Click here to read the full article written by Board Co-President, Karen Miner Romanoff and Executive Director, Jessica Greenawalt for The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring! The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring translates research into practice recommendations and is an important forum for researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, and volunteers.
School is open. How can the Whole Family Approach make a difference in this new school year as we navigate learning amid Covid-19? Dr. Jesicca Greenawalt, Executive Director and licensed Clinical Social Worker at The Arthur Project based in New York City and Josh Echeverria, Director of New City Kids’ Families for Literacy in Jersey City, NJ will join us to discuss the various ways the Whole Family Approach has enhanced their ability to work with families. Click to learn more about The Arthur Project and Families for Literacy. To learn more about the Whole Family Approach, visit the website. To view the work of The Pascale Sykes Foundation click here.
In 2016, when we embarked on our journey to provide therapeutic mentoring services to students in The Bronx, we knew what was important to us – that students would have access to opportunities for healing and exploration. As three organizational leaders who are white, and who were creating a program that would ultimately serve a community comprised mostly of Black and Latinx families, we were deeply concerned with how our organization would foster equity for the students who enrolled in our program. We were also dedicated to leveraging our own privilege in service of this effort.
While we are certainly proud of the impact our program has made for students and families, that it is simply not enough. To foster equity for our community stakeholders, we must also embody and foster equity within our organization. We began this conversation in earnest in 2018 and have since made several changes and adaptations in our efforts.
First, we created our organizational values – in collaboration with students, families, staff, and mentors. After many conversations and reiterations, we developed the following values and beliefs that have been the beacon for every major decision since:
Mattering: We take responsibility for our impact on one another.
Radical Evolution: We reflect on what is and strive toward what ought to be.
Accountability: We hold ourselves accountable in the creation of a just society.
Collective Wisdom: We seek out and cultivate multiple perspectives.
Equitable Relationships: We foster relationships in which power is shared.
Liberation: We create opportunities for healing and self-actualization.
Informed by these values, we have since made several organizational decisions to support equity-building:
- We have formed a DEIA committee to our Board of Directors to oversee how all aspects of our organization may be fostering or inhibiting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility
- We have embarked on a Strategic Planning process informed by DEIA principles, ensuring that all major decisions about the future of our organization will incorporate these important tenets
- We have instituted a Family Leave policy that ensures not only continuity of employment, but financial stability for any staff member that needs to care for a child or family member
- We have enacted a supportive Personal Time Off policy that allows for staff members to take care of themselves and their families without fear of penalty
- We have provided additional financial compensation to employees who have chosen to work in-person through the COVID crisis
- We have “paused” our recruitment of new Board members until we ensure that we have protocols in place to build an equitable and representative Board of Directors
These are important steps, but they have not always come easily. In fact, many of these choices have been spurred by difficult conversations with stakeholders who care deeply about equity and challenge us to be accountable to our commitments. We embrace these sometimes difficult conversations and believe that meeting these challenges helps us create an organization that is not only more equitable, but more responsive to the community we serve. We recognize that we still have important work to continue to move us forward in this pursuit. Over the next year, we intend to do the following:
- Create opportunities for ongoing stakeholder feedback, ensuring that our students and families’ voices are part of important conversation at the organization
- Finalize expectations for incoming Board members to maximize representative leadership and ensure that we are creating a culture where a myriad of contributions is valued
- Develop structures for ongoing representative leadership on the Board of Directors
- Finalize our Strategic Plan, including a plan for leadership succession that involves community stakeholders and provides tangible supports for leadership development of community stakeholders
As we continue this equity-building journey at The Arthur Project, we will continue to keep you updated on our progress. We welcome ALL stakeholders into the conversation. If you have any thoughts, feedback, or would like more details on what we have shared, please contact Executive Director, Jessica Greenawalt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The transition to middle school was not easy for one Arthur Project mentee, Chance. Being on the autism spectrum made a completely new environment overwhelming for Chance.
“Chance was really lost when he started middle school. He had to make all new friends, and everything was so different for him,” his mom Cassandra explained. “I cannot even tell you how thankful I am for The Arthur Project. They gave him a real sense of belonging, having the chance to connect with other kids on Saturday outings and then having a mentor to talk to…not just on weekends, but during the school day, was invaluable to him.”
