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A Safe, Nurturing Place for Girls

The Washington School for Girls – By Kelley Lockard

Kelley Lockard and WSG Students (Class of 2016)

Before 1997, there were few quality educational options or services for girls in Southeast DC. And there was no place where a girl on the verge of womanhood could find mentorship or learn in a safe environment that values her as an individual. That is why the Washington School for Girls (WSG) was founded: to provide a safe, nurturing place for girls to not only learn and grow, but to thrive.

Of course, a lot has changed since the school was founded 20 years ago. More people have started to take an interest in Southeast neighborhoods. There are more resources, more options for education. The community itself is changing. However, through all of these changes there continues to be a strong need for a school that works for and with the community. That’s why WSG is so important, and why our students succeed: we educate the whole child.

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We pride ourselves on providing a holistic model of education, one that accepts not just students, but also families. A student’s experiences at home are just as important as her experience in the classroom. We work with parents to engage them in the educational process and help them access the resources they need to support their daughters as learners.

As an administrator and former teacher, I feel I am most attuned to a student’s needs when I have developed a close relationship with her family. I know that if I can build a long-term, reciprocal relationship with a family then I can truly help a child reach her full potential. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is seeing a girl come into her own after entering the school with nearly every aspect of her life in disarray. That kind of transformation does not happen overnight, and it’s impossible without the support of the family.

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Luckily for me, I’ve witnessed that transformation innumerable times in my years at WSG. It’s what motivates me to do the work that I do. My desk is full of photos of the young women I have helped to transform, and every day I am fortified by their smiles and the knowledge of their achievement. I look at them and know that they will make a positive difference in their communities.

WSG was built on the beliefs and values of extraordinary, courageous women. As we enter Women’s History Month and approach the 20th Anniversary of the school this spring, I am increasingly reflecting on that fact. In the classroom, our students are learning about women who have changed the course of history, but they are also learning leadership skills, whether it’s helping their teachers hand out assignments, leading an after-school club, or mentoring younger students.

I recognize the ability to lead and the determination to do so in many of our students. It is something I have worked hard to incorporate into the curriculum at WSG because I believe that leadership builds confidence and allows students to become more actively engaged in the classroom. Seeing the lightbulb come on over a student’s head is the best feeling the world, and it only happens when that student knows she is capable of more.

My hope for the future is that our students take the lessons they learn at WSG, both in and out of the classroom, to heart. There are many challenges ahead for our country and the world, especially in terms of equality and justice. The most daunting task in my job as an administrator is to ensure that our students are prepared to face those challenges, to navigate a world that does not always value them. I know that they will not be able to do it alone, but I hope that we can give them the knowledge, skills, and courage to overcome adversity.

Posted on my door is a daily affirmation known as the Serenity Prayer. It’s a very popular prayer and my mother’s favorite prayer, but I never appreciated it until I became a teacher. I look at it every day, sometimes several times (depending on the day), because it reminds me to be myself and accept the things I cannot change. Superwoman is not at all a part of my name, but I find strength in accepting that fact and courage to try anyway. If my students walk away from WSG accepting of who they are and still ready to change the world, then I know I will have succeeded.

Goosebumps with Girls on the Run – DC

by Kristen Komlosy – Executive Director, Girls on the Run DC

Moten Elem Team pic Fall 2016 5K

When a volunteer coach shares with us, “Girls on the Run allows me to provide a positive space in the school community to help girls to learn and love physical activity and themselves” I get goosebumps and blink twice about how grateful I am to work for an incredible organization.

We have 1,600 amazing volunteers (per year) and that inspires me!

Everyday, I wake up in awe of how many people want to give back to our girls across all eight wards of DC! They are the lifeline of the organization. They have a real passion to empower young girls to become confident women, and our whole team is very grateful for them.

We’re looking forward to continuing the expansion of our circles in the DC community! We have a goal to serve 22,000 girls by 2020 so they all know their limitless potential. On June 4th, we will move our end of season 5K to a more visible venue for our community at Freedom Plaza (14th St and Pennsylvania Ave NW). We want the DC community to join us as we run for our girls – running or walking through the heart of the city. Everyone can support the future of Girl Power by running alongside girls from every corner of DC.

10 years ago we started by serving 13 girls in one school and today we are serving over 2,000 girls a year. 13,000 amazing, strong, and brave young girls have completed this life-changing program. We have watched girls complete the program from every corner of Washington, DC. We have seen thousands of girls cross the 5K finish line, a finish line that does not discriminate by skin color, background, or religion. Girls on the Run brings people together from all walks of life, and that in and of itself is a powerful lesson.

