ATLANTA - Ada Gardner's Douglas County basement is lined with donated clothes, nice enough to wear to a job interview. The 39-year old will share the outfits with the at-risk young women she mentors through her non-profit “Something About Sistahs.”
But she'll also share her story.
“I’m very transparent,” Gardner says. “Because at the moment I became transparent, I realized how many people were just like me.”
Survivors, she means.
Gardner endured things no child should, pouring out her pain in journals that are now hard to read.
“So I close them back up, because it reminds me of that situation,” she says.
Gardner says she survived both physical and sexual abuse by someone her mother trusted.
“It wasn’t just in my mom’s house,” she says. “It was almost like I was wearing a badge of, ‘Abuse Me.’”
With her self-esteem at rock bottom, she was vulnerable.
“I start dating a young man who is a basketball player, and everybody loves him, and he wants to talk to me,” she remembers.
She was in the 8th grade.
“I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, this is my boyfriend,” she says. “We are going to live happily ever after!’ Not knowing that teenage relationships last all of a month.”
At 14, Gardner gave birth to a baby girl.
Just, two months later, she was pregnant again.
Things got so bad, she swallowed a handful of pills, hoping to end her life.
She woke 12 hours later convinced she'd been given a second chance.
"I went to the bathroom, and I looked in the mirror, and I saw a different me,” she says.
That was a turning point.
Gardner got into an open campus high school, and met a school psychologist.
“And she had read some of my journal,” she says. “And she said, ‘Are you okay?’ And I started crying.”
She began therapy, and found a support program for teen mothers
“We just all formed a community. And that's where it all started to change for me,” Gardner says.
Soon, she was starting college, and landing her first job.
“When I saw that I was doing better for myself, and somebody said, ‘Good job!’ I kept going,” she says.
Today, Gardner is Branch Manager of Regions Bank in East Point.
And Gardner has taken on a mission to empower young women to find their own happy-ever-after.
The suits she’s collected are just the start.
Because Ada Gardner believes with a little sisterhood anything is possible.
“And I just believe that women can change the world,” she says. “If we go back to being nurturers, to empowering each other.”