City Connects works with community partners to provide a wide array of services. Often this means helping students get necessities such as dental care or beds. But sometimes our community partners also provide inspiring role models.
That’s the case with Strong Women, Strong Girls, a nonprofit organization based in Boston and Pittsburgh. The organization provides school girls with college-age mentors, and the mentors can themselves be mentored by career women.
The college mentors visit the schools once a week to meet with a group of girls.
“Each mentoring session, we highlight one strong woman,” Madison Banker explains. Banker is a college mentor, part of a group of students from Northeastern University who meet with Boston students. Mentors come from a number of colleges including Tufts University, Harvard University, Boston College, and Simmons College
The mentors discuss role models such as Gloria Steinem and have the students do a complementary activity. In this case it’s compiling a magazine — like Steinem’s iconic Ms. magazine — by creating an article, poem or poster that supports a cause they care about.
The college mentors and the girls also talked about Sophie Cruz, a young girl born in the United States who gave a note to Pope Francis asking him to help people like her parents who are undocumented workers.
“It’s all about learning from someone who is really empowering and can show the girls what they are capable of,” Banker says, adding that Sophie Cruz shows that you don’t need to be an adult to make change.
There is also a casual component to the program that includes sharing snacks, playing games like freeze dance, and an activity called peaks and valleys: “We go around in a circle and talk about the high and low points in our week.”
This work is crucial for City Connects schools because we don’t just want to plug holes in students’ lives, we want to inspire them. We want to encourage them to build on their strengths and interests, in addition to addressing their needs. Because we know that it will help them develop confidence in ways that can support their success over the long term. We call it enrichment.
We know that enrichment can mean gazing into the future to think about what it would be like to go to college. And enrichment also means helping students find the courage to realize that they can make a difference right now, right where they are.
We want elementary school students to meet college students and visit them on campus, because we know how enriching and powerful it is for girls to meet and network with young women. Young people can often teach each other lessons with more authenticity than adults.
At City Connects, building on students’ strengths is at the heart of our practice. Thanks to our partnership with Strong Women, Strong Girls, we build on girls’ strengths because they sometimes become role models for their college-age mentors:
“The amount that some of the girls know about female empowerment has been really surprising,” Banker says. “Last semester I worked with one girl who was extremely passionate about feminism and equality and just knew so much more than I knew at her age. And it was so inspiring to see a young girl who cared that much.”
“It’s opened up a lot of conversations for me,” Banker adds. “I don’t interact with young students that much, so this is my one opportunity a week to talk to young students. It’s really nice to have a different perspective on issues, and sometimes they really do make me feel like things will be better, things will be okay because they have a more positive outlook.”
That’s the power of having a strong community partner: creating opportunities that help children and adults, mentors and mentees, all come together, learn from each other and thrive. It’s all part of getting the right services (and inspirations) to the right child at the right time, over time.