Our Members' Stories
Footsteps supports and affirms individuals and families who have left, or are contemplating leaving, insular communities in their quest to lead self-determined lives. We provide crucial peer and professional resources and support for people as they embrace the challenge to redefine their identities and build new communities.
After not receiving a secular education growing up, I graduated with a degree from an Ivy League University and that would not have been possible without Footsteps. Besides for the scholarship from Footsteps, volunteers tutored me and checked over my work, other volunteers eased my anxiety and imposter syndrome. I am so grateful and proud of my degree and I don’t think it would have been possible without Footsteps.
Growing up, the idea of going to college did not exist. So when I left the community after spending 20 years in yeshivas, I had no idea how I would support myself and find a fulfilling career. Footsteps was there for me every step of the way, introducing me to colleges, helping me apply to and attend Brooklyn College, and providing me with the crucial financial support of the Footsteps Scholarship. Five years ago, going to college had not crossed my mind, and now I am in the Mental Health Counseling Masters program at Brooklyn College, studying to be a therapist. I can’t wait to complete my studies, so I can give back to the community. I could never thank Footsteps enough for making all the difference in my journey.
There are so many ways Footsteps has supported me over the years. Sometimes I reflect and realize that a lot of who I am, where I am, and the future of my kids would not be possible without Footsteps at my side. Not only for leaving the community, but just for being a woman and an immigrant, I’m at a huge disadvantage especially in the Orthodox community. Footsteps has stepped up and stepped in during the toughest parts of my life. My legal battle for custody of my kids has been bitter – most recently with my child support situation. I have received help and guidance through Footsteps. As I see the next generation, my daughter is also a member and is receiving a scholarship. Kayla has made it to the Dean’s List for good grades and is currently in nursing school. It is such a lonely journey breaking away. But with Footsteps you’re really not alone. I cannot thank the people at Footsteps enough for fighting the fight for justice and equality.
When I realized that I wanted to leave the Satmar community, I decided to prepare for this transition by obtaining an education. With only religious schooling under my belt, it was a big leap to attend college, but thanks to Footsteps’ encouragement and their scholarship program, I eventually applied to Hunter College and completed my studies in the Pre-Med program. I then attended medical school at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, where I graduated in 2020 with an MD.
When I first started my educational journey outside of yeshiva, I didn’t know anything about the secular system – for example, I had no idea what a GPA, a transcript, or a syllabus were. I didn’t have the faintest clue how to study, write essays, or take exams. I couldn’t ask anyone, not my parents, not my siblings. It was all completely foreign to me. I was insecure and nervous, to say the least.
Because of those challenges, I wasn’t really sure whether I had it in me to finish college and get a degree, let alone dream of becoming a physician! But as time went on, and with the tremendous help of the Footsteps staff and volunteers who mentored and tutored me, I began to realize that perhaps I could achieve more. I realized that maybe, just maybe, I could actually do something big. I decided that I wanted to become a doctor. Meeting other people from the same background who had surmounted similar challenges gave me the courage to continue forward and to aim high. And I achieved something big! I am now a physician, and I’m training to become a surgeon. It is hard work, but incredibly gratifying.
Through Footsteps I have received tremendous support – financial, educational, social, and more. It is how my big aims and dreams were made a reality.
My first Connect Over Coffee, I was so nervous and I looked up to the person I was connected with and wished to be in their place. They were so confident in their identity and so comfortable with not being religious. A few Connect Over Coffees later, I became the Footsteps member that was able to guide younger, newer Footsteps members. It was a good feeling to see the growth.
The Footsteps Student Cohort combines the experience of our student members with the resources and guidance that footsteps provides. As the Student Cohort Leader I had the privilege of helping students understand the resources that Footsteps has to offer, and to help Footsteps have a better understanding of what our student members need.
I’m so thankful that Footsteps allowed me this opportunity to give back to my fellow formerly ultra-Orthodox college students!
Footsteps not only helped me discover educational and professional opportunities, they also supported me through all my choices, and provided a community I can always rely on.
Earlier this year I began my life as a pre-med student at the University of Vermont. When my mother was my age, she was already married and pregnant with me, and would never have been allowed to get a formal education.
Thanks to Kathleen, a Footsteps volunteer who helped me with the college application process, the Footsteps Educational Scholarship that helped me pay for school and a computer, and the support I received from others just like me in the Footsteps Second Gen group, a group for children of members, I am achieving my dreams!
Nothing about these statements should be all that extraordinary, but for many young people my age who come from ultra-Orthodox communities, the ability to choose how to spend our time is a revelation. And with everything else going on in the world, I find myself more grateful than ever for having the freedom and joy of pursuing new opportunities.
Most importantly, Footsteps supported my mother when she chose to leave her ultra-Orthodox community during the years she was most vulnerable. It is only because of her strength and perseverance that my siblings and I have these opportunities ahead of us. The cycle of support that Footsteps provides has given me and my family the security we need to thrive in this world and a true sense of joy.
The nice thing about Footsteps is that when you join, you don’t have to go through that awkward initial stage of getting to know people. Everyone shares a similar story and there’s an understanding of why you are here. No one goes to Footsteps because they want to be alone – you go to Footsteps because you want to meet other people who know what you’ve been through.
Everybody appreciates what it’s like to leave ultra-Orthodoxy in order to do something new – that’s the common denominator. People are also really supportive. When I won a playwriting competition and joined my college crew team, other Footsteppers were really happy for me. That made me feel great.
There is something familial. People at Footsteps are along for the ride and they cheer you on. Today, my best friends are all friends I made at Footsteps.
These relationships have carried through many years of travels. After a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin, I got my PhD in immunology from the University of Cambridge. Now I am an Immunologist at Verily, the healthcare and biotech subsidiary of Alphabet (Google).
Footsteps offers a wide range of support services to people at all stages of their transition out of the ultra-Orthodox community. Footsteps has a menu of options that participants can choose from, depending on what they’re interested in. Learn more about Footsteps’ programming below:
Family Justice Initiative
Communications + Field Building
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