A chance encounter with a book was Brandie Lunsford’s introduction to the New Opportunity School for Women.
At a low point in her life, Brandie was walking through a thrift store and noticed a book called Changing Lives in Appalachia. Written by NOSW founder Jane Stephenson, the book told the stories of women impacted by the program.
Brandie bought the book, read the stories and called NOSW. Soon she was enrolled in a three-day online program, and she began to hear other stories of women like her who had suffered abuse and felt alone.
Sexually abused by her older siblings for most of her childhood, Brandie often felt alone and ashamed. Her grandmother, Lucille, was her only champion. “She was the only safety I ever knew,” Brandie says.
Later, as an adult, Brandie became the caregiver for her grandmother, whose dementia was progressing. After Lucille died, Brandie was lost. She carried the scars of her childhood and continued to have difficult relationships with her extended family. She’d worked hard to create a more stable life for her two daughters, but didn’t feel stable herself.
That day in the thrift store, she had asked for a sign, something to lead her out of the dark place she was in. “I think finding the book was not a coincidence,” she says.
Coming to the three-day program, even online, was terrifying for Brandie. But as she began to open up to the other women and hear their stories, she felt less alone. “It’s very comforting to know that there’s others that have gone through it.”
After those three days, she wanted more. So she applied for the residential program and arrived in Berea in June 2022. “I was so scared,” she says. But over the two weeks she began to trust the other women, teachers, staff and house sisters. “It’s hard, when you have so much trauma, to trust anyone.”
The program helped Brandie to see some of her unresolved issues that were still holding her back. It helped her to be more open and forthcoming with her two daughters, and to be more aware of others’ pain.
“You do get the validation that you’ve craved your entire life, but with that you also have to be accountable for what you’ve done, because in your pain and your trauma, you’ve inflicted pain and trauma on those around you,” she says.
After the residential program, Brandie still wanted more. So she came back as a house sister for the fall 2022 session, supporting the new class of women. She loved watching from a different angle, seeing the women blossom.
Brandie continues to volunteer with NOSW and to do the hard personal work of healing. She’s affiliated with Siblings Too, an organization for survivors of sibling sexual abuse.
“Eventually I want to go into social work, and I want to study sibling sexual abuse.”