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Posts Tagged ‘empowerment’

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Photo: Gabriela Bhaskar for the New York Times
A graduate of Rutgers University in Newark is teaching girls to ride bicycles as part of a program run by the organization she founded, Girls on Bikes.

I love reading how a small gesture or comment can lead to something big in a person’s life. It’s all about the Power of One. In this story, a bystander said something upbeat to Kala La Fortune Reed when she was biking to class, and it led to a movement.

Liz Leyden writes at the New York Times, “The training wheels were off. The young woman with a bright smile and golden sunglasses told Kaneisha Marable she didn’t need them. The little girl believed her.

“Kaneisha pedaled a wobbly path up the block beside Lincoln Park. House music thumped from the stage to her left, a festival underway, but the 8-year-old girl paid it no mind. Her eyes darted between the pavement ahead and Kala La Fortune Reed, the woman jogging by her side.

“The bike tipped. Kaneisha teetered. Finally, the wheels began to spin. Ms. La Fortune Reed let go, watching girl and bike move farther away.

“ ‘Yes, she’s got it,’ she exhaled. ‘You got it!’

“The victory came on a [Sunday in August] at a learn-to-ride clinic run by Girls on Bikes, a community group aiming to achieve pedal equality for a new generation of girls and women in Newark.

“The effort began in 2016 when Ms. La Fortune Reed rediscovered her old bicycle and started riding everywhere: to classes at Rutgers University in Newark, thrift shops and parks throughout the city.

“One day, a man called out to her. Keep it up, he said. There aren’t enough girls on bikes.

“Ms. La Fortune Reed scanned the streets and realized he was right. … She recruited Maseera Subhani and Jenn Made, friends from Rutgers who shared her love of cycling and for Newark itself; the idea of using bicycles to spread empowerment resonated with each of them.

“The trio juggled full-time classes and part-time jobs to get the group going. Ms. La Fortune Reed interned with a local bike mechanic and learned how to repair bikes and build them from scratch. Ms. Made created a curriculum for school workshops. Ms. Subhani found graphic designers to make fliers and T-shirts, and reached out to other community groups to collaborate. …

” ‘We wanted to create a sisterhood,’ Ms. La Fortune Reed said. ‘We go really slow. We have fun. We’re doing this to build relationships, to build a movement.’ …

“Ms. La Fortune Reed said Girls on Bikes tries especially hard to reach girls in middle school.

“ ‘We try to catch them at that age, to build up bicycling and the idea of empowerment and leadership, before peer pressure hits,’ she said.

“In June, the group taught a four-week workshop for sixth- through eighth-grade girls at Marion P. Thomas Charter School. …

“ ‘Before, there was a negative connotation for a lot of them — this idea that if you rode a bike it meant you couldn’t afford a car, that you weren’t cool,’ [the teacher] said. ‘But having that reimagined by these strong, stylish young women, the students really bought into it.’ …

“More than 80 children, including 45 girls, participated throughout [the August bike] weekend. Some didn’t need any help, just a nudge to put on helmets. Simply watching them enjoy the bicycles made Ms. La Fortune Reed happy.

“But the moments when she saw girls growing in their confidence — testing out no-hands, standing on their pedals, letting go of training wheels — meant something more. ‘We’re leaving a memory in their lives that they can accomplish anything,’ she said.

“When Kaneisha Marable realized that she was riding on her own, she looked back at Ms. La Fortune Reed, astonished. She rode and rode and then ran off, returning a few minutes later with her mother. She climbed back on the bicycle.

“ ‘Look, Mommy, look! Look what I learned to do!’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: The Empowerment Plan
Many people experiencing homelessness would like a job even more than a coat warm enough to sleep in outside.

A student’s idea to help people experiencing homelessness got a whole lot better after a homeless woman offered advice.

Kimberly Wong writes at Streetwise magazine, “Some students might believe that school projects are only good for a grade, but Empowerment Plan founder and CEO Veronika Scott knew that they could be something more. Scott was a student at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit when her professor assigned her class a project to fill a real need in the community. Noticing the homelessness that pervaded the city, Scott, who was only 20 years old at the time, began to visit a homeless shelter to try to figure out how she could help people who were homeless. …

“Scott visited the homeless shelter three times a week for five months. Hearing the ideas of the people living in the shelter showed her what she needed to do — she had to make a coat. She learned to sew from her mother, and even after the project was over, she continued to work on this coat that she hoped would change the lives of as many of the homeless as possible.

“The water-resistant coat she was designing would be able to be transformed into a sleeping bag at night or into an over-the-shoulder bag on warmer days. As Scott was in the process of perfecting the design for her coat, she was approached by a homeless woman who told her emphatically that what she really needed wasn’t a coat, but a job.

“Taking this feedback to heart, Scott partnered with a shelter and hired two homeless women to start making coats that would come to be known as EMPWR coats.

