ELENA BONDAR knows better than anyone that her story is atypical. Her passion for people and backgrounds in social work, fundraising, and development led her to start Two Wings — a non-profit organization that supports women who are survivors of the sex trafficking industry through career mentorship and life coaching. Two Wings helps rehabilitate survivors and provides them with the necessary tools to work toward their dream jobs. Bondar, born in the Republic of Georgia, holds a BA in Social Work and both an MBA and MA in Education. She spoke with Lady Clever about her inspiration to start Two Wings, her passion for helping others, and her plans for expanding Two Wings to help young men as well.
What inspired you to start Two Wings?
Two Wings came from a need I found when volunteering at a shelter for trafficking survivors. Coming from a corporate background, I knew there were practical steps missing that kept the young women from pursuing a new life after the shelter.
Why did you choose the name Two Wings?
The name comes from the idea that every bird has two wings: hope and courage. The clients come to us with courage and we provide the hope they need to soar.
What have you found to be the biggest asset that mentorship provides the survivors you work with?
Our mentorship program is one of my favorite aspects of what we do. We all know the value of having someone who stands beside us in life no matter what. Someone who listens, who does fun things with us, who believes in us. This is where our clients feel that support to pursue a dream that may seem scary or a future that may feel impossible to reach.
How do you pair your career mentors/life coaches with mentees?
Our matching happens through an organic process where both mentors and mentees get to spend time together in a group setting doing a fun activity. By the end of the event everyone gives us their top 3 selections and we try to then match based on preferences. So essentially our mentors and mentees select each other. The mentees love the responsibility and the idea that their opinion matters.
You work with both youth and adults; have you found that one age group responds better to a certain therapy than the other, or is it all about the individual, regardless of age?
Our life skills, career development and educational advancement workshops are currently for adults, and mentoring is for youth. The youth love having an adult friend who is a consistent person in their life. Our adults love going through the discovery phase where they get to learn about their strengths and the benefits of those strengths in their selected career paths, or even personal lives. The light bulb that is turned on when they make these discoveries about themselves is priceless.
What is one piece of advice that you give to all of your survivors and mentees, that you think would apply to anyone trying to live their lives and move forward?
We remind our clients that they were born to do great things in life. Even if someone along the way has told them otherwise and convinced them they had little value, we emphasize the future that they still can pursue no matter their background, their trauma or their past experience.
What has been the biggest challenged in founding and running Two Wings?
The biggest challenge was my limited time in the field before venturing out to start the organization, yet knowing if I didn’t take this step, then who would? These young women deserved to start new [lives] prepared and thriving, and I didn’t want to keep them waiting to start that future.
Being the founder and CEO of a non-profit, have you found it difficult to balance your personal and professional lives?
This is a great question! Some of the people I look up to and admire dearly have taught me that there is nothing more valuable in life than having a balance between work and personal life. I try to be strict with my personal time every week, not allowing work to interfere. I will never answer e-mails or do work on Sundays, as it is my dedicated day to myself and my relationships.
What do you consider Two Wings’ biggest achievement?
Our biggest achievement has been seeing women graduate from our program, reuniting with their children and starting a career or pursuing a college degree.
What goals do you have for Two Wings moving forward?
Our current goals this year [are] to expand our services, to not only serve more clients this year, but to also start serving young boys who are at-risk or fall victim to this issue.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer women just starting who want to open their own non-profit or their own business, either that’s been passed down to you or from your own experience?
My advice would be what helped me: surround yourself with talented people in the business world whom you admire and will help you along the way when you hit roadblocks, or who will celebrate the small victories with you.
How do people in the community find out about Two Wings and the services you offer?
Our supporters find us through social media, our artist, and community partners and their friends who have volunteered with us and now share us with their community.
See? Social media can do some good — when Elena Bonder is involved, that is.