By John Joyce
Published in News on August 12, 2014 1:46 PM
Brandi Matthews holds a photo of a group of young women who participate in Perfectly Imperfect, a mentoring program started by Ms. Matthews, while she talks about the positive changes in the girls' lives.
News-Argus file photo
Ms. Matthews celebrates the high school graduation of one of the young women she has mentored.
Brandi Matthews is no stranger to trauma.
The Mar Mac native can still recall her family having to evacuate their home by boat during the devastation caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
She was 11 years old.
"My entire childhood was wiped away when we had that hurricane, that flood," she said.
Now 27, armed with a master's degree from Liberty University in human services counseling specializing in crisis response and trauma, Ms. Matthews is throwing a lifeline to Wayne County girls who might need shelter from a different kind of storm -- adolescence.
And her "in her spare time" program starts with teaching young women a simple truth -- that they are "perfectly imperfect."
Ms. Matthews launched Perfectly Imperfect in 2010.
Being a teenager in today's social media-crazed climate of cyberbullying, sexting and sharing virtually every aspect of one's life online, young girls struggle more with image than ever before, she said.
"Right now, the idea and the image that they see in the media and in the movies, often times those girls try to measure up to that. And they're chasing something that's fictitious," Ms. Matthews said.
She aims to change that line of thinking.
Ms. Matthews' goal is to get the young women she mentors to see that they are perfect just the way they are, or as she puts it, "Even your imperfections are put together perfectly."
It is a lesson, she says, that women of all ages could benefit from.
"Young or old, we all have the same insecurities as women."
But Perfectly Imperfect is what Ms. Matthews does in her spare time.
By day, Mrs. Matthews is a counselor employed by Wayne Community College as a human services development instructor. She works with adult men battling substance abuse issues who are confined in a 90-day inpatient treatment facility known as DART-Cherry.
DART (Drug, Alcohol, Recovery Treatment) is a program at Cherry Hospital for those whose addictions have led them down the wrong path -- one that ends in a criminal conviction and a sentence to rehabilitation.
"I want to make sure I provide as much as I can, both inside and outside the classroom," Ms. Matthews said.
She uses her experience teaching employability skills to adult men to guide her in coaching young girls.
She said she often talks about Perfectly Imperfect at DART-Cherry, and brings up lessons from DART-Cherry with the girls in "Perfect."
What sets the two groups apart, aside from the obvious, are the desired outcomes.
"When I am in the classroom, I am there to teach. When I am with my girls it is more about shaping, molding. It sounds the same, but it's not," she said.
Education is the primary tool with which Ms. Matthews encourages her girls to equip themselves to handle the world.
All else is secondary, she said. That is, aside from promoting abstinence.
"My motto is abstinence. It was taught to me in the home and in the church," she said.
Although she said she believes every child is a gift from God, Ms. Matthews does not believe teens are prepared mentally to make the life decisions that might result in early pregnancy.
"I want to make sure these girls position themselves to be able to do everything they want to do, from A to Z, until (they) are ready to settle down and make the decision. And I don't think you can be ready to make that decision at such a young age," she said.
There is college, work and life to be experienced before considering a family, she said.
Still, an early pregnancy is not a death sentence for dreams.
In fact, one of Ms. Matthews' girls did get pregnant while in high school.
Ms. Matthews said the teen mom refused to become another statistic.
"A lot of people would have written her off and a lot of people would have expected her never to graduate, to drop out, to never go back," she said.
Instead, the woman got back in there, did what she had to do and graduated on time with her class, Ms. Matthews said.
It is stories like that that keep Ms. Matthews going.
Perfectly Imperfect includes young women from all area high schools -- girls of all races and backgrounds who come together and share with one another their various experiences and the obstacles they have overcome.
Each girl is different.
They have not all endured the same hardships.
What unites them is the desire for acceptance, Ms. Matthews said.
She describes a young woman who joined the group, but who was reluctant to participate.
"I wouldn't see her smile, she would kind of sit off to herself," she said.
Ms. Matthews was at an impasse.
She said she would naturally gravitate to the girls in the group who were more outgoing. She was still in the learning process, and was therefore willing to give the quiet girl time to come around.
She never did.
The counselor in Ms. Matthews kicked in. She made a point at the next meeting to go and sit with the quiet girl. She talked to her for a while -- only to her.
That's what it took.
"And from that moment, it changed her," Ms. Matthews said. "I know she was over there thinking, 'I know she's going to go over there and talk to them,' and, 'I wish I was like them.'"
When she got the confidence she needed, the girl's shyness melted away.
"I needed to come to her. I needed to get the girls to gravitate to her," Ms. Matthews said.
The result was transformational.
"She's into poetry. She ran for Miss Goldsboro High School," she said.
As part of her performance, the young woman took on a Beyonce song -- "Pretty Hurts."
She donned a wig, make-up, earrings.
"She had long pretty hair, she was all dolled up, she was walking around all dainty," Ms. Matthews said.
By the end of her performance, the young woman stripped away the facade.
She took her wig off to reveal a shaved head.
She shed the earrings.
She embodied the message of the song, Ms. Matthews said.
"She said, 'Now this is me. This feels good.'"
It is the very message Ms. Matthews hopes to convey to her mentees and to the young women of Wayne County.
"In a world where you can be anything, be yourself," she said.