This project of photographing 15 mothers and capturing the essence of motherhood has been an incredible journey. When I added my goal to Go Mighty, I have to admit, I did it not thinking it would get completed any time soon. When I was contacted by the people behind Go Mighty and told that Olay wanted to sponsor my goal, I was thrilled, but a little apprehensive. How on Earth was I supposed to get this done in a few short weeks?!

But somehow, it happened. I put out the call to friends and they didn’t let me down. People came out of the woodwork to recommend people that I should photograph, and volunteers were more than willing to share their stories. I expected to take photos of some lovely ladies…what I didn’t expect was the incredible openness in the stories they shared. Every one of them opened up with their stories of motherhood, and through all the good and bad, I was inspired. I hope you were too. To these women who participated (and those who nominated them), I thank you so much. Cindy, Rachel, Tara, Angie, Liz, Mikayla, Christina, Mary, Chrissy, Yashicka, Ruth, Rita, Lane and Beth…I owe you all so much. You are superheros in my book. Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you.

Many people have inquired about how exactly Olay was sponsoring this project. Well, being the completely rad company it is, Olay offered to donate $500 to a women-focused charity of my choosing if I completed my goal on time. This was a HUGE motivator for me, and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. And now, a little backstory…(Beware: Heavy stuff ahead.)

When I was 16-years-old, something not so awesome happened to me. I’ve never really written or talked about it before, only in vague nuances, and I think that’s the way it will stay. Mostly. Not because I’m embarrassed or ashamed…I think after years of therapy and lots of self-help books, I’m past that point. I just feel like the details are mine and no one else needs to know. But here’s the short version of my story. When I was 16, I had a boyfriend who was a broken boy. Well, he was 19, so really a broken “man” would be more accurate, but regardless of his age, he was broken and I thought I could put him back together. He took advantage of that part of me, the motherly part, the one that wanted to make him all better. It didn’t work. I didn’t make him better. But he sure broke me in half. And it took me a long time to put myself back together again.

When I ran off to college, I was still dealing with the things I had lived with a few years prior. I was still so mad at myself for being so weak and not fighting back harder (I learned later I had fought as hard as I could, and regardless, it wasn’t my fault…), so I threw myself in to my studies and social life to try and quell the voice in my head telling me I was a total failure. During one of my many all nighters at the student union, I saw a booth set up looking for volunteers. It was for a local domestic violence shelter. I signed up immediately.

The years I spent as a women’s and children’s advocate at the Willow Domestic Violence Shelter (formerly Women’s Transitional Care Services) were some of the hardest of my life. I was healing from something really horrible, living in a new city, finding new friends and trying to figure out who I was going to be. In this place, I learned how lucky I truly was. I learned about poverty and abuse, and the cycle that follows women and children throughout their lives. Women sometimes came to the shelter over and over again, and many (if not most) times, they went back to their abusers. I was so fortunate to have gotten out when I did, before I had a child of my own to protect, and every day I was with these women, my heart broke for them. Their situations were never easy, but they all wanted to do everything they could to protect their children. These ladies were strong, fierce and intelligent . I was, and am still, in awe of them.

I feel so honored to be able to donate the money from this goal to the Willow Domestic Violence Shelter. After all that place did for me, it’s the least I can do to repay them. If you’re able, you can also donate to the Willow Domestic Violence Shelter by clicking here . If you’d like to learn more about teen dating violence, and how to spot the warning signs, please click here . Women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest per capita rates of domestic violence (SOURCE: Bureau of Justice Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000), and we have to be vigilant and able to spot this abuse as soon as it occurs. Thank you to Olay for helping me spread this message and allowing me to support a place that means so much to me.

And so this goal is checked off my list! I could say this is the end, but really, I feel like it’s a new beginning. Onward!