When a Dream Turns Into a Team

Amy Peterson, Co-Founder of Rebel Nell

Guest Blogger at The Huffington Post


People ask me all the time, “Where does the name ‘Rebel Nell’ come from?” Rebel Nell pays homage to Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who strived for social change and championed for women’s rights, social justice and civil rights. As a social enterprise, we wanted our company to embody her trailblazing spirit. Eleanor’s father nicknamed her “Little Nell,” but we knew she was worthy of something a bit more badass. When my business partner Diana and I started hiring, we knew we wanted women who were rebelling against stigmas and striving to make their lives more meaningful. I lived close to COTS, Detroit’s Coalition on Temporary Shelter, and immediately formed relationships with some of the women. After learning more about their situations and desire for stability, I realized that Rebel Nell could be their stepping-stone to becoming financially independent.

Meet Karen, one of our first hires and Creative Designer, who at the time was living in a housing program through COTS. In just two and a half years, Karen went from being one of our first hires to our first graduate. Her drive and determination validated why we started Rebel Nell in the first place: to empower, educate and enrich the lives of women who are transitioning from shelter living.



I recently caught up with Karen to reflect on her time at Rebel Nell and discussed how she’s paying it forward in her new role as a Certified Peer Support Specialist at Detroit Central City.


Amy: You worked with us for almost three years, and I can’t believe it’s already been one year since you graduated from Rebel Nell! During your time spent with us, what work ethic lessons did you learn that you now apply to your current job?

Karen: Time management. You used to give us a window of time to complete a project, and that helped me stay on my schedule and get things done before the “expiration date.” Also, unity. I remember on Mondays we would all come together and talk about our issues heading into the week. I do that now with some of my co-workers. Even though we may not work in the same department, we see how we can help each other. Rebel Nell also taught me how to budget. Diana would always tell us to put enough money in the bank to pay half of your bills at the first of every month, that way you won’t be so stressed out. I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. It’s been like that before I left Rebel Nell. I’ve been able to share that knowledge and help others with their budgeting.


Amy: Did your time at Rebel Nell set something in motion for you to pursue your passion? How is your passion panning out?

Karen: In my current role, I see a lot of people that don’t have hope, especially if they had something on their criminal record. I believe in finding what resources they need, and I do my best to empower, educate and enrich their lives. I’ve grown in many ways, but I always remember the hope that you and Diana instilled in us, and it leads me to help others in the same way I help myself.


Amy: Right, if you instill those values in one person at a time, that makes a huge difference. If they have a family, they can share those values and possibly change an entire generation.

Karen: Yes, I remember if we were feeling down, you would give us affirmations to remember. Everyone needs to get up in the morning with at least a little hope.


Amy: When you first started working with us, it took a while for you to open up to us but once you did, we were able to see how loving, smart, genuine and creative you were. In what ways have you continued to grow personally since you started your new position at Detroit Central City?

Karen: I’ve gained more strength. Some days when I don’t want to go into work, I think of you all at Rebel Nell. I think about how women like you and Diana enhance lives and help lead people to their passion. Everyday I think, “I’ve got to help somebody today.” I’ve also learned about self-care. If you or Diana saw one of us looking like we needed a break, you wouldn’t ask if we needed a day off, you would say “Karen, don’t come in here tomorrow.”

Amy: You were one of our first hires and now, our first graduate. For the women who are just starting to work with us at Rebel Nell, or for women who are starting a new job that might be a bit out of their comfort zone or area of expertise, what advice would you give to them?

Karen: We have people working with us who have had criminal backgrounds, and it’s sometimes easier for them to go back to that lifestyle. I stress to them that there are other options. I tell them to look at the other side. If they stay here, go to meetings, and get a job, they can eventually get a house. When they want to give up I say, “Just believe that I believe you’re going to do this.” I explain to them what affirmations are and ask if they want to create one. We’ll search the Internet for different affirmations to put on their mirror. My favorite is, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” A lot of people don’t believe after they get their record that there is anything left for them. I want them to believe it’s going to get better.



Amy: You’re a mother and grandmother, an amazing one I might add, and I just became new mother. I’ve discovered an entirely new perspective and level of respect for women who work while also raising a family. There’s been a bit of controversy around the term “working mother” as a descriptor when we don’t refer to men as “working dads.” Do you foresee these stigmas going away anytime soon?

Karen: I think it is changing. I’m coming across more men on my caseload and learning that there a lot more single fathers working 9 to 5 and taking their kids to school than we thought. I think if people talked to more men and asked them questions about fatherhood, we would hear from their point of view what they go through as fathers.


Amy: Even with odds stacked against you, you were able to overcome many obstacles that came your way. You’ve never let hardships define or limit you. What message would you send to other women who are going through similar struggles in their journey to find stability and financial independence?

Karen: If you get up in the morning and breathe, there is hope. Learn to ask for help. That’s a problem I see with the younger generation, they will not ask for help. You’re going to hear “no” but sooner or later you’re going to hear “yes.” You have to put each foot forward and ask for help along the way.


Amy: Detroit is quickly becoming a city of makers and entrepreneurs and I love being able to witness this change happen. As you know, when we empower the women and families in our community, we can create a ripple of positive change. What are your thoughts on the progress of the city? How can we better support our community to foster creativity and innovation?

Karen: I really admire how our community is changing. Just like how you and Diana have stuck together, other women and businesses need to do the same. Look what happens when women come together and come up with a dream. They open that dream and end up with a team like Rebel Nell.


We thank Karen for her invaluable contribution to our team at Rebel Nell. 

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