Washington, DC is well known as a center of political power and influence. But this context masks a troubling reality: DC’s children and youth face disproportionately high rates of at-risk conditions, with child poverty, childhood obesity and teen pregnancy that are at or near the highest in the nation. Body image issues among girls escalates quickly in elementary school and by middle school, 70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body, and body satisfaction hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 and 15.

We know that girls who have a strong sense of self-worth, confidence and personal agency and who have been exposed to consistent, positive messages about the benefits of avoiding risky behaviors are shown to make better decisions throughout adolescence than their peers who lack these attributes.

Girls on the Run can make a big difference in a girl’s life. It is a place where pivotal “aha” moments of change can happen. We are ensuring that the next generation of girls in DC will know their limitless potential. Families, relationships, communities, governments all will be strengthened by the confident women that these girls will grow up to become!

To Volunteer or learn more about Girls on the Run DC contact: (202) 607-2288 or email INFO@GOTRDC.ORG

Celebrate Black History Month with CASA Prince George’s County

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“Make Justice a Reality for all Children,”… Including Foster Children

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said at his “March on Washington” on Aug. 28, 1963, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” If he were alive today, he may have even rallied support for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA’s) who stand up for boys and girls. CASA’s are volunteers sworn-in by a judge to investigate a foster child’s needs and challenges – from academics to emotional well-being – and then report back their findings and recommendations.

At CASA/Prince George’s County, we celebrate Black History Month and thank Dr. King, and other veterans of the civil rights movement, for marching our nation forward towards a more just reality. In their spirit, we recruit, train and supervise CASA’s in Prince George’s County.

PG County is the wealthiest, predominately African-American county, in the nation. Unfortunately, many parts of the county and its residents suffer from high crime, high poverty rates, and a troubled school system.

Consider this: More than half of foster children nationwide drop out of high school, increasing the chances that they will slip into poverty, homelessness and possibly even jail. Today, foster children often begin their lives impoverished, are abused and neglected, abandoned and even traumatized. None of this is the fault of the children, they were simply born to parents unable to care for them.

Upwards of 70 percent of foster children who have been assigned to one of our CASA’s graduate, increasing the chances that they will enjoy a full and productive life.

We opened our doors in 2001 and, like other CASA’s nationwide, have made a real difference in the community we serve. We now have about 150 CASA’s in a county with more than 400 foster children. Our goal is to have one CASA for each child in foster care.

Studies show that foster children with CASA’s are more likely to thrive. With the help of a CASA, a foster child is more apt to graduate from high school, escape poverty and live a longer life.

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Celebrate Black History Month by?becoming a CASA, or learning more about CASA’s, please call: (301) 209-0491 or email volunteer@pgcasa.org.

Also, see: www.pgcasa.org

Celebrate Black History Month with Dance Institute of Washington

Picture #1-webFebruary is Black History Month, a joyous time of celebration and reflection. We applaud the many contributions of men and women of African ancestry, many of whom accomplished feats of greatness despite considerable challenges.

We are indebted to black creative minds throughout history, those who carry the life blood and soul of the African diaspora. In artists from Duke Ellington to Aretha Franklin, from Michael Jackson to Chance the Rapper we appreciate the innovations of song and dance–the beats, the rhymes, the rhythms. Poetry, philosophy, style and culture have all been shaped and enriched by black creators.

The black community has given the world African dance and drumming, jazz, blues, soul, rock, hip hop and countless other modes of powerful expression that survive, evolve, and change the world around us. People of African descent have contributed and continue to pioneer the way in diverse fields including politics, medicine, economics, technology and science, business, sports and more.

For this blog post, Dance Institute of Washington interviewed its students, parents and teaching artists about how Black History Month inspires them.

“Black history lives in dance, because popular dance has a lot of infusion from Afro-Caribbean dance styles. Back in time, dance was a form of communication and recreation,” says Crystal Waters, a DIW parent.

“Black history is dance! Every form of dance comes from black roots,” shares Maria Fenton, another parent.

“All of our lives are connected through dance. It’s a means of communication,” DIW teacher Yasmeen Enahora explains.

Dance Institute of Washington provides youth, especially at-risk, under-served youth from low-income communities, opportunities to develop artistically, socially, emotionally and intellectually through after school dance training, performances, education, work readiness and experience, and youth development.

