A Women’s Herstory Month Spotlight
In March 2022, two women who first met nearly 50 years ago reunited to reflect on their time together at Covenant House. Their reunion ignited countless uplifting and powerful sentiments, including a declaration of radical acceptance.
Wandalynn Miftahi is a former resident of Covenant House New York. Not just a former resident, but one of our very first residents. She arrived at our doors in 1973 at age 14. She bravely left an unprotected, unsafe home, where she was abused. She said there was, “no food, no nutrition, no guidance, and no safety.” After leaving Covenant House, Wandalynn went on to graduate with a BA in psychology and a minor in research from an HBCU. She has an incredible appreciation for education and lifelong learning, and earned certificates in both robotics and coding. Today, she is an activist, artist, and playwright.
Gloria Strickland is a Senior Vice President at the All Stars Project where she serves as chief youth and community development officer and director of All Stars Project of NY. Back in 1973, she worked at Covenant House on the overnight shift in the girls group home that had just opened in downtown Manhattan, where Wandalynn was a resident. Gloria worked at Covenant House from 1973-1981 serving as a counselor, house parent, administratrator, and assistant director of the shelter program during her tenure.
Wandalynn joked that Gloria was the strict one at Covenant House, while her counterpart, Maggie, was the sweet one. Gloria was quick to affirm Wandalynn’s memory of her, and said that although she was strict, she took a non-judgemental approach to working with the young people. She said, “I embraced them and I felt their anger. I wasn’t afraid to say ‘I love you’ and to talk them through their anger and, sometimes, their suicidal thoughts.”
Both women feel as though they played a role in building a community at Covenant House, and to this day they feel protective of each other and the other women who were living and growing alongside them. Gloria is a fearless woman, as evidenced by her comfort in navigating the unknown as a leader and activist throughout her college years and professional life. She began her career at Covenant House after fighting for civil rights as a grassroots organizer and brought with her a devotion to radical acceptance and a commitment to unconditional love. To Gloria, unconditional love is not a throwaway term, it isn’t “pollyanna,” as she says. “It is harder than you think, and you have to work at being truly committed to it, through it all.” And she believes the key is to simultaneously relate to who young people are and who they are becoming.
Wandalynn also recognized that unconditional love and respect have been ever present at Covenant House for 50 years. As a young teenager living in our care, she wanted freedom to create her own schedule and pursue her own dreams. Despite what felt like a strict set of rules, she felt fully embraced. “I grew up to be myself,” she said. “I knew where to look to find my tribe.”
Wandalynn is fueled by a purpose she has felt since she was 12 years old. For as long as she can remember, she’s been making observations about inequities and injustices. Before coming to Covenant House, she had a dream that one day she’d play a role in educating her community and empowering people to tackle challenges that get in the way of them moving forward. In short, Wandalynn doesn’t accept oppression!
Neither does Gloria. She grew up in a low-income household on Long Island, and poverty shaped her personality and her movements forward. She was very misunderstood and felt as though she didn’t have access to the tools she needed to navigate the world. Like Wandalynn, she had to work hard to identify her tribe and map her path forward. To this day, at age 70, Gloria is still declaring radical acceptance and sees herself as a relentless activist. She said, “I will keep going until I have nothing left to give.” Just recently, she helped to establish a new program that has opened up dialogue between groups of people with diverse backgrounds who were not previously connected, and they are creating something new, and that excites her!
As we wrap up Women’s Herstory Month, we feel honored to amplify the voices of female-identifying residents and staff who have helped to shape the Cov Community for half a century.
Thank you, Wandalynn, a woman who has the courage to keep fighting for change and justice. Thank you, Gloria, a woman who is not afraid to love, not afraid to fight, not afraid to give, and not afraid to keep going and doing new things on behalf of serious transformation.
Both of you have helped to create a greater understanding of what community is, and we are all better for it.