Chance participated in many Arthur Project activities, traveling all over the city on the train, going to museums and visiting places his mom says he never would have had the opportunity to visit. Chance grew by leaps and bounds in 6th grade and became very close to his first Arthur Project mentor.
The Arthur Project is Open
The single most important factor determining the future of a child is the presence of a consistent and caring adult. Just one. At least one.
While in some ways disadvantaged by a lack of stability and nurturing early on, children born into violence or poverty often develop ahead-of-their-age resilience, adaptability, self-reliance, and survival skills. It’s a mentor’s job to uncover those strengths and empower their full expression—ensuring, if you will, that every child’s potential is recognized and encouraged for the benefit of themselves, their families, their communities, and all of society. Special attention to and investment in this young potential is essential if we are to build a future better than our present.
January is National Mentoring Month and a great opportunity to celebrate the many ways mentoring initiatives are affecting the next generation. To start, we look at two vastly different approaches to the same goal: Connect youth to committed, caring mentors as quickly and consistently as possible.
Interestingly, both organizations—together serving thousands of children nationwide—were founded by individuals with their own experiences of fragile support systems during childhood. They are living and rippling proof of the exponential impact mentoring has for all of society.
We begin in the Bronx with The Arthur Project (TAP), a startup mentoring organization focusing on mentor support during the fragile, chaotic years of middle school.
For TAP co-founder Liz Murray, any bright spots in the middle school experience were shaped by hallway homework sessions with her upstairs neighbor and family friend, Arthur. A long-time friend of her parents, Arthur would often show up with an extra pot of chili or stew, knowing that in the chaos of addiction, feeding the kids was not always possible or prioritized.
“I remember being right about middle school age and he came in,” says Liz, “things had taken a turn, they got really bad. He was realizing we were starving. Bringing those pots of food was no longer enough. Our parents were using drugs, needles, out in the open in the kitchen. Needles spread out across the Formica table top. They’ve got arm ties, they’re shooting up. I’m watching TV like 10 feet away with my back to them. Arthur comes in with a pot of food and he looks, he snaps off the TV, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to the hallway Liz, bring your homework, let’s talk.’”
Take a moment to imagine your middle school self. What comes to mind first? Perhaps you think back on what it was like to adjust to a new school and academic pressures. Or you remember navigating difficult social situations with your friends, or the less than stylish haircut you had when you were 12. For many adults, middle school years are not a time looked back on fondly.
Now, imagine being a middle schooler in today’s world. An already isolating time of physical, mental and emotional growth is amplified by a global pandemic that’s keeping young students at home, away from their friends, teachers and support networks. Many young people are wondering about their place and future in a country that’s experiencing a national reckoning on racial, social and economic justice. Young people of color who live in marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by these challenges and uncertainty.
Jessica Greenawalt sees the impact these stressors have on youth and their families in her work every day. She is the new Executive Director of The Arthur Project, a New York City-based organization that provides youth mentoring and other resources for underserved middle school students and their families, and a grantee of The Pascale Sykes Foundation. We had the chance to connect with Jessica about The Arthur Project’s unique youth mentoring program, what these programs look like during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how adapting the Whole Family Approach has strengthened their services.
The Arthur Project, based in The Bronx, has found a way to redefine youth mentoring in this new era.
Cofounded by Liz Murray, whose life story was made into a book and Emmy-nominated television film, “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story,” The Arthur Project uses chronic absenteeism as a basis for program eligibility, provides therapeutic mentoring services to middle school students and their families to work toward more positive outcomes in school and at home.
Pascale Sykes Foundation is a supporter of The Arthur Project and helped make their transition to online programs during the COVID-19 crisis.
Most students, many Black and Latinx, remain enrolled in the program this summer and are working with clinically-trained mentors on activities like one to one mentoring, moderated discussions on current news and town hall-style events, where students analyze and present on issues that are important to them, such as racial justice, police violence, unemployment, education and housing.
“We are very much driven from the bottom up,” said Jessica Greenawalt, executive director of the program. “We take very seriously what kids, parents and our school partners think. These relationships are like two-way relationships. Everybody benefits from it in some way.”
Greenawalt spoke with the Bronx Times about the program and its impact on kids. The Arthur Project, which has partnered Richard Green middle school and the North Bronx School for Empowerment, uses graduate social work student to mentor teens and they meet one to two times a week and on Saturdays to do community outreach.