The late Fabian Barnes established DIW in 1987 after a career with Dance Theatre of Harlem. Celebrating 30 years of service this year, DIW is one of DC’s largest African American arts organizations.? It is a cultural, educational resource, with its own Columbia Heights studios.

DIW meets the needs of DC children through year-round dance training, education, youth workforce development, and performances. DIW affords underserved populations pathways out of poverty. Graduates go on to colleges, including Harvard, Temple and SUNY Purchase; others enter careers with companies such as Ballet San Jose, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, The Lion King and Dance Theater of Harlem.

Black history and, more specifically, the progressive, successful trajectory of black artists leading the way in contemporary ballet and professional concert dance are true inspirations. From pioneer Arthur Mitchell to Dance Institute of Washington founder Fabian Barnes to today’s beloved Misty Copeland, black artists continually rise above barriers and perceived limitations to excel at the highest levels of dance, establishing the strong appeal of the beauty, versatility and virtuosity of black artists and the black experience. To have a thriving dance world, we must continue to diversify both the talent and audience for dance, and the positive examples of successful black dancers help make this possible.

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Black History Month is incredibly important to the work of the Dance Institute of Washington. Black history is vital because the success stories and foundation work established by other African people help to empower and inspire today’s citizens. When young people of color and of all backgrounds learn their history, they feel increased membership and belonging, they discover precedents for their own endeavors. The learning and creativity that come from looking back to our ancestors provide a path forward to new horizons.

Hope for the future

“DIW gives me hope for the future! Seeing so many young people involved in the arts.”–Crystal Waters, DIW parent

“DIW gives me hope for the future because the teachers mentor me and allow me to be exposed to new opportunities, and I admire them for that.”--Lauren Mueller, DIW student

“DIW gives me hope for the future because the teachers give us the experience that they have as professionals, and allow us to see how far we can go, as dancers.”–Terrion Jenkins, DIW student

“DIW gives me hope for humanity. Today, in the world we live in, DIW shows that through dance the continuation of humanity is possible.”–Faith Wilson, DIW student

“I love that black and white people, people of different races, are focusing on dance together. DIW is a place that offers a diverse dance experience for all races, and that’s what is hopeful about it.”–Robyn Lee Murphy, DIW parent

Picture #3Kahina Haynes, DIW’s new Executive Director is working diligently with the board, staff and community to strengthen DIW’s operations, programs and partnerships to secure DIW’s position as a beacon of hope and launchpad of talent for years to come.

Whether you have a lot of time to give or just a little, DIW welcomes the generous contributions of all volunteers and interns who can support the organization’s mission and core programs. Help is always needed in the areas of marketing, board development, management assistance, fundraising, operations, program delivery, evaluation and customer service. To explore possibilities, please email Mari Williams.

Mentoring helps students gain access to College

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Only 46% of low-income students matriculate to college, according to the US Census. Most of these students are afraid they can’t afford college and that huge debt will burden them and/or their families. At First Generation College Bound (FGCB), we break down misperceptions about college affordability and accessibility, and strive to improve our students matriculation and graduation rates.

Our College Access program works with 150 first generation students annually. Countering the perception that low-income students must win a scholarship to attend college, our program welcomes students with a 2.0 or greater GPA and helps them tackle the financial aid process. Many students receive need-based aid assistance that they didn’t know they qualified for. Our students are ready to make successful transitions to colleges that are the best fit for them and can compete academically with their more affluent peers.

Most of our students must overcome long odds to attend college and obtain their degrees. Mentoring enables our students to overcome barriers which have prevented many first generation college students from attending and graduating from college.

In one-on-one coaching sessions and in workshops, we constantly instill college bound attitudes in our students. Our outstanding College Access Coaches develop customized plans for students, empowering them to surmount barriers blocking their way to their goals. Preparing them to do well in the SAT and maintaining a college bound transcript, we remind our students they can compete academically. We demonstrate attending college is affordable and accessible by showing our students how to leverage aid available to attend college.

For more than 27 years, our college access mentoring has ensured 93% of our students matriculate to college, twice the national average, and 64% of our students finish their degrees in four years, twice higher the national average of 33% for low-income students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.

FGCB is striving to develop support services and training for other organizations and programs. We hope other groups will want to replicate our highly successful model. If more groups adopt our mentoring approach, we’ll come closer to realizing our vision: one day all Marylanders will have equal access to affordable college educations.

