April survived hell and back. Instead of being embittered, she uses her experience to help others in Newtown, a low income neighborhood in Sarasota, FL.
At 18, April married a man who began abusing her. She knew she needed to leave. With 4 children, she lacked the courage and means. “Every time I brought up leaving things got worse,” she says. She worked 2 jobs while husband Lynn baby sat and took college courses.
Finally divorcing husband #1, April married again. She thought James was everything she wanted. “I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she says. “The first year, he threatened to kill me.” #2 abused not only her, but her 4 children as well. She says, “I needed a plan.”
April saw an ad in the newspaper. Bold, black letters read: SELF DEFENSE. The ad promoted a job training academy in nearby Manatee County, FL. April enrolled. 2 years later, as a deputy sheriff, she got to know her fellow officers. They helped her to escape. SPARCC, a Sarasota rape and crisis center, helped her slap an injunction on her husband. James was arrested.
Studying for a certificate in mental health, April realized her husband’s behaviors were typical of a substance abuser. “As I learned about his addictions, he got meaner. He belittled me.” He quit his job and changed her life insurance policy to become the beneficiary. He took his girlfriend on vacation.
By the time she left #2, she’d been married for 19 years. She weighed over 260 lbs. “I was so broken.” She and her daughters moved into a small apartment.
April’s husband had beaten her so badly that she was rushed to the hospital, hemorrhaging blood. Surviving that crisis was, she says, her “second chance.” In the hospital, she dreamed about starting a program to help young women avoid the problems she’d faced. She told her father, a minister, about her dream. He said he’d had a similar dream in which she started a program called Last Opportunity.
She started taking care of herself. She began to exercise and focus on school. “I wanted to inspire my daughters to never give up. Going through all I did made me a stronger person.”
April and her daughters moved to community housing, in an apartment with no furniture. She decided to reach out to young women. It was 1992. April started inviting her daughters’ friends to their home, providing pizza, talking about HIV and how to protect themselves. Word of her informal ministry spread. Others came. “Some were high or drunk. Some were teen moms. Some were poor or homeless. I talked about making better choices, staying in school.” As a girl, April had sung in the church choir and elsewhere. She ended every session at her home with singing. The girls she worked with called themselves “the positive teens.” They began receiving invitations to sing. By the end of the first year, April had counseled about 350 girls and boys, ages 11 to 16.
April says, “I realized the purpose of going through what I did—domestic violence, homelessness, unhealthy relationships—was so I could help others.” She also became an ordained minister and an HIV-outreach counselor. “I couldn’t give up on a community that needed my help.” She determined to expand her programs and to give them a real home. To finance her dream, she worked as a certified nursing associate and a clerk at Family Dollar. She wrote grants and solicited donations and managed to buy a 900-square-foot building on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Sarasota. She recruited volunteers. “We have a building that’s paid for. It’s full of people with big hearts.”
April’s non-profit, Second Chance Last Opportunity or SCLO, is named for her close health call and her father’s dream. SCLO still operates today out of the building she scraped to buy. She and about 45 volunteers run classes on parenting and other life skills. Their mission statement: “To serve as a gateway to hope for individuals who want to change their lives for the better.”
There’s a Sisters Circle of women 15-36, some of whom have lost children. “They support each other in becoming stronger women.” SCLO offers one-on-one mental health counseling. “A lot of people don’t even know they have a disorder.” Her clients are mostly Caucasian and Hispanic, though many are African-American.
April started out with an empty building, with no furniture or sign. She noticed a girl walking up and down the street, holding a crying baby. April asked if she needed help. She learned her “first client,” Candace, was 13 with a wet and hungry baby. Candace had a check from a summer job but didn’t know how to cash it. April took her to the local bank and sought out the president. Using the girl’s school i.d., they set up an account. Candace used her pay to buy milk for her baby. “Today she’s married and pregnant with her 6th baby—her mom had 9—and independent.”
April’s especially proud of her “positive teens.” She says, “Today they’re working. They dress appropriately. They’ll stop by the office and say, ‘Hi, Mom.’” And of a young man named Jason. When they met, he was 15, homeless, “living place to place.” His mother had died from cancer; his father was in prison for drug dealing. He attended a Positive Teen class, twice. Now he’s 36, living on his own with a job in marketing and a “stable life. He didn’t end up like his dad.”
April has won several awards for the work she does from organizations including Girls, Inc. In 2014, she was named one of the Amazing Women of the Suncoast by WWSB-TV.
April’s daughters are all adults and certified nursing assistants. One is also a registered nurse. They’re all also certified security officers and certified HIV outreach workers. “They put themselves through school,” their proud mother says. “I helped with whatever I could.” Like their mom, the Mapps girls are singers. Youngest daughter Sha-Quess, who graduates from Hillsboro Community College in June, has been invited back for her 3rd audition on “The Voice.”
My neighbor Kim Cornetet has known April for 20 years. “I admire how April helps women escape abusive relationships by turning to God,” Kim says. “I’ve seen her pull herself up and put herself through school and devote herself to her community. I’m amazed at how far she’s come.” April calls Kim when she’s “in a pinch.” April decided to take a group of women in their 40s and 50s to a women’s leadership conference in Orlando. Some of them had never before left Sarasota. April raised all the money except for $100 for gas in the van. “She called me for $100,” Kim says. “She could have asked for more.”
Kim hosts an annual celebration at Laurel Oak CC in Sarasota for April and her volunteers. Last year, about 100 attended. This year’s party, with dancing and a DJ, will be on May 20.
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(Thanks, April, for sharing your remarkable story and for the equally remarkable work you do. Thanks, Kim, for the input. Thanks, Linda Salisbury, for introducing me to April.)