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Te-Erika Patterson Headshot

Denny's Restaurant Says YES to the Rebuild Your Life Project

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I bet you'll never know what went on inside my head as I set out to teach women how to overcome failure during The Rebuild Your Life Project. Sometimes I feel like Superwoman when I set my goals. Inside my mind I have such a great idea that the possibility of an outcome that doesn't fit into my vision seems ridiculous. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot.

From the moment I gave away everything that I owned and faced my own fear of homelessness in order to teach women how to survive it, all my plans went out the window. See, I knew that I could bounce back from a loss. I'm wise enough to recognize that I don't have to be devastated by life's circumstances and my past has taught me that even if I appear to be losing, as long as I'm alive, I have another chance to try again. This led to the confidence it took to give away all of my belongings and hit the streets last April 11.

Since I was confident that I could bounce back from losing everything, I wanted to bring as many women with me as possible, so I set out to organize a job fair for homeless women, thinking that if homeless women could get jobs then that would solve all of their problems. This was a complete misconception but I wouldn't find that out until I was more than 2 months into my project.

I set a date for The Rebuild Your Life Project Job Fair For Homeless Women that was a month away from the day I began my homeless adventure. Yes, I am calling it an adventure because to refer to it as anything else would cause me to feel regret about the tumultuous journey and I don't like feeling like that.

As I engaged businesses to participate in my job fair, I was shocked to learn that most didn't want to have anything to do with the homeless for reasons they would not express directly. I had made a promise that I would remain homeless until 30 businesses agreed to participate and give homeless women a chance to work but as the day of the job fair approached, I only had 3 businesses signed up. I didn't know what to do.

I revamped my approach and did what any individual who was desperate to get off of the streets would do: each day I went door to door to every business I saw, asking them to participate.

By the time the 2nd date for the job fair came around, 2 months into the project, I had changed its name to The Rebuild Your Life Project For Homeless Women and Women in Distress. I added the 'Women in Distress' tag because I wanted to include women who weren't homeless yet needed work. Even after the changes in my marketing tactics and contacting nearly 100 businesses, I only had 16 business agree to participate. I went ahead and decided to hold the job fair because if I didn't I would have to push it back for 2 more months due to the availability of the space I had booked.

The day of the job fair, only two businesses showed up.

Dejected, depressed and feeling guilty, I wrestled with the ramifications of my not living up to my word to remain homeless until 30 businesses signed up. After much turmoil I decided that I had to move on. The Rebuild Your Life Project wasn't really about helping homeless women to get jobs, it was about teaching the mental strategies needed to overcome failure and also the survival skills necessary to beat a life on the streets.

I moved on and found myself a job. The Denny's restaurant at 2800 N. 28th Avenue in Hollywood, Florida, hired me as a server. I would recommend that every smart woman learn the art of waitressing because no matter what city you live in, you can always find work.

By working as many shifts as I could I was able to save my tips to offer The Rebuild Your Life Project Rental Assistance Grant to a woman in Coral Gables, Florida.

I then saved enough to move out of the homeless shelter and into a house with roommates, ending my time as a homeless woman.

One day while I was at work, as I looked over the posted schedule for the week, my manager walked by and mentioned that our district manager would be visiting our store in two days. He pointed out the note that our general manager had posted. It stated that Brian Cunningham, our district manager, was open to meeting with any employee who wanted to see him for any reason and if the employee felt uncomfortable meeting with him inside the store, he would make himself available to meet outside of the restaurant.

My eyes lit up. This is my chance.

I know that what I did during The Rebuild Your Life Project would be beneficial to almost every woman. Watching the videos, reading the blog posts and soaking in the wisdom that I presented had already changed lives, well, according the women who were watching the videos that I posted daily on youtube as the project went on. If I could get Denny's to partner with The Rebuild Your Life Project to offer women a chance at employment, this could be beneficial for the project and the restaurant.

I sat down with my laptop and began typing out a proposal. The morning of the meeting I dressed in my Denny's uniform and took a taxi to my store. I didn't warn anyone that I would be going to meet with the district manager or what I would discuss so I was nervous, but hopeful because in my mind this is a good idea and if this restaurant had good people on its team they would recognize the impact that this venture could have on the community and on the brand. For a big business to open its doors and offer a day of open interviews to anyone in its community who needed employment would demonstrate that the business was an advocate for the people of its community which would automatically elevate the brand.

I walked into my restaurant with my head held high and my notebook holding my proposal. The district manager smiled at me and led me to an empty table where he introduced himself and asked what I wanted to discuss.

"I would like to propose that Denny's restaurant support The Rebuild Your Life Project by opening its doors to hire people from the community it serves," I told him. Although he had a puzzled expression, he listened as I explained my plan.

"What if Denny's were to choose one day and have all of their restaurants hold open interviews and each store hire one person? What do you think the community would think about this brand? You could help change lives with this."

The district manager questioned me about my education, my project and my goals. I answered each question truthfully as my heart felt like it would burst at any moment. "I'm not asking for any money," I told him. "I just want Denny's to give people a chance to work."

He shuffled the papers and looked over at me before promising to speak with his boss about the idea. "I think this would be a good idea for us," he spoke cautiously. "I can see this happening locally first with just South Florida stores for now. I'll get back to you about this."

"Thank you!" I said and did a happy dance in my chair.

I walked out of the restaurant feeling like I could move mountains. I had no idea if Denny's would actually back The Rebuild Your Life Project but in my heart, I knew it was a good idea.

All it took was that one day for me to step outside of my role as a waitress and into my role as an advocate and visionary. It's not really about what you see in front of you, it's about what you know you can become. In my mind, I am already who I believe I can become, the only thing is, no one else sees it yet.

I did my part regardless of what I look like today. I made the proposal to Denny's to partner with The Rebuild Your Life Project. All they could say was either Yes or No. If I failed again, oh well. I had already hit the bottom and survived it I could easily go back and do it again.

I wasn't afraid to hear No because I would have simply come up with another brilliant idea and moved forward with that, but this time, I didn't hear No.

Denny's said Yes.