You can learn more about our work by visiting www.fgcb.org

Making a Difference with CASA of Prince George’s County

We make a real difference in the lives of foster children
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Every month is mentoring month at Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County, a nonprofit in its 16th year that recruits, trains and supervises CASAs for foster children.

CASAs are volunteers sworn-in by a judge to investigate a foster child’s needs and challenges – from academics to emotional well-being – and then report back their findings and recommendations.

Besides being an advocate, a CASA is a mentor. They are there to talk to the youth about whatever they want to discuss, take them on field trips – such as to a ballgame or an amusement park – and explain to them the importance of becoming a responsible adult.

Studies show that a foster child with a CASA is far more likely to thrive.
kid and adult living roomConsider this: More than half of foster children nationwide drop out of high school, increasing the chances that they will slip into poverty, homelessness and possibly even jail.

Yet upwards of 70 percent of foster children who have been assigned to one of our CASAs graduate, increasing the chances that they will enjoy a full and productive life.

We are proud to say that we make a real difference. We would like to do even more. Our goal is to have one CASA with each foster child. We now have only about 150 volunteers in a county with more than 400 foster children.

Help us celebrate National Mentoring Month by helping us help more foster kids.

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Please keep in mind that these boys and girls are at risk at no fault of their own. They simply were born to parents who, for whatever reason, were unable to care for them. Help us help them!

For more information, please contact CASA/Prince George’s County at 301-209-0491 or email kbundy@pgcasa.org.

Help VA Students Go Back to School!

NO TAXES….on back to school supplies this weekend (8/1 – 8/3) in Virginia! Help students in need get ready for school by adding an extra item to your cart — whether online or in-store — or find an opportunity to help sort & pack up donated supplies so backpacks are full and ready for the first day of school!
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7 Questions with Andrew Barnett, Executive Director of SMYAL

June is Pride Month and today we welcome Andrew Barnett, Executive Director of SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders) to 7 Questions! SMYAL supports and empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth in the Washington, DC metropolitan region through youth leadership development, community service, and advocacy. While working at SMYAL over the past 9 years, Andrew served on the Mayor’s Bullying Prevention Task Force, worked diligently to strengthen in-school GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance), and developed SMYAL into an influential organization.

 

1. What motivated you to begin working with your organization?

I first became involved in advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth when I co-founded a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) as a senior in high school. When I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to get more involved in the LGBT movement and I moved to DC to find a way to do that, which led me to an internship at SMYAL. One of the aspects of SMYAL’s work that drew me in was the organization’s focus on addressing intersectional issues. The majority of the youth we serve are African-American and low-income, and so face challenges due not only to their sexual orientation or gender identity but also due to institutionalized racism and economic factors. I greatly valued (and still do!) the way in which SMYAL’s programs incorporated an understanding of how different systems of oppressions impact youth’s lives. As my internship was winding down, a staff position opened up, and I joined the team.

2. What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?

Last year, we teamed up with a California-based organization, GSA Network, to launch a major new initiative: the DC Regional GSA Network. This new effort focuses on empowering LGBTQ youth leaders to organize and promote positive change in their schools and communities through GSA clubs. The program has challenged us to shift our thinking in two major ways: (1) incorporating youth leaders into the program at all levels, including program facilitation, and (2) using a network-based model in which we are not only creating a safe space for LGBTQ youth to be who they are but also working with youth to create affirming spaces wherever they are. As an Executive Director, it’s been exciting to see our youth develop and articulate their own visions for the program, their schools, and their communities.

3. Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?

There are many people who inspire me and whom I admire. In the landscape of LGBT youth organizations, I am particularly inspired by Carolyn Laub, the Executive Director of GSA Network, and Grace Sterling Stowell, the Executive Director of the Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth (BAGLY). I am also a huge admirer of the work of Dr. Caitlin Ryan and the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University.

In addition, what sustains me day to day is the inspiration I take from the people I work with–the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and, most importantly, our LGBTQ youth. I consider myself so fortunate to work with amazing, talented people who are so passionate about the work that we do.

4. What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?

For the past two years, SMYAL has been a member of the Mayor’s Bullying Prevention Task Force here in DC. The Task Force was charged with developing of a model bullying prevention policy and then assisting with its implementation in our schools and other youth-serving providers. I have been so impressed with the way in which the DC Office of Human Rights has spearheaded this effort through engaging a diverse pool of stakeholders (ranging from folks who work at DC Department of Parks and Recreation to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) while also keeping us on task and ensuring we adhered to the timetable for speedy implementation. I believe that the model bullying prevention policy that the District adopted is very strong and the ways in which the work is being coordinated across the city will serve as a model for other cities in the future.

