This post is part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who are making a difference in their communities.

Meredith Harper Houston, Founder, The Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet

What inspired you to start giving?

In my line of work and through my mission, I try to change the perspective of how abused and neglected girls see themselves so that they can see their value. I started the Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet program to give girls in juvenile detention facilities as a chance to claim a new life. Most of these girls are incarcerated for sex trafficking with some as young as 14-years-old. They are young girls who have experienced the worst that life has to offer. While they are presently in jail, their growth as young women was imprisoned a long time ago.

I want to give them the tools to move through life with grace and provide exposure to something that is so pure, powerful, and unexpected as ballet means devoting my time offering the type of beauty they deserve. Studying ballet changes their identity and makes them love themselves in a way that is completely foreign to them. By removing the sexual element, I am giving the girls the ability to connect to their bodies in a healthy way rather than the detachment they have learned to amour themselves with as protection from the objectification they experience every day. There is no such thing as a child prostitute. They are rape victims. We have to help them heal.

What does giving mean to you? 

Giving means seeing a need and trying to supply whatever I have to help the situation. Sometimes giving is just a smile to someone that looks weary. There have been days that I am stressed out and I wear the stress on my face and then it radiates from my body. I realize it, and I change my mind. I say to myself, I can change my day and other’s day if I change my attitude into gratitude to have even this day— I am alive. I wear a smile, give a compliment, and say thank you. It changes everything for you and for others.  

What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? 

Share your gifts, talents, and your time. You will find that the while you are helping shape society and making an impact in your community, you are also helping everyone’s community. We are all interconnected, your reach is much farther than you realize.

Think about what part of you want to give. For some it’s money, and for others, it’s volunteering for a cause they believe in. Another way is to start an initiative of your own. There are many ways give but it all starts with your recognizing where your talents and resources are best served.

Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.

After one of the Swan performances at a juvenile hall, I was telling the parents and fellow girls/peers (incarcerated youth) at the hall, my story. I was sharing with them that I was sexually abused from the age of 5 -10yrs old and how ballet was “safe place” as a child. One girl that was 15 stood up and said, “Ms. Meredith, I just wanted to say that I was sexually abused from the age of 5-10yrs old too, and you’re going to be okay.” I was stunned and couldn’t speak. Here is this little girl that is incarcerated that has nothing and lost everything giving me the last little power she has and chose to comfort me. She gave all that she had to give. I will never forget her.