Faculty & Mentor Bios

Dr. Jean Clarke-Mitchell, PhD
Facilitator/Mentor/Family Engagement Coordinator

Jean is a mentor-for-mentors and family engagement liaison and has been with ROPE for over 5 years. She has been the Clinical Director of the Elizabeth Freeman Center for the past 12 years. She is a multicultural, multiethnic practicing psychotherapist and her focus is addressing psychological traumas. She understands the integral role that identity–whether race, culture, gender, spirituality, sexuality, or other identity–plays in therapeutic relationships that foster trust, safety, motivation, resilience and healing.  Jean is also a Visiting Assistant Professor of social work at Westfield State University and has taught at: Cambridge College; Lady of the Elms College and as a Lecturer at Smith College. Her scholarly work has investigated issues of domestic violence and its effects on children and Black mothers’ and daughters’ coping, self-esteem and resilience.  Jean is a graduate of UMASS-Lowell, MCLA, and Smith College School for Social Work for her MSW and PhD. Jean serves on the boards of directors for Western Mass and Albany Psychoanalytic Psychological Association (WMAAPP) and on the MCLA Foundation Board. Her passion for the enhancement of life for women and girls around the world has led to her involvement in the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program (ROPE) for teenage female students in the Berkshires and mentorships to girls internationally. Jean is very proud of her Jamaican heritage and is the mother of three grown-up daughters and two grandchildren.

 

Jean is an intensively trained DBT therapist and a certified QPR suicide-prevention clinician.  In 2014, Jean’s longstanding clinical and community work garnered her the Deval and Diane Patrick Award for Cultural Competency, presented through Multicultural BRIDGE.

Roberta McCulloch Dews
Facilitator/Mentor

Roberta McCulloch-Dews currently serves as Director of Administrative Services 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 is a member of the board for the Elizabeth Freeman Center. She is a member of the Equity and Diversity Committee for the Central Berkshire Regional School District 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. 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.

Akilah Edgerton
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.

Jerome Edgerton
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.

Karen Ruiz León

 

Karen currently serves as Berkshire Community College's Community Outreach Coordinator.  Among her myriad roles, she conducts recruitment initiatives in the community and helps underserved populations — such as international, ESOL, and immigrant students, students of color, students with disabilities, and veterans — access a college education, while developing programming to recruit, retain, and promote the success of these populations. She also assists with Admissions Office enrollment efforts, processes visa requirements, and administers financial programs and benefits that these students can utilize. She serves as a subcommittee leader at BCC's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. Beyond BCC, she is a member of The Berkshire Compact, has been involved with Berkshire Immigrant Stories at the Norman Rockwell Museum, and co-chairs the steering committee for the 1Berkshire Youth Leadership Program, administering the leadership-development and career-exploration program to a new class each year. Karen was formerly involved with the MASS MoCA Community Advisory Board, MCLA's Diversity, Equity and Inclussion Task Force, ROOTS Youth Center, and the Live Out Loud Community Conference.

 

She uses her voice to advocate and build relationships, creating an equitable and socially-just environment for everyone, especially people of color in The Berkshires where they can be safe and welcome. As an immigrant and a woman of color, it is important for her to make everyone she interacts with know that they matter, they belong, and most importantly that they are enough.Karen graduated from the Universidad de Especialidades Espíritu Santo, Ecuador, with a bachelor's degree in graphic design with a minor in marketing and is currently pursuing a master's in social justice education at the University of Massachusets Amherst.

Destiny Saunders
Facilitator/Mentor/Youth Alive Senior Step Team Coach

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 Saunders
Facilitator/Mentor/STEM Coordinator

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
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
Mentor/Facilitator

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

Yvonne West
Mentor/Facilitator/Transportation Coordinator

Yvonne West is a registered nurse of 24 years and currently works at Laurel Lake Health and Rehabilitation Center in Lee, MA. She is a mother of two: Mariah, a third grader, and Keiana, currently enrolled at Williams College. Yvonne is an Associate with the Women of Color Giving Circle in Pittsfield and is president of Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church’s missionary group.  She also serves as a registered nurse for the Pittsfield Human Rights Committee. Yvonne helps the R.O.P.E. girls by giving lecture on women’s health issues and was a recipient of the 2013 “Unsung Heroine” award, which each year recognizes women from their community for making a difference even if they don’t make headlines.

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