Brenda Khor, a 2013 graduate and recipient of our Empowerment Scholarship, also received the Gates Millenium Scholarship. In her essay, she shares her story of overcoming bad decisions she made in the beginning of her high school years and finding a way to resist peer pressure. Brenda is in her first year at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Brenda's Essay

Growing up in a strict household, I was not as exposed to the outside world as I would have wanted. In my ninth grade year, I wanted to fit in and become part of a group to make an image for myself. Unfortunately, I hung out with the wrong crowd. The people whom I considered "my friends" smoked weed. I gave into peer pressure and I tried it once. Even though I did not like it, I thought that if I did not smoke, they wouldn't be my friends anymore. So I lied, told them I liked it, and took another hit of the blunt.

Soon, I started talking back to my parents. I would leave the house, and not come home until the early morning of the next day. I didn't feel like myself, but I finally felt part of the group just like I had always wanted. My grades were slipping and I started not to care about anything anymore, especially my weight. My family took weight seriously because they didn't want their friends gossiping about how chubby their kids are. Because of the ignorance, I began eating more fattening food and finally felt stress free. Suddenly one day, during October of my freshman year, my seven-year old little sister, Amanda, came to my room crying. I asked her, "What's wrong?" Her exact words were, “Bring Brenda back.” It then hit me that while I was having fun, I was not being the role model she could look up to. Her words provoked me and motivated me to change. From that point on, I had a positive attitude and did not allow negativity to distract me from making Amanda proud of me. I knew I had to change my ways. I had to lose weight, stay away from negative influences, start contributing to my community, and start becoming a role model for my sister.

For the rest of my freshman year, I tried to be involved in extracurricular activities and sports. I continued to strive to give everything I was involved in my all during my tenth grade year, while working to help my parents. By senior year, I was involved in eleven clubs and three sports, but I felt something was still missing. One of my close friends, Cathy Cornejo, inspired me to join Athena's Warehouse when exercising at Dresden Park. I noticed the changes she was making in her life and decided maybe Athena's Warehouse could help me figure out what I was missing.

During my last check-up, my doctor told me that I had gained eight pounds over the five months of the first semester of my senior year. I was vulnerable because I was conscious about my chubbiness during my freshman year. Then, my aunt called me fat and told my mom that I needed to stop eating. The thing that hurt me the most was not her calling me fat, but rather the way in which my mom didn't respond in my defense. I knew my mom agreed with my aunt. She was ashamed of me being her daughter because I was ''fat" in my family's eyes. I became self-conscious with my body again and began eating more. Depression kicked into high gear. No one noticed how I was feeling because I hide my emotions very well. On the second day of the workshop, Chef Megan McCarthy helped me a great deal. I observed the ingredients she was mixing when she was preparing the meal. I saw how cheap and healthy the ingredients were versus if I bought a meal at McDonald's. As of today, I have lost 6 pounds and am more confident with my body than ever before.

Something was still missing though. I didn't find out what was missing until I reached the sixth workshop: Civic Duty. Attending the walk, I created bonds with the other Athena's girls and found out that we had more things in common than I thought. Exercising, girl talks on the grass, and playing games made it more special. While the adrenaline was running through my body during the game "Leapfrog," I realized the game was a trust exercise. I trusted my sister to jump over me and my sister trusted me to jump over her. Athena's Warehouse showed me I was missing my sisterhood. Becoming part of Athena's Warehouse showed me that I didn't need the peer group I had my freshman year to be my support system or to feel accepted. I felt empowered as a young woman and became comfortable in my own shoes, comfortable enough to bond with others who were struggling with similar issues.

Now that I am in my senior year looking back, I believe that I have done a total transformation from the person I used to be in the ninth grade. The decisions I made were not representative of the strongest peak of my accomplishments and I am not proud of what I did, but I have realized that life goes on and that I cannot change what I have done in the past. I can only go forward and use my mistakes to prevent other women from going through what I had to go through.

Brenda receiving her Empowerment Scholarship at Cross Keys Honors Night

Brenda receiving her Empowerment Scholarship at Cross Keys Honors Night

Throughout the workshops, I learned that it is not what's thrown at you but how you deal with it that is more important. Athena's Warehouse has taught me two important things to pass on to other women. The first is the confidence and self-esteem I was able to create when noticing that shape, form, or structure of my body doesn't matter when defining who I am. My body is sacred, and I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself every single morning and night that I am beautiful no matter what. The second important thing is to cherish the sisterhood that I have. When one fails, we all fail. When one succeeds, we all succeed. It is my support system and I believe that we need to be here for one another. Back then, Brenda was an insecure, easily influenced kid, and now she is a young, empowering woman ready to tell her story to the world. She possesses the trait of being fearless and she couldn't have done it without her sisters at Athena's Warehouse. She realized that we, as individuals, are able to accomplish anything. But we as a sisterhood, that's something more powerful. We can defeat the impossible.

We, as individuals, are able to accomplish anything. But we as a sisterhood, that’s something more powerful. We can defeat the impossible.