Women & Situational Poverty

    Domestic Violence - Can push women into poverty due to job loss, poor health, and homelessness. (Source: www.chn.org)

    Divorce - Children of divorced parents are more likely to live in poverty and with their mothers. (Source: www.huffingtonpost.com)

    Unemployment - Job growth for women have been slow, especially for Black Women. The budget for programs that can create jobs, help strengthen women and their families and the economy have been cut by the House and Senate. (Source: www.nwlc.org)

    Sole Parenting - Unmarried women experience economic insecurity more than their married counterparts in terms of jobs, wealth, and wages, and these problems are worse for single women of color. (Source: www.americanprogress.org)

Our Mission

"For what it's worth: it's never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you find you're not, I hope you have the strength to start over again." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

SOFEI means - Starting Over for Economic Independence and our mission is to empower women of the Washington region to emerge from economic instability through education, training, and development.

Our existence derives from the emergence of situational poverty amongst women throughout the Washington region who have experienced a job loss, divorce, spousal abandonment, unexpected health expenses, domestic violence, or sole parenting. And our work is designed to lead women to their pathway of economic independence and stability for themselves and families.

SOFEI360 Model

Poverty seems to emerge amongst women challenged with situational poverty. And, women faced with situational poverty often have a higher education and reliable resources like their family or a community of supportive people. However, women faced with situational poverty without a network of support, education, and access to resources can experience barriers to elevating themselves and families from economic instability.

SOFEI360 Model fits our philosophy that women equipped with education, resources, and support will gain or regain economic independence. And here's how we work:

  • Introspection: In order to know where you're going is to examine where you are. Prospective clients partake in an exercise to look within themselves to discover the event(s) which may have led to their current state of being (e.g., spiritual, emotional, physical, or economical). After completion of this exercise, prospective clients will be encouraged to create a vision statement and board to fuel energy toward the new life they want and deserve.

  • Needs Assessment: Once the vision statement and board are completed, we assess our resources to determine if we would be the best service provider to meet the needs of the prospective client. If we don't, prospective clients are referred to more adequate service providers. If we do, prospective clients are enrolled as our partner through an accountability agreement.

  • Design: A plan is created to lead to the pathway of our client's economic independence. This plan will coincide with the client's vision board or statement and from their life and career assessment results.

  • Education: Training and development services are provided based on the client's aptitude, passion, and need.

  • Personal/Professional Growth: Our clients learn how to establish personal and professional partnerships to eliminate barriers that can impede their goals.

  • Equip: Clients receive tools and techniques to integrate our services and their partnerships to rise above economic instability.

  • Navigate: Clients will learn disciplines to work through their challenges to stay on course to reach their goals.

  • Dedicate: Clients will gain tenacity to stay on their path to economic independence and stability.

  • Earn: We help our clients secure self-sustaining careers or entrepreneurship opportunities that will eliminate 'situational' poverty and the dependency on government sponsored programs and/or resources.

  • Network: Teach clients how to connect and cultivate relationships that will foster personal, professional, and economic growth through our community-based events or events hosted by other professional organizations.

  • Transform: Change is difficult, but necessary for growth and success. Our clients will learn the value of their efforts and our services that can transcend to economic stability.


Deborah M. Avens founded The SOFEI Group (formerly Virtuous Enterprises, Inc.) in 1996. Avens' passion to launch The SOFEI Group grew out of her experience growing up in a low-income home headed by her widowed, disabled mother in Prince George's County, Maryland. At age five, Avens' mother was diagnosed with renal kidney failure and her father died of cancer when she was seven. The disability income Avens' mother received didn't meet basic living and medical expenses. And, Avens recalls spending many heatless winters; bathing with heated water from a hotplate, and going to bed with lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches.

Avens' mother applied for public assistance to supplement the household income, and this is when Avens discovered the biased attitudes towards women on public assistance; sex discrimination against her mother in a male-dominated career; and sadly, domestic violence from her mother's boyfriend who occasionally helped pay the mortgage.

This life experience is the underlying fuel which gave Avens the notion that women-headed families needed resources and services to create economical stability and independence to avoid reliance of public assistance and abusive partners.

Talking about domestic violence or the inability to pay bills was taboo in Avens' community, so The SOFEI Group was launched to get women and girls to talk about their experiences through Biblical characters during home-based fellowships and newsletters. The fellowships were therapeutic because attendees were taught how to look within themselves to find answers to heal their wounded souls and spirits, and strength to conquer their external challenges. When the home-based fellowships outgrew the capacity of Avens' home, she realized women and girls needed access to spiritual, personal, and career enrichment services to achieve balanced and fulfilled lives and The SOFEI Group evolved from a support group to a nonprofit organization in 1999.

Our Leaders

Tina Flowers - Chair

Ms. Flowers is responsible for guiding and mediating the Board's actions to ensure that the organization's mission, goals, and objectives are being met. Ms. Flowers leads the Board in its efforts in strategic planning, fundraising activities, and program development and evaluation.

Ms. Flowers works for Alston and Bird, LLP of Washington, DC and has over thirty years executive-level administrative support to legal partners and attorneys with major law firms throughout the Washington region.

In addition, Ms. Flowers has extensive experience with nonprofit and community service for nonprofit organizations and church ministries.

Ms. Flowers holds a B.S. Degree in Business Administration from Southeastern University of Washington, DC and a MDiv Degree from Faith Bible College and Seminary of Washington, DC.

Deborah M. Avens - Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer

Ms. Avens is responsible for the active management and planning of business for The SOFEI Group. She has combined work experience in system development, testing, and implementation, telecommunications analysis, training and development, workshop facilitation, career counseling, and business and program development. Her professional career includes positions with Management Technology, Inc., American Management Systems, EDS, SAIC, and Keane, Inc.

Ms. Avens is the recipient of several awards: The Editor's Choice Award for Outstanding Achievement in Poetry, Community Service Award for faithful and dedicated community service and Outstanding Client Services Award for outstanding consultation services.

Ms. Avens is a Global Career Development Facilitator, Microsoft Certified Professional, and Certified Software Manager, with a B.S. in Computer Information Systems and Minor in Business Management from Strayer College in Washington, D.C.

Tax Advisor - Titus Simmons

Mr. Simmons is responsible for providing non-profit tax advice, completing federal and state taxes, and conducting and completing financial audits.

Mr. Simmons has extensive experience in banking and financial statement auditing and has provided consultant services to individuals, non-profit, and corporations for over 9 years.

He has over 20 years auditing and banking experience in the public and private sectors.

Mr. Simmons is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Internal Auditor with a B.S. Degree in Business Administration (Accounting) from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

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