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Finding Your True Identity“The more I learn, the more I discover I don’t know,” says Antoinette Alvarado, co-pastor of Total Grace Christian Center in Atlanta, Ga. Better known as Pastor Toni, she is accomplished in many areas. An author, minister, public speaker and teacher, Alvarado is inspired to help others achieve their dreams. As a recipient of the Leadership and Renewal Award for the Doctor of Ministry from Regent University’s School of Divinity, this energetic and capable young woman likewise earned a Who’s Who Award and an Award for Excellence as an outstanding graduate.

An avid achiever, Alvarado is passionate about helping other women get in touch with their identities, gifts and skills. As a result of her doctoral dissertation project she launched a women’s organization called My Sister’s Keeper Foundation — Moving Women from Average to Excellence. While completing her studies at Regent, Alvarado worked with a group of women in her home church, creating the forerunner of her foundation.

Her life work as a preacher had been established and confirmed in her master’s program, but it was at Regent that Alvarado discovered her passion for leadership development and life coaching. As the oldest of four children, she had plenty of opportunities to learn responsibility and leadership growing up. However, Alvarado realizes that through it all, she missed a key element: understanding who she was and what her personal talents were.

She explains that her experience at Regent was much more than an education. “Regent was very formational for me…renewing. The program gave me an opportunity to dream and stretch myself.” Reflecting on early educational experiences, Alvarado explains that in not genuinely knowing herself, she first selected a program of nursing — as her mother had done. It was not a positive experience. By the time she was ready for the doctorate program at Regent, her confidence had grown, because she knew she was finally zeroing in on her life work, her legacy.

As a part of her doctoral training, Alvarado first received life coaching — in preparation for coaching others. “Sometimes we don’t stop to evaluate and reflect,” she says. “I do life and ministry differently as a result of coaching.” It was through this experience that Alvarado discovered her own life purpose — “releasing people into their purposes and destinies.”

Alvarado’s women’s foundation was launched at a church celebration in honor of her graduation from Regent. My Sister’s Keeper Foundation began with a focus group in August 2008. Elements included goal-setting sessions, peer-support partnerships and one-on-one coaching for nine months with Alvarado.

Once in the program, women can apply for the Second Chance Award. Offering academic scholarships for women who want to return to school, Alvarado hopes to open doors to women who want to break free of inhibiting circumstances.

A lifelong learner herself, Alvarado firmly believes in the power of education. She teaches others not to focus on the deterrents of the past, insisting that they are not the sum of those circumstances. “You are not what happened to you!” is her battle cry.

Alongside this effort, Alvarado has a very practical plan called the Single Mother’s Assistance Program. This program helps provide extracurricular activities for single mothers’ children — activities that allow the children to grow too. Through participation in the arts, sports and camps, these children will have a chance to explore their talents and gifts, which otherwise could lie dormant for lack of opportunity.

Yes, Alvarado has achieved much, yet she eagerly looks forward to watching her dreams grow in the future. “As long as I’m living, there will always be something to learn,” she says. From a childhood of hardships, “Pastor Toni” is a witness to all who want to change their destiny.

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