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News / Clark County News

A labor of self-love: Inner Beauty in U aims to mentor women impacted by abuse

Nonprofit founded by Vancouver woman who wondered, 'If only somebody had been there for me'

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 29, 2024, 6:02am
4 Photos
Inner Beauty in U founder Yolanda Merriweather sits with her 12-year-old dog, Ally, for a portrait on Tuesday at Merriweather&rsquo;s apartment.
Inner Beauty in U founder Yolanda Merriweather sits with her 12-year-old dog, Ally, for a portrait on Tuesday at Merriweather’s apartment. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Vancouver’s Yolanda Merriweather has had a complicated journey with self-love — one that she hopes can inspire others.

It took her years to heal from the racism she experienced as a child and domestic violence she faced in a relationship. But rather than letting her past define her, she decided to channel it into something positive.

In September, she started a nonprofit called Inner Beauty in U. She hopes to fully staff the organization to provide mentorship and domestic violence support to young women, which she did not have growing up.

“Inner Beauty in U encompasses all of that: You have beauty on the inside,” Merriweather said. “I don’t care what you look like on the outside; the power is within you. It’s within your heart. The beauty is in your heart. That’s where it starts.”

You Can Help

Donate to Inner Beauty in U, or sign up to be a mentor by visiting innerbeautyinu.org.

Tickets for Saturday’s Inner Beauty in U seminar are sold out online. But those still interested can contact Yolanda Merriweather at innerbeautyinyou11@gmail.com.

On Saturday, Inner Beauty in U will host its first domestic violence awareness seminar at Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel in Portland. The event will bring together survivors of domestic violence and community leaders to speak about their experience.

‘Brick by brick’

Starting a nonprofit is no easy feat, but it’s a labor of love, Merriweather said.

Merriweather, 50, has been building Inner Beauty in U from the ground up, along with a couple of other employees.

The nonprofit plans a variety of offerings, such as reading programs for kids and community service. Merriweather also wants to provide resources, such as hygiene, hair care and eventually housing vouchers. Although the organization is geared toward women’s empowerment, at some point, it will also be open for young men.

In Washington, 41.4 percent of women and 31.7 percent of men will experience intimate partner violence, physical violence, intimate partner rape or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Without a set donation base, Merriweather has been putting her own money into the new organization, but she has applied for a handful of grants she hopes will kick-start the programs.

“If I have to do this brick by brick, I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep pushing,” Merriweather said. “I’m going to save as many people as I can. I’m going to mentor as many people as I can. I’m going to do anything in my power. And if I can help one person, just one, I would have done something great.”

Merriweather said she saw the need in Clark County from a young age.

She was born in Portland and moved to Vancouver in the third grade. She had her first son at 17 and became homeless after her family no longer wanted to support her. At the time, she was stuck in an abusive relationship, she said.

After moving around over a couple of decades, she made her way back to Clark County in 2010 due to health issues. She always felt a connection to Vancouver, an area with limited resources for domestic violence survivors, she said, and wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.

“If you have a mentor, someone who sees your identity, sees the greatness in you and pours into you, you’re going to be magical, because you know who you are at a very early age,” Merriweather said.

A survivor’s confessions

Kenyatta Trice, the keynote speaker for Inner Beauty in U’s seminar on Saturday, has a personal connection to the nonprofit’s mission.

She was stuck in an abusive relationship for nine years, she said. When she got out, she had to learn to get back on her feet — financially and emotionally.

Trice said she had quit her data-entry job and was financially dependent on her partner. When she left him, she needed to support herself and her two children.

It’s a cycle that many domestic violence victims experience, she said.

A couple of years ago, Trice published a series of posts on Facebook and LinkedIn called “confessions of a survivor,” in which she shared her experience.

“I just told a story of something I went through, whether it be focusing on how I got a scar I had or how people miss some of the red flags that come up,” Trice said.

It was through Trice’s posts that she and Merriweather met. The two talked about a plan for the nonprofit and how they can support domestic violence victims in the area.

Trice said a lack of local resources for domestic violence victims is why she wanted to join the organization. She also wants to work with Merriweather to address the lack of housing resources for victims and meet people where they are.

“There’s not one definition of what domestic violence could be and what they may experience,” Trice said. “It is a matter of letting folks know that this can happen to anybody. Domestic violence does not discriminate.”

It takes a village

Inner Beauty in U has already collaborated with a handful of nonprofits, including PDX Saints Love, Please Don’t Die Black Men and YWCA Clark County.

Merriweather recently joined forces with Porter House Resources, a Portland nonprofit that focuses on resume building, entrepreneurship and homeownership preparation.

Its founder, Kalondra Porter-Wright, helped Merriweather get Inner Beauty in U started and ensured that she was in compliance with local and federal laws.

“When I was in my 20s, I walked away from a domestic violence relationship with nothing but my shoes,” Porter-Wright said. “I truly believe if you have someone that supports you and doesn’t blame you for what you’ve been through, that’s important. Domestic violence is an issue across the entire world. It’s important for people to understand that it’s OK that you’ve experienced this.”

Porter is now a member of the board at Inner Beauty in U and director of career development. She will work with domestic violence survivors on resume and career support.

Going forward, Merriweather hopes to garner support from the community and receive funding through grants for these programs. Most importantly, she hopes to help other survivors, she said.

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“I was always saying to myself as I got older, ‘If only somebody had been there for me at that age,’” Merriweather said. “Mentorship is not just about going to the movies and talking — it’s about experiencing things with all women. You never stop being mentored.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.