Lauren Blodgett photographed with the Creative Resilience mural on the Lower East Side, which was painted by members of The Brave House. 

Photo: Jai Lennard

Lifting Others

Lauren Blodgett '11 started a nonprofit that's empowering young immigrant women.

Yaniel Wynter moved from Jamaica to Minnesota in 2017. A year later, at the age of 20, she relocated to New York City. She arrived alone. “I had anxiety and a bit of depression and I missed my family,” she recently recalled. “It has been a rough journey. There were points when I was homeless or had no food.”

Today, Wynter has a full-time job and her own apartment, and is enrolled in nursing school. She credits her progress, in part, to The Brave House, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that helped her find a therapist and a mentor and provided her with food delivery and community while she was recovering from COVID-19. The organization, founded in 2018 by the immigration attorney Lauren Blodgett ’11, offers resources and support to young women immigrants, especially those who are survivors of gender-based violence.

The Brave House now works with 104 women and gender-nonconforming youth ages 16 to 24 who collectively speak more than twenty languages and come from fourteen different countries. They can access free legal aid and English lessons, get matched with mental-health professionals, and, perhaps most important, relax and meet new friends at cookouts, wellness days, and other social events. “Part of empowering people is helping them make decisions, and not making decisions for them,” Blodgett said. “That’s what self-advocacy looks like.”

Blodgett grew up north of Boston, the youngest of three children of the longtime Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and Judy Blodgett, who works at the state auditor’s office and chairs the local Board of Registrars. Her mother’s side of the family emigrated from the Azores and her grandparents helped found a church in town where Portuguese immigrants could gather. “There were these narratives of community, to help where you can,” Blodgett said. “My parents taught me super early on that it doesn’t actually matter what you’re doing as long as you’re in the service of others."

I’ve always had this sense that there is injustice in the world and that there’s a better way of doing things, and if we just come together, we can figure it out. Extreme optimism and hope—that’s my mindset.

Like her brothers, she took German in high school—an auspicious decision, as it eventually led her to Michael Resler’s German Studies classroom during her freshman year at Boston College. Resler encouraged Blodgett to apply for a Fulbright scholarship—“He changed the trajectory of my life,” she said—which allowed her to spend a year after graduation living in the Austrian Alps, teaching English and taking international and human rights law classes at the University of Innsbruck. She subsequently volunteered at a refugee center in South Africa and then set out to become a lawyer dedicated to women’s and immigrants’ rights. “I’ve always had this sense that there is injustice in the world and that there’s a better way of doing things, and if we just come together, we can figure it out,” she said. “Extreme optimism and hope—that’s my mindset.” 

Blodgett continued to work in the field while attending Harvard Law School. She testified before the United Nations, conducted legal research in Casablanca on discrimination against women, and traveled to Tanzania to study the rights of women entrepreneurs. After graduating from law school in 2016, she took a job at the Safe Passage Project, in New York, which provides pro bono lawyers to children who are facing deportation. “I was really drawn to that mission and drawn to the fact that they were a small startup,” Blodgett said. “Within weeks of starting there, I was already in court on my own.” While at the nonprofit, Blodgett also cofounded Las Mariposas (“The Butterflies”), a girls’ empowerment group for her teen clients. “I started to see the power of community and also the need for a holistic response for this population, as opposed to solely focusing on the legal aspect,” she said. “They had such a range of needs, as we all do as humans.”

A plan began to form in her mind: What if she could create an organization that supported young immigrant women legally, socially, and emotionally? Blodgett remembers going to a women’s storytelling event one night in mid-2018, and then leaving partway through the show to buy supplies and create a vision board for what would become The Brave House. She then researched how to start a nonprofit, sought advice from other executive directors and founders, and officially incorporated in the fall of 2018. For her 30th birthday, in February 2019, Blodgett put up a Facebook post asking friends to donate $30 to The Brave House. She raised more than $50,000, and the next month secured free office space in Lower Manhattan through the Urban Justice Center’s incubator program (she’s since moved the office to Brooklyn). She left the Safe Passage Project and shifted to The Brave House full-time that spring.

Three years in, Blodgett may be the executive director, supervising three employees, seven interns, and dozens of volunteers, but she continues to spend a lot of her time in immigration court. Her day’s tasks at The Brave House can also include coordinating résumé-writing classes, assisting a transgender client with a name change, or arranging emergency housing for a member. She also meets monthly with The Brave House’s Youth Leadership Board, which provides feedback on the nonprofit’s programs. In exchange for their service, the board’s seven members—including Wynter, the nursing student from Jamaica—receive a stipend, plus training in public speaking and other leadership skills. “It’s clear that we need more diverse voices in leadership, and that includes immigrants, people of color, LGTBQ people, women,” Blodgett said. “How can we help young women today so they can be leaders tomorrow?”

Blodgett acknowledges that it can be hard to witness the pain of the people who join The Brave House, but there’s something else she is witness to as well. “People talk a lot about vicarious trauma, which is real, especially when you’re working with survivors—no one should go through the kind of unimaginable pain that a lot of our members have gone through,” she said. “But I like to think about vicarious resilience. The resilience I see modeled around me every day is part of what helps me continue to show up and be brave, and to do brave things.” 


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