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Woman on the Rise: Molly

Woman on the Rise: Molly

Written by Linda Harvey

Molly O’Brien, a full-time Production Associate for TWB, has this contagious energy and can-do attitude that it was no wonder she was hired the day after she graduated from the Spring 2023 program. She now realizes that the TWB staff were watching her and liking what they saw as she went through the 8-week comprehensive workforce training and personal development program.

She loves the hustle and bustle of working in the TWB kitchen, laughing with others, especially Colida Johnson, the Program/Production Manager, as they listen to music while making granola or chocolate chip cookies. 

“It gets real in the kitchen,” she says. Its tight space, along with the noise and chatter, creates an easy camaraderie among the women. 

But underneath Molly’s light-hearted exterior and quick laugh that others here have come to love is the hidden grief she’s kept packed deep down inside and never fully processed. It’s something she’s been holding on to for years, but is now hopeful she’ll work through when she soon starts another local program that deals specifically with grief.

However, it’s that grief and how her life unfolded after losing several family members that brought her to TWB’s program — she says she just “stopped and froze” and couldn’t function anymore, eventually losing her job and becoming homeless with her two youngest children. In the span of eight years, she had lost two sisters and her mother, and it was her mother’s death in 2021 that was the final straw that ended up breaking her.

Her younger sister was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2014 at 32 years old, and Molly helped take care of her while in hospice. During that time, they found reasons to laugh with each other, as sisters do, says Molly. But once she passed away, her older sister took this death very hard, eventually struggling with her mental health, and then taking her own life in 2018.

Her mother had battled and beat both breast cancer and cervical cancer while Molly was growing up, but this strong determined woman, as Molly describes her, had a stroke and was never the same after she lost two daughters. 

Molly thinks it was fate that she started the TWB program exactly two years plus one day after her mother’s death. She lived at Carpenter’s Shelter in Alexandria when she heard about the program, mostly drawn to the ServSafe training since she didn’t want to go back to waitressing or bartending. 

Looking back on that first day at TWB, Molly remembers hesitating in front of the building on Washington Street and not wanting to go in: “But I realized I needed to get out of my head, get around other people to hear what is going on with other people’s lives and not just what was going on with me.”

She had no idea the scope of TWB’s empowerment curriculum and how it would impact her. Gaining life skills, not just kitchen skills, was something she never knew she needed nor wanted.

However, she loved every aspect of the program, especially when she could listen to other women and absorb what they shared. She felt safe during those sessions even if she wasn’t yet comfortable to talk herself, keeping her feelings closed off at first but then forming a sisterhood with the other Team Members as each week went by.

“Seeing all these women who were working here, who had gone through the program, hearing their stories, and how well they were doing, I realized there’s definitely hope for me,” she remembers thinking. “Being surrounded by these women is amazing…having them by my side, having sisters again,” Molly explains with affection. “I have a new family, a TWB family.”

It is this sisterhood, first as a Team Member and now as a full-time staff member, that makes her love working at TWB. Not only does she work in the kitchen, she also supports current Team Members coming through those same doors like she once did. Women who could have hesitated just like her but are ready for a new direction in their lives.

She envisions a time when she’s more like Colida and Hanna Teklu, the Alumni Engagement/Workforce Development Specialist, both of whom went through the program and have worked for years at TWB since graduating. She felt a special connection with Hanna since they’re only a few years apart and have similar backgrounds since they grew up not far from each other. Just being around her made Molly realize that “you can’t run away from yourself and your life could get better.”

That’s why she’s excited to be helping out with the Winter 2024 session, the first one she’ll help lead since she graduated last year. And she knows she’s ready, becoming more comfortable sharing her feelings and wanting to tell her story at the first morning meeting with these new Team Members.

She’ll also instruct kitchen classes, including a 90-minute dough class for the 11 Team Members. Her voice doesn’t hide her excitement and pride when she talks about it, despite some nerves. She’s been preparing for it and knows she’ll have Colida’s support nearby and even a “code word” if more help is needed! She looks forward to sharing with these women the skills they’ll need for working in food service or whatever employment they choose to pursue.

Her enthusiasm for the TWB program can’t be tempered and just keeps growing. In fact, she wants it even bigger, making it available to more women. She wants to be a part of its growth — and secretly hopes they open a chapter in San Diego where Co-Founder Tricia Sabatini lives.

Coming here as a Team Member and then working with TWB alumni, Molly began to understand that everyone has a past. The fact that these women all got through what they did gives her and everyone else hope. The TWB program works so well since it inspires others, according to her.

It’s this message of moving forward from the past that she wants her three children to understand. When they’ve struggled at times and made mistakes, she wants them to know that things do get better. Being their mom is so important to her, and having them see her graduate from TWB and take on a job she loves makes her proud — most of all because they are proud of her for what she’s accomplished in such a short time (and for the cookies she can take home!).

When you ask Molly to reflect on the six values of TWB, she’s most drawn to The Hustle since it speaks volumes to her, she says. Even though she’s been here less than a year, she can imagine so much ahead for her in running the kitchen — not on her own, but with the Collaboration with others, the other value she feels a strong connection with.

But Molly goes one step further and says that a seventh value should be added to the TWB list — Integrity.

“Everyone here walks the walk and are true to themselves and the mission,” she says. “It’s very real.” She can feel the respect for her opinions and knows the other staff members mean it. 

It’s this validation she gets when she comes to work each day at the TWB building. She’s found a place where she’s not alone but will be supported by a special sisterhood at every step, whether they’re a staff member or alumni, all of whom encourage her to keep working on herself and making her future better.

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