Before I tell you about Raquel Masco and her Single Moms Created4Change Advocacy & Empowerment Center in College Station, let me tell you why her story matters to me.
About 25 years ago when I was working in the Dallas corporate world, I decided to take up a new “hobby.” After producing several videos for my employer—working with outside videographers and editors—I wanted to see if I could put something together on my own.
I figured a good way to attempt this filmmaking feat would be to offer the end result of my efforts as a pro bono donation to a worthy charitable cause. I hoped my production efforts could provide someone else with a useful promotional tool.
Despite my lack of behind-the-camera experience, a trio of groups took me up on my offer. The work of two of the organizations related specifically to issues involving empowering and protecting women in the Dallas community.
The Women’s Center of Dallas closed its doors in 2001, but the work of that charitable venture—investing in the futures of girls and young women—lives on in the name of the Maura McNiel Award.
McNiel is a well-known feminist and activist—now in her late 90s—who helped start both the Women’s Center of Dallas and the Dallas Women’s Foundation. Her Women’s Center of Dallas organization provided temporary housing and job training as well as legal and financial assistance to women in need.
A friend of mine at work sat on the board for the Women’s Center and it was through her that I landed a commission to produce a video for the organization. Working in my spare time over the course of the next couple months, I ultimately crafted a finished product which was unveiled at the Center’s annual Maura McNiel Award banquet.
A few days after the event, McNiel called to thank me for my contribution.
“Your video was very well received,” she said.
“I’m glad to hear that,” I replied. The finished product had exceeded my “first-timer” expectations.
“A woman came up to one of our board members after the event and told her how moved she was with what she had learned from the video,” McNiel went on to tell me. “She was so impressed, in fact, that she wrote us a $20,000 check on the spot.”
The Women’s Center of Dallas story was one of hope and promise, and even though I was a 30-something single white male, I innately understood the subject matter.
My second video, for an organization called The Family Place, dealt with another important issue which impacted women, both then and now.
Domestic violence and abuse.
The Family Place, founded in 1978 and still in existence today, is a women’s shelter that not only provides safe housing but also counseling and skills training to help victims of domestic crisis become independent and successful individuals.
Among the first things I learned in my preproduction interviews for their film was that men can be victims, too. The dynamics of those abusive relationships, I was told, are very different from those where women are abused.
With that knowledge in hand, I began filming interviews with women living at the shelter, a caseworker constantly at my side,
One of the constants in the stories these women told was that abuse usually starts in almost insignificant ways. If left ignored though, bad behavior can grow into physical violence as abusers seek to establish “control” over their partners or replicate scenarios witnessed or experienced in their own childhoods.
Meeting Raquel Masco here in College Station gave me pause to look back on the lessons I had learned from working with The Women’s Center and The Family Place in Dallas. In revisiting the work of those agencies, I stumbled onto two pieces of information which I think are important to share here.
According to the Texas Women’s Foundation website—another organization looking to lift women and girls into happier, more successful lives—29 percent of all Texas households are female-headed, yet, they represent 54 percent of households living in poverty.
And on the website Charity Navigator, The Family Place of Dallas in 2018 generated revenues in excess of $14 million, with expenditures of just over $13 million.
Raquel Masco runs Single Moms Created4Change on a shoestring budget compared to those of larger agencies elsewhere. Yet, her mission is the same: stemming a tide of violence, abuse, oversight, and prejudice against disadvantaged women.
In fact, against all women.
Today, Raquel’s “advocacy & empowerment center”—so reads her business card— resides in the Lincoln House of Hope across the street from College Station’s Lincoln Recreational Center, the site of the city’s former Lincoln School.
The A&M Church of Christ built the Lincoln House of Hope and operates multiple programs from it, including Created4Change.
“That was the initial name of the organization,” Masco says, “but people from all walks of life came to us in search of ‘change.’ So we added “Single Moms” to clearly describe the intended recipients of our services.
“We,” in this case, was Raquel and a church friend, Rochelle Wilson. The two women were attending Covenant Family Church in College Station–now Skybridge Church–and saw a need to address the challenges some of their fellow churchgoers were facing...and which both of them knew all too well.
“We were both struggling single moms,” Masco says. “but we felt it was important to give back.
“That’s the way we both were raised.”
Those efforts began when Raquel and Rochelle started doing Thanksgiving and Christmas time favors for other single mothers they knew. Succeeding in those endeavors, the two women formalized their efforts, launching Created4Change in 2011 and working out of Raquel’s home.
Let’s call it “C4C” for short.
At first Raquel and Rochelle focused their efforts in providing women with the “basics”: clothing and other basic essentials donated through their church.
Rochelle Wilson eventually found a new and better job which required her to move to another city. Happy for her co-founder, Raquel was determined to continue the work on her own.
And she’s been going it alone pretty much ever since.
In 2012, the Bridge Ministry provided Raquel space for her work in an old church building which the organization owned on 29th Street in Bryan. A year later, C4C moved into its current home: the Lincoln House of Hope, located at 1013 Eleanor Street in College Station.
Raquel experienced early success in her calling to help others for two reasons. One: After earning an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Development from Blinn Community College, Raquel worked several years in a local day-care center. Simultaneously, she had taken several courses pertaining to rape prevention and crisis counseling.
