The Rites of Passage and Empowerment program is a local, proven mentoring program for young women of color and young people identifying as female or non-binary. The mission of ROPE is to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescents into adulthood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible people. It is designed to help participants discover their inner voice and support all components of personal development and personal leadership.
Shirley Edgerton founded the R.O.P.E. program in 2010, after recognizing the need for adolescent girls to develop their voice and inner selves in a single-sex, mentorship-based setting. She saw how intentionally providing opportunities to interact with professional women of color could be a way to ease the young women’s transition into adulthood. In the nurturing, supportive and inspiring environment she has created, the girls demonstrate again and again how powerful this simple idea can be.
The idea grew out of the Youth Alive arts program [hotlink], which has offered the young people of Northern Berkshire County, MA an arts-based enrichment curriculum since 1995. In conjunction with the Women of Color Giving Circle [hotlink] and the Pittsfield School Department, leadership of the arts program launched a mentoring program geared specifically for the adolescent girls in the area.
“In Youth Alive, 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,” says Ms. Edgerton, who also identified a lack of 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 launching the initiative in 2010.
Beginning that March, a group of fifteen female high school students met bi-weekly with a variety of experienced professionals. Instructors included 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 program offered biweekly classes focused on self-worth, self-esteem, interests, skills, resilience, cultural competence, women’s history, the arts, college tours and service travel.
R.O.P.E. launched as a school-year program, and in 2013 the girls involved requested that the program operate year-round. The mentors responded, and now meetings and activities are available to support them without interruption.
Support for R.O.P.E. graduates also persists after graduation; many of the girls are first-generation college students who face challenges, both financial and social, as they create opportunities for themselves. R.O.P.E. tracks them all the way through school, and upon graduation, help them find the kinds of internship and entry-level positions that will set them up for professional success.
The program is successful. Since inception, all program participants have navigated around many of the social problems prevalent for their peers, and have all graduated from high school. R.O.P.E. graduates return to their community to pay this support forward to the girls coming up behind them.
Investing in young women repays beyond expectation.