“Scott paid the women to learn industrial sewing and manufacturing and brought local designers on to the project. Just like that, the Empowerment Plan was born. …

“The Empowerment Plan has been running for almost seven years and has 35 employees. All of the employees were hired while homeless and have since secured permanent housing with their families.

“Jessica West, a seamstress team leader at the Empowerment Plan, is just one example of the way the Empowerment Plan has changed lives. West was sleeping in her car with her children before they moved into a homeless shelter. She discovered the Empowerment Plan while living in the shelter and has been working with them for two years. She and her children currently live in a comfortable home fully furnished by non-profit organization Humble Design, … one of the many organizations the Empowerment Plan works with to improve the lives of their employees. …

“Usually, Empowerment Plan employees work at the organization from one to three years, but this is by no means a set timeline. Above all, the Empowerment Plan is focused on the individual growth of its employees.

“The employees at the Empowerment Plan are paid through the sponsorship of EMPWR coats — and since the coats also go toward helping the homeless community, it’s a win-win situation. Sponsoring an EMPWR coat costs $100, which covers the cost of materials, the seamstresses’ wages, and overhead. EMPWR coats are mainly sponsored by individuals, corporations, and non-profit organizations. The Red Cross has even sponsored EMPWR coats for disaster relief. …

“While the organization currently relies on donations, it is working to become self-sustaining [with] a new retail line of coats with functions similar to the EMPWR coat but with its own style.”

More here.

Hat tip: Spare Change News, Boston’s street newspaper.

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After work yesterday, I went with a colleague to observe a parent-engagement program organized by Lawrence Community Works (LCW) at the Oliver Partnership School, in Lawrence, Mass. I had long been interested in LCW’s use of circles to build a sense of community among strangers of very different backgrounds.

Lawrence is what is sometimes called a Gateway City, meaning it’s always been a gateway to the U.S. culture and experience for new waves of immigrants. It currently has a large Spanish-speaking Dominican population and foreign-born and native-born residents from all over.

The parent night was the third in a series. In the first two, facilitators had helped the participants to come up with agreed-upon ground rules (come on time, no cellphones, respectful attention to one another) and to choose an “obstacle” that they would like to address related to their children’s life at the school. They had selected recess, which is only 10 minutes. (Lunch is 15 minutes.)

Everything was conducted in both Spanish and English.

As the evening was getting going, Tony told me his children love school. He believes a good education is vital. He wishes he had more. He did learn Spanish and English in addition to his native Portuguese. The languages help him in his job working with troubled youth, a job he loves to go to every day.

In a warm-up exercise, we stood in a circle and stated our name, followed by our favorite fruit and the name and favorite fruit of everyone who spoke previously. It was fun and a great equalizing experience as anyone can be good at that and anyone can struggle with it. The people who went last had about 20 names and fruits to report and did really well despite language differences.

To discuss the recess issue, we separated into two groups — those who felt comfortable speaking English (which included the two teachers in attendance) and those who felt comfortable speaking Spanish. At the end we came together with the results of our investigation of three questions: why having a longer recess is important, why it might have been set up that way, and what parents themselves could do about it. (Asking the administration’s help was to wait for a joint meeting in June.)

I won’t make this post much longer, but I do want to say that I thought the way this was handled was very good. Parents appeared to feel that their opinions were welcome and that they could accomplish something. Continued engagement with them will be important as the work is a piece of a much bigger project by LCW that aims to help parents get skills for jobs. Unemployment is a serious issue in a city where many of the people are poor, have not had good educational opportunities, and are still learning English.

Photo: Family literacy night at the Oliver Partnership School in Lawrence, Mass.

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Speaking of libraries, if any of you decide to publish a collection of stories on the value of libraries, be sure to include this one about a family in India.

The nonprofit Read Global provided opportunity to them. “Om Prakash and his wife Sheela Devi raised three daughters and a son in the rural community of Geejgarh, in Rajasthan India. There were no educational resources nearby except for underfunded public schools, where books and computers were rare. …

“When we opened a READ Center in their village, the whole family was excited to join.

“ ‘It is a safe place for my daughters and wife to visit because it is close by, and it’s community owned and operated,’ Om Prakash says, ‘The staff are like family members. Anyone can visit and see what’s going on.’

“Their daughter Anuradha was the first to join the local READ Center. She took trainings in English, computer skills, and radio, where she created programs on health and women’s rights to help spread awareness in her community.  …

“Their daughter Archana started an online college program, and uses the books and computers at the Center for school. After graduating, she wants to become a teacher …

“Their son Pankaj is applying for government jobs. He took computer training from the Center and uses the library daily to prepare for the government’s required entrance exam.

“Mahima is the youngest. She participated in beautician training at the Center, and now she plans to become a makeup artist and open a beauty parlor of her own. …

“Anuradha says there has been a change in social norms in her community because of the Center: ‘Earlier, villagers were totally against letting their wives and daughters work, but now many of them have changed. They see women with respect, and they value their opinions.’ ”

More at Read Global.

Photo: ReadGlobal.org 

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