Secondly, Raquel had been down a difficult path herself.
“I’ve been where many of the women I work with are when they connect with me,” Masco says. “They not only lack experience in finding a good job, but also they lack confidence in themselves.
“When you’re trying to make ends meet and provide for your child or children, things can go downhill in a hurry. In many cases, problems stem from being on the ‘outside looking in,’ or doing dumb things like falling in with the wrong crowd, or making bad choices when children need to be fed.
“I know what it means to hit rock-bottom in your life.”
For Raquel “rock bottom” came before her son was born and in an unexpected place: at a party with people she knew and liked and trusted.
She was raped there by a “friend of a friend.”
Raquel tells that part of her life story in the book, I Am Priceless, a compilation of first-person accounts of overcoming sexual assault compiled and edited by survivor Regina Rowley.
The book tells not only Raquel’s story of sexual assault, but those of several other women as well.
Of the offense committed against her, Raquel wrote, “It was NOT my fault. If this has happened to you, it is NOT your fault. My rights were violated. My choice was taken. My voice had been silenced. My assailant took my sense of security. He stole my sense of protection.
“Shame has left many of us in hiding.”
Lindsey and Kathleen are among the many local women who have benefitted through engagement with Raquel Masco and the Single Moms Created4Change Empowerment Center.
“Lindsey,” who is white, and “Kathleen,” who is black, are not their real names.
“I’m a two-time survivor of domestic violence,” Lindsey says. “I started coming to C4C about four years ago. Raquel’s advice and wisdom changed my life.
“I still spend time here.
“Raquel has several different classes for women in situations like the one I was in. In them, we learn to set boundaries, to forgive ourselves, and to let go of the anger. I continue to come here because even now something will trigger me and I’ll fall back into a certain amount of despair.
“Mostly, though, I’m free of that now.”
Kathleen came to C4C as a single mother whose oldest daughter was just about to graduate from high school. Raquel works regularly with women who are single, divorced, or providing kinship foster care. She deals, too, with women whose partners are incarcerated, travel frequently for work, or “who have just checked out” on the responsibility of being a spouse and a parent.
“I was going through a really hard time when I found this place,” Kathleen says. “I couldn’t keep a job. I couldn’t make ends meet. Too many times, I couldn’t feed my two girls.
“It’s not always easy asking people for help. Miss Raquel is a person who not only helps you, but she prays for you, as well.”
The work and the prayers have paid dividends for Kathleen.
“For the last four years, I’ve kept the same job, working at a local title company,” Kathleen says “I love what I do. I got that job and I’ve kept that job thanks to what I learned from Miss Raquel.”
Area theater-goers may know Raquel Masco from another important aspect of her life, one which she’s infused with the work she does at C4C.
In addition to being a role model for others, Raquel is also a theatrical writer, actor, and director who has performed in a number of local stage productions, a pursuit for which she possesses a “real passion.”
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an actress and singer,” Masco admits. “When I worked at the daycare, my boss told me I was always in front of a mirror, looking to become a ‘drama queen.’”
“When my son was nine or 10 years old, I took him to an open audition for a Christmas play at the Stage Center in Bryan. Sitting in the audience with a number of other parents, they announced there was an opening for a small adult role in the production.
“I read for it and got the part and the rest is history,” Raquel says.
Raquel admits being on stage is cathartic for her. Succeeding at the craft has boosted her confidence. She understands that the skill set required to excel as an actor can also be a difference-maker in the real world, too.
“Think about it,” she says, “When you apply for a job, you’re really in a performance setting. How you ‘act’ is critical to being hired. You can just sit there and answer the questions, or you can feel good about yourself, be animated and use hand gestures and really impress the person sitting on the other side of the desk.”
Which is how Raquel arrived at putting together an “acting class” for women in crisis.
“I’m intent on instilling in women a love for the theater,” Masco beams.
“Life can be hard and those difficulties can extinguish a lot of our dreams. By doing something like this, like getting up in front of others and being someone other than ourselves, we’re taking our lives in a new direction, one where you can broaden your horizons.
“You never know where your life might head when you do,” she adds.
Raquel was an unwed mother. She’s never been married. She’d like someday to change that.
“I was raised by a single mother and so I didn’t really see the importance in marriage. On the other hand, I’ve had grandparents and aunts and uncles who were married for 40, 50, and even 60 years.
“I’m ready now to practice a little of what I teach in my classes.”
Soon, Raquel hopes, her classwork will have her sitting on the receiving end, too. In addition to all the certifications that enable her to do what she does, she’s ready to go back to school and work toward a degree in psychology.
“I tried to get my bachelor’s a few years ago, but I came down with lupus and that put a hold on things,” she says. “Now, I’m ready to broaden my horizons and maybe someday become a professional life coach.
“But I’m never going to stop doing what I’m doing now,” Raquel Masco continues, “and that is serving as an advocate and a proponent for struggling women, regardless of the reasons why they may struggle.
“All of God’s children,” she says, “are created for change.”
I’m thankful for people like Raquel Masco. She lives her life on a principle guided by a passage of Biblical scripture she includes in the signature section of her email transmissions:
“She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.”
Proverbs 31: 16