A support service for ‘survivors and thrivers’

November 13, 2017

Patricia Bustillos was one of seven children raised by a mother who worked for herself, selling tamales and firewood — whatever it took to support her family. Bustillos had always envisioned herself as a businesswoman, as well.

Now the owner of a home-based commercial cleaning franchise in Albuquerque, she has an increasing sense of confidence and has been an inspiration to her four adult children.

But it wasn’t an easy path, Bustillos, 50, said during a recent interview through a translator.

The Spanish-speaking woman, a native of Mexico, is a survivor of domestic violence. As she was searching for a way to heal, get back on her feet and achieve financial independence, she discovered an opportunity through Albuquerque-based Jan-Pro of New Mexico, a master franchisee of the nationwide commercial cleaning giant.

Owned by Sophia Guido and her husband, Bob, the business has become a support service for dozens of women who are operating their own franchises in a region stretching from Belen to Santa Fe — many of them immigrants and domestic violence survivors and most of them single mothers.

The business’ staff, including translator Gia Stein, doesn’t just help the women build business skills and develop a client base, Sophia Guido said. “We also support them in their life.”

The company helps connect franchise owners and their families with community-based services and holds workshops on immigration issues.

The model is part of a growing trend aimed at breaking a cycle of domestic violence. One of the biggest challenges for women fleeing abusive relationships is overcoming financial insecurity. To help combat this, several organizations have begun programs that extend beyond job skills training and education, offering entrepreneurial mentorships and even assistance in launching startups.

Verizon Wireless, for instance, launched an entrepreneurship grant program in 2011 to help survivors of domestic violence get a start in business. And the Los Angeles-based nonprofit FreeFrom began a new program this year offering free business training, as well as legal and marketing advice, to some 30 domestic abuse survivors launching startups.

Anji Estrellas, executive director of the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families in Santa Fe, said she wasn’t aware of any former shelter clients who had started their own business or opened a franchise such as Jan-Pro.

“However,” she said, “I really like the idea of starting an initiative like this. I think it would be an ideal component of long-term solutions for survivors achieving financial independence, which is a key factor in stopping the cycle of violence.”

Guido didn’t set out with such a plan.

Instead, she and her husband decided to encourage Spanish-speaking residents in the region to open Jan-Pro franchises. Many of the people who responded were women who had experienced domestic violence or workplace abuse. When they discovered the opportunity to be their own boss, Guido said, they began bringing in friends who had been in similar situations.

“Once we realized who was coming to us,” Guido said, “it exploded from there.”

Bustillos, who has owned a commercial cleaning franchise for three years and employs two of her children, said she, too, was looking for an opportunity to achieve independence.

“She started learning that this was something, that she could be a business owner,” said Stein, the translator for Jan-Pro of New Mexico.

“It’s been a long journey and growth process,” Bustillos added in Spanish.

Through Albuquerque-based Enlace Comunitario, a social justice organization led by Latina immigrants, Bustillos has been speaking to other women about domestic violence prevention and opportunities.

“Over time,” she said, “being a survivor of domestic violence, I have the strength of a woman to get ahead.” And she spreads that message to other women, telling them, “Yes, you can get ahead. … Don’t be afraid.”

Her 19-year-old daughter, Janet Duran, who works with her, said she is proud of her mother’s efforts to become a businesswoman.

“It sends a message that anything can be accomplished,” Duran said, though she acknowledged it was a challenge for her mother to both run a business and attend classes to learn business skills.

Guido said some of her franchise owners have been clients of Haven House Shelter in Rio Rancho.

Shelter Director Roberta Radosevich said it was touching to hear that some of her former clients had moved on from their struggles and are striking out on their own.

“They’re no longer victims,” she said. “They’re survivors and thrivers. … That’s our goal for everybody who walks through our doors.”

Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or cmiller@sfnewmexican.com.