11 Apr 2022
Although Henrietta White-Holder has lived in Rhode Island for 40 years, the Liberian immigrant has never forgotten her roots.
“You can never forget where you came from,” said White-Holder. “I’ve been through a lot. When I came here to live with my eldest sister, she had her own responsibilities. I was 17, pregnant and had to learn to navigate this new place on my own. I have had a lot of difficult experiences. I always want to help others. I do not want them to go through what I went through. I want to help ease their struggles.”
She helps Liberians, members of the West African and marginalized communities in Rhode Island through her work as the founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, a non-profit organization located in Providence that provides critical programs and services to all those in need.
The door is always open
White-Holder is passionate about helping all members of all communities of color in need in Rhode Island. “The door is always open for all communities,” said White-Holder. “I have an effusive love for all people and therefore, we don’t turn anyone away.”
Higher Ground International (HGI) provides myriad programs and services, including Sweetie Care African Elders enrichment program, culturally appropriate foods distributions, immigration assistance, case management services, financial literacy, housing assistance, clothing, workforce inclusion, hot meals and much more.
With support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, HGI will be able to increase its staff, allowing the organization to expand its critical programs, including Sweetie Care, which provides social services and a culturally relevant safe space for African immigrants and elders in the community, many of whom do not speak English and are not familiar with the support available to them. The POC funding will allow HGI to increase its community outreach efforts and service an additional 150 African elders.
“This is unprecedented because this isn’t something that happens to BIPOC immigrant women- led organizations,” said White-Holder. “This funding is a monumental investment and a real game-changer for the impact that it is going to make for Higher Ground, our team and more importantly, our most vulnerable African immigrants and refugee elders and extended underserved neighbors in Rhode Island
Even through her own challenges – a hard-fought battle with breast cancer, coronavirus pneumonia, the loss of a younger sister with breast cancer and the recent loss of her eldest sister to COVID-19, she remains positive.
“It is one thing to have empathy and feel for someone, and it is extremely different, when you have lived it. My illnesses and the struggles and experiences that I have endured, are not abstract. They are real and tangible. They have grounded me to be the best advocate for those who are voiceless because I have walked in their shoes, and I know what it feels like.
“We have operated HGI on a shoestring. It has been difficult, but I have never given up,” said White-Holder. “This work is so important to the lives of our vulnerable neighbors who needs us the most. It is about relieving stress for those that face so many challenges in their quest to find refuge in a new country. People come to this country, they work hard, searching for the American Dream and it is not always as easy and equitable as we would hope. There is so much work to do to get there. People need help. We are here to help lift them up.”