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Pittsfield’s ROPE program guides young women to success / iBerkshires.com

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Shirley Edgerton received the Daniel C. Dillon Helping Hands, Caring Hearts award from Berkshire United Way earlier this year for her community work.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Shirley Edgerton has worked diligently throughout her career to inspire and help people become their best selves.

His work led to the founding of Rites of Passage and Empowerment, which recently obtained 501(c)3 status further legitimizing his efforts. He is also the recipient of $550,000 in US Federal Rescue Plan Act funds through the City of Pittsfield.

“Even though we know that the work we’ve done, that the community has embraced it over the 11 years that we’ve been in existence, that puts us in a position where we can apply for certain grants independently,” Edgerton said. .

“And it also gives our donors the ability to deduct that as a tax benefit.”

ROPE has helped 50-75 young women aged 12-18 who have completed the program since its inception in 2010.

ROPE’s umbrella organization, the Women of Color Giving Circle, has received financial support from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts for more than 25 years.

“So now, with us independently having a 501(c)3, we’re truly free and independent. And so we can continue the funding to build the program to continue to take it to a different level and for the benefit of young women that serve us,” Edgerton said.

ROPE provides mentorship and emotional support to female-identifying and non-binary teenage girls of color and youth so they can see their voices and inner selves developed by learning from professional women of color.

The organization has operated on volunteers for the past decade, but now has greater financial flexibility to grow and provide mentors with an allowance for their time. This funding will also increase its ability to expand its programs, including access to college visits, travel opportunities, scholarships, skills advancement and professional development.

“Everyone volunteers for this organization, but with ARPA funds, now we’re going to like, give people a regular stipend, because these women have been here, for the most part, since first or second year,” Edgerton said.

“So you’re talking about seven to eight years of volunteering, so we want to be able to create more structure, give them stipends, let them know that we value their time.”

Who the mentors are greatly influences the impact of the organization’s work because it gives these adolescent girls a chance to see women like them in positions of power.

“Different institutions and systems, there’s a lack of people of color. And one of the things we’ve learned is, it’s research, you need representation as young people to understand the possibilities of life,” Edgerton said.

“So if you don’t see yourself there, the question is can you make it. That’s why we’re very specific about our mentors.”

Mentors are professional women of color who have found their purpose in life and have bachelor’s degrees or higher.

Since receiving the City’s Community Awards grant, ROPE has been able to expand its efforts.

“I would say at least 80 to 90% [of mentors] were African American, and the rest were Latinx,” Edgerton said. “Right now, I’m in the process of having interviews because with the ARPA funds, we can increase our capacity.”

ROPE hopes to help these teenagers understand who they are by offering them the opportunity to understand the history from which they come through its biannual trips to Africa. The history of slavery is well known, but the rich pre-slavery history is not, Edgerton said.

She said learning the history of Africa, from riches to kings and queens, is important for building self-esteem and self-esteem.

“We integrate it into the journey of our young people, to help them understand their ancestry, to understand their history, to understand what they are based on, to understand that our history began before slavery,” he said. she stated.

“We often hear about slavery, slavery, slavery is our beginnings. No, it’s a rich history that took place in Africa. And that before that is important, and just as important , than understanding slavery, and civil rights, and all that.”

These trips also contribute to developing the identity perception of these teenagers by exposing them to cultures different from the one in which they were raised.

“The other thing that happens, and we realized, is that it’s also a room where you understand very well that you’re an American because there are cultures that exist in different parts of Ghana and there are certain behaviors and belief systems that we have as Americans. And believe me, when you go to another country, you recognize how much of an American you are,” Edgerton said.

“So that’s another element that you have to reinforce about who you are and the reality is that we’re Americans, that’s where we were raised, that’s where the values ​​and the belief systems that we have are. incorporated with the individual family and friends. Those two different elements like that, but there’s also this element about what it’s like to be an American, and that’s reinforced.

ROPE takes it a step further by bringing guests from diverse backgrounds to speak with the teens. Most recently, the mentors facilitated a conversation with writer, speaker, and entrepreneur Amber Chand, who will lead a series of vision conversations.

Chand’s family lost everything when brutal Ugandan President Idi Amin forced all East Indians out of the African country. The Berkshires resident founded online fair trade marketplaces to provide opportunities for women artisans in countries including Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti.

In addition to weekly mentoring and monthly workshops, there are tours of historically black colleges and universities, known as HBCUs.

“It’s often a great experience for our young women, because they don’t see themselves growing up in the Berkshires very much. And there are unwritten rules in HBCUs: you learn your history, you learn to appreciate who you are. , and you learn to accept the fact that you have a purpose and need to give back to your community,” Edgerton said.

Edgerton discovered that there is a need for a program specific to teens of color through his experience with the Youth Alive arts program.

While working for Youth Alive, Edgerton noticed that girls’ confidence was lower than boys’ and rather than focusing and relying on themselves, they would add more to boys’ values ​​by praising them for their talents. rather than for theirs.

“I kept noticing that the girls just didn’t seem to feel as good about themselves as the boys. So I talked to some friends. And I was like, ‘We have to do something about our girls “because they need to know their own worth. They need to know that they’re just as precious as a boy and everything we share is just as important and just as precious,” Edgerton said.

ROPE continues to evolve and change based on the needs of its mentees, who build a relationship with the program, providing them with a lifelong support system and the means to give back.

Through Youth Alive and ROPE, Edgerton has helped hundreds of teens discover themselves and their purpose in life.

It’s clear that Edgerton’s desire to help others runs deep in her veins through the powerful success stories she’s shared (such as Nyanna Slaughter who is now regional director for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Anita Akor, director Pittsfield Airport Assistant) and the impact she had on her own children, all of whom help with ROPE or lead their own organizations.

The decision to create the organization exclusively for young women of color was not to exclude boys but to provide a specific marginalized group with the means to develop their self-perception through role models.

However, his son, Jerome Edgerton, started Sessions, focusing on life skills and coaching boys aged 13-18. He uses athletics as “a way to connect with young men and engage them in terms of learning life practices.”

“My philosophy is that if someone like me, who is very caring, gets involved in mentoring young men, that’s just another form of mother,” Edgerton said,

“Young men don’t need mothers in the age group we’re involved with. You need men to show you how to move through this world. You don’t need another mother .”