Rolanda Telesford is a survivor — she was a teenage mom, and was once homeless — but today she is director of Outreach and External Relations for the YWCA.
As such, she doesn’t spend time dwelling on the “haters.” That’s because, she believes, “Haters make you greater.” It is her past that shaped her to become the empathetic person she is today, able to help the many young women who seek assistance from the YWCA because they, too, find themselves in overwhelming circumstances.
“I know what their needs are,” she says, and she credits growing up in diverse Crown Heights with preparing her to work with people of every race, age, and ethnicity.
Telesford believes what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. She has seen it in her life, and in the lives of those she comes in contact with.
“Providing safety and empowerment is critical to all human beings,” she says. “Once you have those two things working together it levels the playing field for anyone’s success.”
Survivor’s guilt is yet another trauma that obstructed the Woman of Distinction’s path for a while. She was employed at the World Trade Center when the planes hit on 9-11. But she wasn’t inside the building, like her colleagues were. As fate would have it, she had taken a rare vacation week, and was home, watching it happen on the news, knowing that the people she worked with every day would not survive.
“So there was some guilt associated with living,” she says. To compound the issue, if she had been at work that day, she would have had the responsibility of securing people, as she was the company’s fire marshal.
After that horrible event, “I had self-worth to find,” she says. “I had to gain answers to questions like, ‘Why I am here?’ and ‘What is my purpose?’ ‘Why not me?’ ”
Eventually, she did; and once again rose over adversity.
“It was then that I knew there was a greater purpose for me. It’s what led me to this work of community engagement, youth and adult empowerment, development and advocacy.”
It runs in the family. Telesford’s father is Dr. Roy Hastick, named Brooklyn Ambassador by Borough President Adams. As ambassador, he is a presence in the community, attending meetings and events on behalf of the Borough President. Her sisters and brother are all also involved in serving the community. “We are a dynasty working together,” she says.
Telesford was nominated to be a Woman of Distinction by Nicole Robinson-Etienne, who earned the same honor in 2013.
“Rolanda is the Beyoncé of girl empowerment in Brooklyn,” Robinson-Etienne says, adding that Telesford serves as a behind-the-scenes stage manager and director, ensuring that the young women have all the resources they need to rock out on the stage called life.
“The work she has done with teens and young women at the YWCA is worthy of applause.”
Occupation: Director of Outreach and External Relations for the YWCA, Brooklyn.
Claim to fame: She was the first project manager to create community festivals at Tillary Park and Thomas Boyland Park.
Favorite Brooklyn Place and why: Any beach in Brooklyn. I love walking on the sand. I get comfort looking at the water.
Woman you admire and why: My spiritual mother, Diana Motes, who has given me guidance and wisdom, dealing with a lot of issues that women have to deal with.
Motto: Together we achieve more.