“Welcome home,” Ruveni said while beaming and opening the gate to the Emerge Center.

She was right. I was home. My home. Our home.

I will always be at home here. I’ve been in Sri Lanka this month to support Emerge, the first organization I founded 13 years ago. On my last trip, we opened the Emerge Center. It’s hard to believe that just over two years ago there were no shoes on this stoop. Now, laughter flows out of the large, breezy windows. The Center is filled with girls who are transitioning from protective shelter back into society. You wouldn’t know what they have been through from the laughter. This is their launch pad and we are their family.

At the Center, we focus on each girl’s freedom. Freedom to move beyond the walls of a shelter to understand how to buy groceries, go to the bank, and take the bus. Freedom to explore career options, to try new things, and to set goals. Freedom to fall and mess up — and to have unconditional love and support. Freedom to stand in her power and discover who she is… and who she wants to become.

While the girls are only with us in this Center for three short months, we’ve successfully placed all girls in jobs or further educational programs upon graduation. They can always come back to the Center. In fact, this Christmas, we anticipate the home to be filled to the brim with Emerge alumnae.

Being here has been as soul-filling and gut-wrenching as ever— the rollercoaster of emotions that prompted this journey more than 13 years ago. There are no words for the beauty of the community we’ve created and the sense of possibility the girls have; and, there are no words when you hear that a girl has passed away and there is no one to claim her body from the morgue. There is so much more for us to do. And yet, we have come so far.

I’m inspired by our team and by the community of supporters we have built, from former Miss Sri Lanka, to a national cricketer, to a doctor who runs an ICU and provides free wellness clinics to our girls. Most of all, I remain in awe of the young women who teach us what it means to overcome and to love every day.

Emerge is more than an organization. It is a family. My family.

To each of you who has supported Emerge in your own way: From every ounce of me, thank you.

As we head towards the holiday, I hope you’ll consider making a contribution to help sustain our work, and allow us welcome our next 100+ girls into our family. We need to raise a minimum of $25,000 to continue our operations — and we’re about 50% of the way there. We have $12,190 to go. I hope you’ll consider joining us.

In 2019, in addition to the critical work we do in shelters and through our reintegration center, we will work with our 1,028 alumnae to push for systems change. These young women can, and will, change Sri Lanka.

With gratitude, love, and optimism,