they’re helping someone,” says Bulluck. “Every time you volunteer, you should have that same emotional experience, that ‘this is something I love’ feeling.”
What kind of social change agent are you? Bulluck discovered she is a Faith-Inspired Giver, someone whose faith is a major influence in their commitment to social change. Take the quiz based on Walden’s 2013 Social Change Impact Report.
After being under stay at home orders from the Corona Virus for more than 2 months, the State of Arizona is finally starting to reopen retail stores, city parks, and hiking trails. That is all we needed to hear to set our plan in motion to take our first hiking adventure since this crisis.
I am so blessed to have these 2 beautifully spirited friends that love to hike and take quick get-a-ways and am happy to be in tow.
Our adventure on this fine day was to Baldwin Trails, embedded in the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, AZ. How can you go wrong in the immaculate red rock country? So we pack up the Jeep at 4:45 am, grabbed our breakfast and coffee, and off we go. Excited about this opportunity because it has been a while, our ring leader of trail finding gives us the scoop about the trail. It’s only two miles, easy peasy, and the trail loops the base of the mountain. It should be quick and easy for us as we build up our stamina for hiking again. And then she hooked me in; there is a creek we can stop at and the water should be great. That’s it, I’m all in. We get to our destination; found our parking spot and we stock up backpacks with water and our mask. Our minds are set; 2 miles, nice view, creek, circle the mountain, and back to the Jeep. We can do this; we have hiked two-mile trails before.
In the back of my mind, I’m thinking this is going to be a great opportunity to put my rookie photography skills to the test. One of my low key dreams it to take up photography and capture some amazing views from the international travels I have planned. And that I did. Every turn of the trail was filled with picture-perfect moments. Low and behold, my friend says, can you hear that? I think we are close to the creek. We found the creek; put our feet in the cold, brisk, water running over a beautiful red rock with about 10 other people doing the same. We take our 15min detour and we are back to our trail.
It was a busy trail of hikers, bikers, families, and individuals and everyone was so nice and respectful. The trail was well marked, but the longer we hiked the more challenging the trail became. And when you are working on improving your physical health, as we all three are, being challenged a bit was a good thing. I was grateful for my Fitbit to help keep my heart regulated, track my steps, and measure the distance. I also added the compass app to ensure we don’t get lost, lol. Midway into the trail, it became very rocky, the hills were more like a roller coaster, and about 2 hours into the trail, we were all beginning to feel it and our bodies confirmed it. Now each person we saw on the trail became an information bank for us; we would have the same questions for each person we say. How much further do we have to go? Because we are now 2.5 hours into the hike and our belief that this will be a simple hike and we can do it, is coming into question. As a mental mile marker, I said to my hiking budding, “now I understand how people can get up on Camelback Mountain and have to call for help to get down”. What I didn’t want to say out loud was that is exactly how I was feeling. Let’s stop and just call for help. I thought I had reached my capacity to move any further. But I didn’t want to feel like the only one to have put limitations on what I could do. Because after all, as a Christian woman, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
Believe it or not, it was at that point, my mind shifted to calling on my faith in God to get through this. So I quietly, said my prayers asking God to help me with just one more step. By now, it 10 am and I’m thinking what have I gotten myself into, my feet are hurting, the sun is getting hot and every turn of the trail would go up in elevation and then go down and back up again. All I wanted to see was any glimpse of the parking lot.
By now, we all have walking sticks found along the trail that has been key for us to keep moving. It became the push we needed to take one more step. I can tell we were all struggling and starting to look inside to keep us going because now we are about 10 feet apart in distance, heads down to keep an eye on our steps with a periodic look back to ask, you good? At this point, we are out of the water, the battery on our phones was at 10% or lower and still no end in sight. Between the three of us, no one would say, “I can’t do this” or “let’s call for help”. The fact of the matter is we were all calling on our faith to get us to the parking lot. We were way beyond our physical limitations; it was about our mental limitations.
If I could just see it, I can believe it.
This became my mantra as we approached every turn around the mountain. At this point, we are four hours into this hike and my feet felt like I was wearing cement shoes. Every step I took required much more effort than the last and I wasn’t sure where the next ounce of effort would come from. But if I could just see the cars leading to the parking lot, I could then believe the finish line was near.
My internal conversation had become so loud that my thoughts were the only thing I could hear. My vision became tunneled and my path was so clear any hikers were approached just moved graciously to the left so we did not break our rhythm of left, right, left. Once again, my inner voice said, If I could just see it (the parking lot), I can believe we can make it.
You see, if you can see it, you really will believe it, just as I did. When we hit the last turn, we saw cars lined the street and our home base, the parking lot. We all looked at one another, high fives all around and we instantly began to give God all the glory for helping us break through our limiting belief and conquered that trail. Until next time,