I’m very excited about this interview! Meet my dear friend, Adriana Pabon, who I was blessed to meet years ago through High Hopes in High Heels. We served on the Board of Directors together. We wanted to interview and recognize Adriana during October because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. She is making a tremendous difference in the Tampa Bay Community for both groups through the non-profit organization she started, The Affirmations Project.
Anyone who knows Adriana knows that although she may be tiny, her personality is larger than life and is a force to be reckoned with! She is always laughing, and most of all, her compassion for others and desire to make the world a better place is evident in ALL that she does! Adriana works full-time as a paralegal. In her free time, she’s always volunteering and trying to help others as much as possible.
I’m so incredibly proud of her and all that she has done since starting her organization. Most importantly, I’m thankful for the impact she has made right here in Tampa Bay for women in need.
Scroll down for my interview with Adriana Pabon of The Affirmations Project…
Adriana, tell me a bit about yourself.
When you grow up having to stand up for yourself, everything that comes later in life is another hurdle you need to overcome. I grew up in Medellin, Colombia. My parents moved to the United States when I was 11 years old, but my brother and I stayed with our grandparents. They did their best to take care of us, but they already had a large family to take care of, so we grew up having to learn life’s lessons the hard way by trial and error. We knew early in life that if we didn’t stand up for ourselves, no one would. Our parents sent for us 5 years later. I was almost 17 when I arrived in the United States. Coming here in my late teens was difficult because, at that crucial age, friends and social life are essential. Leaving the safety of my friends and social circle behind was challenging to say the least. High School was hard. I was bullied by the “popular mean girls” because of my broken English, because I was too short, or just because they could. I became rebellious and resented my parents for taking me away from everything I held dear and near my heart. At that time, I did not understand they did it to offer me the opportunity to have a better life, to have the chances they did not have.
It took a while for me to understand their reasons and to accept this was my new home and that there was no going back. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy for years, and I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
Dealing with the constant bullying only made me stronger. I was not one to back down or coward away in a corner. I have always been known for my strong character and as a fighter at heart. Not only do I fight back for myself, but I also fight for others. I would fight with you and for you. Helping others is in my nature.
I have been in the legal field for 25 years, but my real passion is community service. I have always wanted to help others, especially the weak and vulnerable.
What made you want to start The Affirmations Project?
The dream of the Affirmations Project was in my heart for years. Still, it was not until a series of events occurred that I knew it was the right time to take the leap of faith and make it a reality.
One of those reasons was witnessing a beautiful woman struggle with a sense of loss of beauty and low self-esteem due to her battle with cancer. I saw her question her femininity because cancer had changed her body. Her loss of self-esteem affected every aspect of her life. This once strong, confident woman lost her zest for life and became recluse and timid. It was then that I started thinking about a way to help women going through that overcome those feelings because I knew she wasn’t alone in this struggle.
Then as destiny will have it, on March 18, 2014, I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer. A week later, I had a double mastectomy with no reconstructive surgery due to the high risk of recurrence. During the days immediately following the surgery, I avoided looking at myself in the mirror. I was concerned about how I would react when I saw what I thought at that time was my mutilated body. After a few days, I made myself look, and I wasn’t horrified to my surprise! My immediate thought was I am still me. At that moment, I knew I would be okay-I understood my breast did not define me.
I am a cancer survivor, but cancer has not been my only battle. I was in an abusive marriage for many years. I was married to someone who controlled every aspect of my life and isolated me from friends and family. He was emotionally and verbally abusive. The abuse progressed to physical violence towards the end because he knew he was losing his grip over me. The physical wounds healed quickly, but his hurtful words played back in my mind incessantly. When you hear something repeatedly, it becomes your truth. You convince yourself that is who you are, and your will to live starts to fade away.
I had been known all my life as a feisty confident woman who would not back down and who would stand up for herself and for others. I will never understand how a woman like me fell into the trap of domestic violence. Suddenly I was in a cage, controlled with no voice and living in fear. How could I ever let that happen? I lived that lie for a long time, pretending I was okay and happy because I was ashamed. How could I, the woman who would not back down, let anyone know I was being abused at home? I could not. I felt trapped, and I was about to give up on life and end it all, but something stopped me. A voice lifted me up from the darkness. I heard it loud and clear, LOVE YOURSELF, and you will heal. It is not your time yet!
LOVE became my affirmation word that day, not the love for others but for myself. I understood that I had to love myself first, take care of myself first, and then I could go and love and help others. Soon after that, I left that marriage, taking what I could put in the trunk of my car, and my healing began. I discovered the healing power of self-love that day, and I wanted to share that gift with others.
