Faculty & Mentor Bios
Anita was born and raised in Ghana. She migrated to the United States in March 2011 to live with her parents in the Berkshires.
She attended Taconic High School where she met Shirley Edgerton from R.O.P.E and became part of the team as a mentee until she graduated. In 2013, she was part of a play called ENUF based on 12 young women who lived in the Berkshires.
Anita graduated from Bridgewater State University where she obtained a B.S in Aviation Management & Operations and a minor in Accounting & Finance. In 2020, she was nominated for International Women’s Day in the Berkshires.
She currently serves as the Assistant Airport Manager for the Pittsfield Municipal Airport. She served on the Scholarship Committee for Berkshire Business & Professional Women (BBPW). A member for Massachusetts Airport Management Association (MAMA), America Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) and a 2021 graduate for Berkshire Leadership Program.
Christine Bilé was born and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Christine is currently a Licensed Master Social Worker in the state of New York, working with children and families. She has always had a passion to help others through the various trials and tribulations in life. This led her to pursue social work as a career. Christine has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work ‘18 and a Masters of Science in Social Work ‘19 both from the College of Saint Rose. While pursuing her education at The College of Saint Rose, Christine has interned with agencies such as Rehabilitation Support Services, In Our Own Voices, and Albany Medical Center.
After interning at Albany Medical Center as a medical social worker, Christine found a new passion for the intersection of social work and medicine.
Christine has been an emergency department social worker at St. Peter’s Hospital and a floor social worker at Albany Medical Center. Christine has worked with various patients and families who have faced physical trauma, mental health issues, domestic violence, grief and loss and more. Christine also has a passion for music which is expressed through voice, guitar, and keyboard and more. She writes and performs her own music.
Louise Smith-Brizan has been an educator for 23 years, she taught English at the high school level in Grenada for 11 years, prior to moving to the US in 2010. In 2011, she matriculated at the Grand Canyon University and graduated with her MS in Special Education - Cross Categorical K-12, in 2014. Since her graduation, she has served in both middle and high schools in Berkshire County. In 2019, Louise joined the Rites of Passage Empowerment Program (R.O.P.E) as a mentor to serve and connect with the community. In 2020, in the midst of Covid-19, she supported her husband, Ronny Brizan to launch his small business, as he pivoted from a job loss due to the pandemic. They operate the restaurant, BB’s Hot Spot, bringing the flavours of the Caribbean to the heart of the Berkshires. In February 2022, the restaurant was featured in the Boston Magazine’s article “Where to Eat in Every Corner of the Berkshires”. Louise and her husband have two children, Ronny (Joshua) and Zoë-Ruth.
Dr. Jean Clarke-Mitchell, PhD
Facilitator/Mentor/Family Engagement Coordinator
Dr. Clarke-Mitchell has been a Mentor with the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program (R.O.P.E.) for over 7 years and she is a Senior Mentor and Family Engagement Liaison and always excited to mentor students. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She was the Clinical Director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, a domestic and sexual assault service agency, for over 12 years, and served in various positions, throughout the agency, for 26 years. Dr. Clarke-Mitchell is also a multicultural, multiethnic, practicing, Psychotherapist, focusing a range of mental health challenges including psychological trauma.
She deeply understands the integral role that identity–whether race, culture, class, gender, spirituality, age, sexuality, or other identities and the intersectionality–plays in the therapeutic relationship that foster trust, safety, motivation, resilience, healing, to create a sense of well-being. Dr. Clarke-Mitchell was Visiting Assistant Professor of social work at both Smith College School and Westfield State University and as Adjunct Faculty at: Cambridge College and Lady of the Elms Colleges. Her scholarly work includes investigation into issues of intimate partner violence and its effects on the family and Black mothers and daughters stress and their coping, self-esteem, and resilience. Dr. Clarke-Mitchell holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degrees in social work from Smith College and a B.S and B.A from MCLA and the University of Massachusetts.
