The Passion Project: Hitting Rock Bottom | Doina Oncel

“I don’t consider myself as being a strong person in the past. I think I found my strength when I was put in a hard situation.”

Doina Oncel is the CEO/Founder of hEr VOLUTION, a non profit organization designed to provide access to women and young girls to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) based education and employment opportunities.

What was the most difficult challenge you have dealt with?

I have experienced domestic violence. I ran away from my kids. I lived in a shelter.

There was a time I had a group of people around me who I called my friends. At my lowest point, none of them extended a hand. It was really scary to know that I don’t have a place to stay. I don’t have any money. I was going through postpartum depression. My youngest daughter was only 6 months old. I feared going into the shelter.

Looking back, My “friends”, by saying no to me did a favor to me because I ended up at the shelter. I ended up seeing it as a space to figure out myself, to figure out what I want to do. It was a blessing in disguise.

My daughter was 7 at the time when we stayed at a shelter. We were at the table having dinner. She turned around, looked at me, and said: “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.”

I thought to myself : What kind of example am I setting for her if I stay at where I am? This is exactly what she is going to see and this is exactly what she is going to strive for.

That was a turning point for me to change my life.

I felt I need to find my purpose; I need to find what I am supposed to do; I need to find it so my daughter can see and do better. I went on to study social work and this is why I have a passion for changing the world so to speak. This is why hEr VOLUTION happened. If my daughter had not said that to me, I would not have had pushed so hard.

What message would you like to extend to those are in a difficult place?

You are not alone even when you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. Look around you. Be authentic. Be honest about who you are because you realize the more you talk about it, the more you realize the people around you are going through similar experiences. Find people who are going through similar experiences and you create this support group where you get to support each other.

hEr VOLUTION provides assistance, counselling and support to young women seeking employment in STEM-related fields who, because of their backgrounds, might not otherwise have access to such employment opportunities. The non-profit organization provides workshops, seminars, and education camps for for low income and marginalized youth with a focus on girls and young women. Visit for more information on how you can get involved.

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