Youth Alive in conjunction with the Women of Color Giving Circle and the Pittsfield School Department commenced a mentoring program for adolescent girls called Rites of Passage and Empowerment program. The founder, Shirley Edgerton recognized the need for adolescent girls to develop their voice and inner selves in a single sex setting. In YA it became apparent that girls often didn’t focus on their own development and relegated themselves to secondary roles in the group when in the presence of boys. Ms. Edgerton also desired to provide an opportunity to transistion into womanhood in a nurturing and supportive environment. They also lacked an opportunity to interact with professional women of color in school and other systems in Berkshire County. Five other accomplished professional women shared the vision and joined Edgerton in lauching the initiative in 2010.
The mission of ROPE is to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescent girls into womanhood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible women. It is designed to help participants discover their inner voice and support all components of personal development.
Beginning in March 2010, a group of up to 15 female high school students met bi-weekly with a variety of experienced professionals. Instructors include psychologists Dr. Maria Sirois and Dr.Tameka Gillum; educator Claudette Webster; and Marla Robertson, Anthropologist and Dancer. Akilah Edgerton and Brett Westbrook, two YA alums served as liaisons.
The four months program offered biweekly classes focused on exploring self-worth, self-esteem, interests, skills, Resilience, Cultural Competence, women’s history, the arts and college tours. The program is successful, all high school seniors have graduated from high school and many of the other social problems haven’t been present in the group i.e. teenage pregnancy. In 2014 seven members graduated and all were accepted and are attending college. 2013, the girls suggested that the program should be year round. The mentors responded and the last two years the program functioned throughout the year. The year starts in October with a weekend retreat at the Becket YMCA camp, the morning sessions are spent in the state of the arts high and low ropes area, in the afternoons sessions are facilitated by the mentors. Until June the sessions are held, along with college tours, attending lectures and art performances.
In 2015, ROPE has collaborations with the Colonial Theatre, where two participants are interns, the Berkshire Children Family Center new neighborhood advisory council there are two members from ROPE and the largest project is with Flying Cloud Institute After School STEM mentoring programs. Seven ROPE members are mentors at two elementary schools and one middle school.
The volunteer staff of ROPE are passionate, caring women giving of themselves and investing in our greatest treasure, our children.