My hope with The Affirmations Project is to empower other women to love themselves and stop the negative self-talk that defeats their spirits. I want to help women heal mentally and emotionally, especially women who have survived traumatic life-altering experiences like cancer and domestic violence. I firmly believe that if our minds and souls are broken, there is nothing anyone can do to make us whole again. We are the only ones who can pull ourselves out from the depths of that darkness. When we heal emotionally, we can conquer anything.
Being mentally and emotionally strong is crucial in the overall well-being of a survivor but having the financial means to provide for themselves and their families is equally important.
Unfortunately, many women in our community find themselves facing these challenges alone with no one to lean on. The Affirmations Project provides financial assistance to those women to help them with medical expenses and living expenses, allowing them to focus on their healing.
How many participants do you have to date?
We have approximately 150 survivors in our group to date.
What was the hardest part about starting your own non-profit?
I knew I wanted to do this, but I had no idea where to start. This was a labor of love, of conviction. I knew I was going to do it. I just didn’t know-how. But I would figure it out along the way. Thankfully God put the right people on my path. High Hopes in High Heels and many others, too many to name because I don’t want to miss anyone, helped me tremendously. I could not have done this without their help. It truly takes a village.
What is your best success story to date for your organization?
Success in The Affirmations Project is measured by the impact we make in the survivors’ lives. There are many stories of success. Some of the photo gallery participants have told us they have never felt more beautiful in their lives than when they saw their photographs for the first time at the gala reveal. Others have said this project has restored their confidence and that it was a healing and liberating experience. That truly is a success story for me because that’s the mission of The Affirmations Project; restoring self-love and self-acceptance. Hearing those testimonies from the women makes me feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do, and it motivates me to keep going.
We have also helped many survivors financially. One case close to my heart is a mother of 3 young teenagers who had moved here from another state to escape her abusive ex-husband. She had a job, and even though she did not make a lot of money, she could provide for her family. However, then she was diagnosed with breast cancer and faced multiple surgeries. When she was referred to us by her social workers, she was in the middle of chemotherapy treatment. Chemo was hard on her, and she missed a lot of work because she was too sick, eventually losing her job. After a few months, she was evicted from her home and ended up living in a car with her kids. The vehicle was later also repossessed. With nowhere to go and no family to help her, friends would offer a place to stay for a few days at the time, but it was hard for anyone to take her in with 3 kids. When we met her the first time, we found her living in the hallways of a storage facility. The building manager felt terrible to see her and her kids homeless, so he allowed her to sleep on inflatable mattresses in the hallway. We took them to a hotel, paid for them to say there for 2 weeks until a government agency apartment became available.
With the funds we raised at the gala that year, we could pay for her first and last month’s rent, turn on the electricity, and stock up the kitchen. We could also pay the past dues she owed to the storage facility to retrieve their belongings. Most of their furniture was damaged or lost during the eviction, so we held a donation drive, which allowed us to fully furnish their apartment.
When we give special consideration to women without a support system, we think of women like her. At no fault of their own, they find themselves in desperate situations. Unfortunately, our community has many similar cases.
Who is able to join your special group of inspirational and incredible ladies?
- We serve cancer survivors and domestic violence survivors.
- We welcome all cancer survivors to our group, not only breast cancer survivors. Any woman who has recently been diagnosed or who has survived any type of cancer is welcome.
- We also have a domestic violence survivors’ group, and we welcome all survivors.
Where can we learn more about your organization?
If someone is interested in getting involved or becoming a member, where do they start?
They can contact us via email at TheAffirmationsProject@Gmail.com or call us at (813) 618-7125
Do you have any fundraisers or special events people can attend to learn more?
Our primary fundraiser is an annual gala. The focus is a unique and tasteful photography exhibit of survivors with their words of affirmation painted on their bodies. During the gala, each survivor shares their own testimony with the hope of inspiring other survivors. We also use it to educate the community about the many types of cancer that women of all ages are diagnosed with every day. This year’s gala was postponed to April 24, 2022, due to COVID concerns.
Another extraordinary event is the launch of The Affirmations Project book I Am… a compilation of stories of survival and hope. Since the beginning, everyone who has been part of our photo gallery is in the book. Their stories are remarkable, and we can’t wait to share them with all of you. The book will be launched at the gala on April 24, 2022, and is available for pre-purchase on our website.
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