5. What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?

The greatest challenge we face is probably similar to many other community-based nonprofits, which is that there is always more need than resources. We strive to be strategic in how we develop programs and focus our time in order to ensure that we are able to maximize our impact. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot be everything to everyone and that sometimes we have to say no to opportunities for collaboration and partnership because we just don’t have the bandwidth to take on a new initiative.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

When I first became Executive Director of SMYAL, I took a class at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement for new EDs. The instructor hung a banner at the front of the classroom each session which said, It’s all about relationships. I have reflected back on that banner over the years and I have to say I think it is true–as EDs, the relationships we build with our Board members, staff members, community stakeholders, and constituents are central to our ability to do our jobs. Another piece of advice I would offer is never to be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

7. What’s next/coming up for you or your organization?

This year is an exciting one for SMYAL–we are celebrating our 30th Anniversary! To commemorate this milestone, we have been recording the history of SMYAL through our alums–former youth participants, Board members, volunteers, and staff. We just released a publication, 30 Years of SMYAL Stories, that collects several of these interviews and will be putting out a podcast later in the year. Programmatically, we are continuing to build our DC Regional GSA Network and preparing for the second school year of implementation.

A major change for me is that I will be stepping down from SMYAL in August to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the George Washington University. It is certainly bittersweet, as I will be very sad to leave this organization that has meant so much to me since I joined the staff 9 years ago. However, I am excited to see how SMYAL continues to grow in the years to come. The Board is in the midst of a search for the next Executive Director, so I would encourage anyone who is interested to apply!

Guest Post: LearnServe International

On the eve of the 5th Annual LearnServe Venture Fair, we welcome Scott Rechler, CEO and Director of LearnServe International to GoodWorks! LearnServe International’s program prepares students in greater DC to be the next generation of global leaders and social entrepreneurs. Their Fellows Program brings together over 70 high school students from 30 public, private and charter schools to learn how to bring sustainable social change to their communities. Over an academic year, students design and launch their own social ventures — action projects to benefit their schools and communities — while learning core business entrepreneurship skills, including budgeting, strategic planning, and team-building.

Can you really teach social innovation?

by Scott Rechler, CEO & Director, LearnServe International

 

Could the next Jamila Larson, Mazi Mutafa, or Robert Egger be sitting in class right now in the District, Maryland, or Virginia?

Maybe.

In a March Washington Post article, J. D. Harrison opened his article titled “Can you really teach entrepreneurship?” with a similar question, but a different cast of characters: Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg.

Toss in Bill Gates, and you’ve got the three examples of entrepreneurs referenced by every high school group I speak with. And for good reason. All three have built successful companies whose products shape our daily lives, and a personal brand that complements their corporate identities.

Ask a room full of high school students for examples of social entrepreneurs? Uncomfortable silence.

We are surrounded by powerful examples of social entrepreneurs here in the DC region. But they’re not (yet) household names — unless you happen to spend time with their organizations.

Take for example Jamila Larson, founder of the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, which brings much-needed recreation to kids living in shelters. Or Mazi Mutafa, founder of Words Beats & Life, giving young people a voice through hip-hop. Or Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen — and of C Forward, an initiative to raise the profile of the non-profit sector nation-wide.

The next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg may well be sitting in a DC classroom today, preparing to launch the next breakthrough technology or scalable business. And sitting right next to her is the next Jamila, Mazi, and Robert.

LearnServe is committed to inspiring and training the rising generation of social entrepreneurs. These are the young people who know they want to do something good in the world — but may not yet know what or how. We help them blend this passion with the tenacity, vision, and technical skills essential to entrepreneurship in order to transform the lives of their classmates, neighbors, and communities.

Tricia Granata, executive director of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship in DC, reflected in Harrison’s article on the “innate entrepreneurial spirit” of young people, and the importance of helping them develop the accompanying technical skills.

LearnServe offers an outlet for our students to channel this innate entrepreneurial spirit and build those technical skills — coupled with a powerful dose of empathy and social insight.

