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Entrepreneurial Century

New Program Empowers Abuse Survivors to Become Entrepreneurs

Susan Still, a Rochester women’s rights activist, still carries the physical and emotional scars from a 24-year-long abusive relationship with her husband.

Her scars serve as a reminder of how far she’s come since that day in 2003 when she was repeatedly beaten and berated by her husband for nearly an hour in front of their 8-year-old son while their older son was forced to videotape the abuse. It would be the last physical attack she would endure. The next day, with her mind set on survival, she fled their home with their two children and pressed charges against her abuser. 

Since 2004, he has been serving a 36-year prison sentence, the longest term in the U.S. given for the crime of domestic violence where the victim survived.

Still has gone on to become a voice for women’s rights and for domestic violence victims — and will soon embark on a new role: entrepreneur.

She is among 17 participants in the Business Entrepreneurship Program, a new initiative funded by the Verizon Foundation that provides domestic violence survivors in Greater Rochester with the skills and know-how to start small businesses and become successful entrepreneurs on their way to self-sufficiency.

“I have a desire to do something in the field that would help teenage children coming out of an abusive home or environment – something along the lines of ensuring that older children in shelters receive age-appropriate counseling and services so that they can move forward and lead healthy, productive lives,” said Still, 52, who plans to quit her jobs as a bartender and an office receptionist once her business is set up. “The Business Entrepreneurship Program is my gateway to knowing which direction to go and what to do to make my ideas happen.”

Over the next five months, the women will participate in a series of business courses on such topics as financial literacy, taxes, legal issues, money management and marketing at Monroe Community College. Then, if they choose, they will spend an additional three months developing a viable business plan for their ventures with the help of an adviser from the New York State Small Business Development Center at The College at Brockport. Graduates of the program will be eligible to apply for up to $5,000 in start-up funding from the Verizon Foundation. In addition, they will receive ongoing mentorship to ensure the success of their businesses.

“The Business Entrepreneurship Program has the potential to save lives,” said Janine Lucas, assistant executive director of Alternatives for Battered Women, explaining that domestic violence survivors may have had little or no economic independence while in their abusive relationship. Their abusers may have left them straddled with debt and/or credit damage, or the abuse may have made it difficult for survivors to obtain or maintain employment. “For many survivors of domestic violence, financial stability and independence can mean the difference between leading violence-free lives and returning to their abuser or becoming homeless.”

Funded by a $100,000 Verizon Foundation grant, the Business Entrepreneurship program grew out of a collaboration among MCC, Alternatives for Battered Women, and New York State Small Business Development Center at The College at Brockport. It aims to serve up to 75 women by May.

The grant is one of five awarded to workforce development organizations statewide to develop and deliver entrepreneurial training to this segment of the population. The commitment of program partners to help domestic violence survivors achieve success in the marketplace can only help in this struggling economy, said Jan Pisanczyn, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at The College at Brockport. As the students’ new businesses become established and expand, it can lead to additional new jobs down the road and, as a result, drive the economy forward.

For more information about the Business Entrepreneurship Program and how domestic violence survivors can participate, contact Charles Caples, program director at MCC’s Office of Workforce Development, at (585) 262-1429 or

Video of July 16 news conference:

Written by Monroe Community College

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  • tara says:

    This is such a great idea and addresses an aspect of domestic abuse that doesn’t get talked about often! When a woman goes through the pain of divorce (especially if they were financially dependent on their abuser) there are some really tough financial problems that get piled on top of her when she’s already struggling.

    Empower women with knowledge!!

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