She serves on the Leadership Committees of Western Mass and Albany Association of Psychoanalytic Psychology (WMAAPP) and Mass Women of Color Network (MAWOCN). She serves as well, on the MCLA Foundation Board and Rockfort Moving Forward Executive Committee, an organization in Jamaica where her interest is in having school-age children achieve their highest potential. Her passion for the enhancement of women and girls has led to her involvement with (ROPE) for female identified students in the Berkshires and to extend mentorship to women and girls internationally. Dr. Clarke-Mitchell is proud of her Jamaican heritage, loves to travel the world, and is the mother of three adult daughters and enjoys two grandchildren.
Facilitator/Mentor/International Travel Coordinator
Pastor Akilah Edgerton was born in Bronxville, New York to Bishop Jerome and Shirley Edgerton. She studied dance since the age of three, performing with ballet academies in New York and Massachusetts. At the age of thirteen she co-founded the Youth Alive Step, Dance and Drum Team. YA is a source of pride and proven itself as an effective positive youth development organization in Berkshire County.
Academically, her formal education began in public and parochial schools in New York. She attended Pittsfield Public Schools and graduated from Miss Hall’s College Preparatory High School. In 2009 she graduated with honors from North Carolina A&T State University with a Bachelors of Social Work and a Certificate in Global Studies. During her studies she received the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship and studied in Accra, Ghana. This began her international outreach. Since 2007 Pastor Edgerton has returned annually to Ghana as a board member of the Ghana Educational Collaborative. She is committed to giving back and sharing her gifts and talents with youth in Ghana as well her students at Berkshire Art and Technology Charter School and the Pittsfield community.
Pastor Edgerton was ordained in 2014 and is the pastor of New Generation Global Ministry. Pastor Edgerton continues to embrace opportunities to learn. In 2013-2014 she was a member of L.I.P.P.I (Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact) of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts; she has served on the grant-making committee and is a mentor and facilitator for the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program for Girls.
Eden-Reneé Hayes, Ph.D. (aka Dr. E) is the Owner of Pluralism Solutions, LLC. She has been involved in cultural competency, retention efforts, and inclusion in organizations for over 15 years. An expert in the social psychological factors related to bias, and the intersecting identities of race, class, and gender identity and expression, she has presented papers on her research at a number of conferences including, The American Psychological Association, The International Convention of Psychological Science, and The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and has published her research in various outlets including The Handbook for Feminist Diversity and Diversity Matters: The Color Shape and Tone of 21st Century Diversity. Dr. E earned a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Wesleyan University, and a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Tulane University. She earned a National Science Foundation sponsored Postdoctoral Fellowship and was a tenured professor before becoming Director of The Davis Center at Williams College. She values being a ROPE Mentor as an honor and a privilege and gives back to the program by offering workshops reflecting her expertise and serves on a subcommittee focused on building in emergency financial support for the ROPE Alumni. Dr. E also loves being mom to two superhero energy balls :)
Roberta McCulloch Dews
Roberta McCulloch-Dews currently serves as Director of Administrative Services and Public Information Officer within the Office of the Mayor for the City of Pittsfield and is also the founder of RMDews Media. A communications professional with 20 years of experience, Roberta began her career as a newspaper journalist in 2000, and later transitioned to marketing communications and public relations. In the Berkshires, her roles included that of communications liaison for the CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, as well as, several positions at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) including Web Communications Manager, Assistant to the President, and Assistant Director of Communications. Roberta serves as a Trustee on the board for the Norman Rockwell Museum and serves on the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts. She also serves on the board for Berkshire Business and Professional Women.
She is a member of the Equity and Diversity Committee for the Central Berkshire Regional School District, a member of the Equity Task Force for Pittsfield Public Schools, and a youth mentor with the Rites of Passage Empowerment Program (R.O.P.E). She is a former Commissioner on the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women and a former board member for the Elizabeth Freeman Center. In 2015, Roberta was selected as a finalist for the Berkshire Trendsetters Changemaker under 40 award, and in 2016, Roberta was part of the inaugural class of 40 Under Forty, selected by Berkshire Community College. In 2012, Roberta participated in a year-long program, the Leadership Institute for Public Policy and Impact, through the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. Roberta graduated from New York University (NYU) with a bachelor’s degree in Print Journalism. In 2019, she earned her master’s degree in Social and Public Policy and an Advanced Certificate in Project Management from SUNY Empire. Roberta and her husband, Warren Dews, Jr., have three children, Warren III, West, and Kennedy.
