Change Is Possible: How Fortune Empowered Vilma to Find Her True Self

Change Is Possible: How Fortune Empowered Vilma to Find Her True Self


On one fateful day in the winter of 2007, Vilma Donovan was in her local library, flipping through “Connections,” a free guide for formerly incarcerated people that lists organizations and the services they provide. After coming across an organization called The Fortune Society, Vilma wrote a letter inquiring about availability at The Castle, their housing unit in Harlem. Little did Vilma know that Fortune would not only give her housing, but help her discover lifelong friendships and renewed confidence.

Vilma will tell you that her journey to finding self-love started the minute she set foot in The Castle.

“It was such an overwhelming feeling. I said, ‘This is it. This is where I belong,’” she recalled.

Vilma instantly felt at home and found a sense of community that she never had before. She lived in The Castle for 18 months, and also participated in Employment and Treatment Services, which helped her with substance use. Vilma began interning at Fortune, and soon found her own apartment in the Bronx. She went on to become Fortune’s receptionist, and now works there as an executive assistant. She has worked at Fortune for the last 12 years.

Beyond her job responsibilities, Vilma also performs with The Public Theater in such productions as “The Odyssey,” “The Tempest,” and “The Winter’s Tale.” Her journey as an actress began when she starred in “The Castle,” a play conceived and directed by Fortune’s founder, David Rothenberg, in which she shares her story about justice involvement and how “The Castle” helped her grow and prosper. Since then, she has performed in “The Castle” for audiences around the country—including in prisons.

Through her story, Vilma wants audiences to learn that change is possible.

“You can do it … It’s about awareness and knowing that [through] all the trials and tribulations, you’re not alone,” she said.

However, it took time for Vilma to truly believe in her full potential. Before deciding to come Fortune, she felt alone in her challenges and struggled with low self-esteem. But over the last 12 years, Fortune’s supportive, non-judgmental community helped Vilma find her true self.

“I really … love who I've become,” she said. “I knew I was ‘in there somewhere,’ but just didn't know how to find it.”

Others have also noticed Vilma’s transformation, including her best friend, Barry Campbell, Fortune’s Special Assistant to the CEO.

“[When she first arrived] … one of the things that I first noticed about Vilma was that she wasn’t really confident about herself and her abilities,” said Barry.

Today, Vilma is self-assured and vivacious, and speaks with a radiating energy that is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Looking back on that crucial moment in 2007, when she was skimming through “Connections,” Vilma never thought she would one day embody the book itself and empower other justice-involved people to change their lives like she did.

“Everybody here has … helped shape me to become who I am today,” she said. “I did the work, but they were my rocks, and I still continue to grow every day.”

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