LearnServe alumni have gone on to launch companies introducing fair trade coffee to China, and improving hygiene in India through the sale of sustainable soaps in the U.S. They have created lasting organizations teaching foreign languages to elementary school students, and science to middle schoolers. Yasmine Arrington, a LearnServe and DCPS alum and founder of ScholarCHIPS, was awarded the Washington Women of Excellence Award for Community Service earlier this month for her work raising college scholarship funds for children of incarcerated parents.

Tomorrow, 70 more young social entrepreneurs will “pitch” their social venture plans to a panel of business and community leaders at LearnServe’s 5th Annual Venture Fair and top projects will receive seed funding to help get their ideas off the ground. We invite you to join in celebrating their creative spirit and vision for our community. These are our region’s rising generation of social innovators.

Harrison concludes his article with a quote from Wendy E. F. Torrance, director of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation: “No matter what career they choose, it’s important for young people to look at the world through the lens of an entrepreneur.”

We couldn’t agree more — and we are working to ensure that lens is wide enough and community-oriented enough to include Jamila, Mazi, Robert and Yasmine, alongside Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

To learn more about LearnServe International and their Fellows Program, visit them online at: www.learn-serve.org. Meet the Fellows at the 5th Annual Venture Fair tomorrow (4/24) or get involved here!

Guest Post: Mentoring Today

As Mentoring Month draws to a close, we’re excited for today’s guest post from Mentoring Today! Since 2005, Mentoring Today has served DC youth both before and after they are released from incarceration to support their successful reintegration into their families and community. Advocates and mentors from the Washington College of Law help youth with critical issues such as education, employment, and housing as they enter adulthood. Through these comprehensive, client-centered services, Mentoring Today strives to improve the juvenile justice system and empowers our young people to recognize their dreams and realize their aspirations.

About the Author: Sasha Garcon is a third year law student at American University’s Washington College of Law. Sasha is currently interning with Mentoring Today and hopes to pursue a career in juvenile defense.

A Mentor, An Advocate, And All That Is In Between

by Sasha Garcon

I have been a mentor in the past. And as a law student, I am developing skills to become a better advocate. But rarely have these two roles merged, until I started working with Mentoring Today. Mentoring Today is a DC-based organization that serves youth both before and after they are released from incarceration to support their successful reintegration into their families and community. Mentoring Today, through a partnership with Students United, a student organization at American University Washington College of Law, sends mentors to meet weekly with incarcerated youth at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel, Maryland. Once the youth are released, mentors continue working with the youth in the community by maintaining a mentoring relationship and by helping with critical issues such as education, employment, and housing.

“What is a mentor?” I asked my mentee on the first day we met. He explained to me that he had had a mentor before and that this individual gave him advice on life and staying out of trouble. I thought about this a little more and thought about how I wanted to define my role and my relationship with him. I knew that I was not there to tell him what to do and what not to do. My role, as I saw it, was to be a support to my mentee — to help him define goals and to help him in accomplishing those goals. While I wanted to provide emotional support and advice on how my mentee could grow as an individual, I also wanted to make sure that I fought for things that my mentee wanted or needed to grow as an individual. I wanted to be more than a mentor; I wanted to also be his advocate.

The idea of being both a mentor and an advocate may seem foreign but they work quite well together. I could see change in our relationship the first time I shifted from my role as a mentor to being an advocate for my mentee. My mentee had what is called a “Youth Family Team Meeting” (YFTM) meeting scheduled. At this meeting, New Beginnings staff members, service providers, and family members came together to prepare for my mentee’s release and to discuss what services needed to be set in place once he was in the community. In preparation for the meeting, I discussed with my mentee what to expect. We talked about his goals, what he hoped to accomplish in the meeting, and any issues that he wanted to raise. I reassured him that I would also be there at the meeting on his behalf to help make sure his goals were met and that he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish. As I said this, he stopped and looked at me with a look that I can only describe as pure shock. “What? You didn’t expect me to come?” I asked. His answer, “No.”

After this meeting, I could see how my role as a mentor-advocate shaped and defined my relationship with my mentee. It was encouraging to see that he was not only comfortable sharing his goals with me but also wanted to include me in his pursuit of accomplishing those goals. I had the ability to not only advocate on his behalf, but also to help him learn to advocate for himself. One cannot truly advocate for someone, if they do not teach them to advocate for themselves. It is the assurance that I will not only advocate for him as best I can, but that I will also provide him with the confidence to advocate for his own needs that I believe will truly make a difference in my mentee’s life.

Learn more about Mentoring Today at: www.mentoringtoday.org, or check out their Catalogue webpage for more ways to get involved.