Destiny Saunders is multi-talented in many arenas. Besides her interest in the arts she is a beauty consultant and stylist. She graduated from Mitchell College with a B.A. and is employed at the Brien Center as a Caseworker. She has choreographed numerous step and dance routines for Youth Alive, produced fashion shows.
Serina L. Saunders joined the ROPE mentor group in 2015. She exhibits profound multi-dimensional skills as she aids our young women in the process of empowerment and self-exploration. Her distinct personality draws the young women of ROPE to her mentoring capabilities. She has studied at Johnson & Wales University, Providence campus while majoring in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in mental health. Not only is she a ROPE mentor but she is also the Site Coordinator for Flying Cloud Institute, Young Women in Science STEM program. Along with being a young hard-working individual, She finds recreation in dance and so has joined Shirley Edgerton’s Youth Alive program as a Dance Coach, teaching the latest hip hop dance moves as an expressive outlet. She provides great understanding, patience and encouragement to all youth and envisions a better community for all youth to progress and succeed.
Yvette “Jamuna” Sirker
Facilitator/Former ROPE – Artist in Residence
Ms. Sirker holds a B.A. in English from Cornell University and an MFA in Acting from New York University. Professional memberships and affiliations include Actors Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, Dramatists Guild of America. Additional certifications include Honors in Dance from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Master Yoga Teacher Certification from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Ms. Sirker has served as ROPE Artist in Residence in area afterschool programs.
For R.O.P.E., Ms. Sirker has served as playwright, curriculum designer, teaching artist, and grant writer. Working in collaboration with Nakeida Bethel-Smith and Marla Robertson, she designed the curriculum and served as playwright for the acclaimed multi-disciplinary theatrical work, ENUF! Based on the true life stories of 12 young ROPE women from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the productions was inspired by OBIE Award-winning play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange. It gives focus to the experience of young women of color living in a predominately white society. With music by Jerome Edgerton and Youth Alive Band, ENUF! premiered in August of 2013 as a Barrington Stage Company (BSC) education project with funding from Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. The 30-minute play drew sold out houses leading to encore performances at BSC’s St. Germaine Theater. The continued demand for this work led Sirker to co-produce to ENUF! On Tour with Mrs. Edgerton, with performances at three Pittsfield high schools, Simon’s Rock College (as a Berkshire Festival of Women’s Writers project), and Berkshire Community College.
Dr. Maria Sirois
Dr. Maria Sirois is an inspirational speaker and clinical psychologist who has worked in the intersection of psychology and well being for more than twenty years. She brings a depth of experience, weaving together inspirational story and poetry with research to enable us to move forward toward the life we most want: one filled with vitality, health and meaning. Maria teaches internationally, and is featured often with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, bringing to audiences the latest tools and practices from the field of positive psychology that enliven our work, our relationships and our overall well being. An author as well, her book Every Day Counts: Lessons in Love, Faith and Resilience is used as a teaching tool in wellness centers, hospices and hospitals and brings forward wisdom from those who are living while dying. For more information about Maria visit www.mariasirois.com
Youth Alive Musical Director
Jerome Edgerton Jr. is a Community Activist, Writer, Musician and Therapeutic Mentor at the Brien Center for Children, Adolescents and Substance Abuse. In 2012 he was awarded the first Tupelo award from Berkshire Taconic Foundation. Besides researching and expanding his knowledge in African Drumming he wrote a well-received production entitled the ” Evolution of Rhythms”, a musical teaching the history of beats. As the Musical Director of Youth Alive he developed the drumline into a band that plays original, popular tunes and transforms to a marching band during parade season.
Jerome is not only a creative genius in the arts but he is a Basketball Coach at Pittsfield High School. In August 2015 he was inducted into the New England Regional Basketball Hall of Fame for his prowessness on the court as a high school player. Lastly but not least Jerome is a minister and motivational speaker. His passion is to share his talents, experiences and insights with youth.