The Rites of Passage and Empowerment program is a holistic mentoring program that emphasizes the development of mind, body and spirit and supports adolescent girls in discovering their inner voice.

Our mission is to celebrate and honor their entry into womanhood via mentorship from women who are culturally aligned, as well as provide them with the skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent and responsible women.

I founded ROPE in 2010, after identifying the need for adolescent girls to develop their voice and inner selves in a single-sex, nurturing environment. I recognized that intentionally providing opportunities to interact with professional women of color could be an effective way to assist young women of color as they transition into adulthood. It’s hard to be what you can’t imagine.

The Child Mind Institute says that “Raising a confident, self-assured girl who is comfortable with herself is not an easy thing to do these days. From the time she’s a toddler a girl is bombarded with media and other cultural messages that undermine the kind of healthy, resilient self-image you want her to develop.” With the added challenges of race and class, the challenges intensify.

Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe this phenomenon.

ROPE is celebrating 10 years of mentoring brilliant and resilient scholars to reach their highest potential. The mentors are deeply committed and their own experiences coming of age mirror these young women’s life challenges. Maya Angelou said “in order to be a mentor and an effective one, one must care,” and these women exemplify this practice.

ROPE programming includes biannual tours of historically Black colleges and universities; the mentees see a broader future and set of opportunities from these interactions.

The girls also visit multicultural colleges within Berkshire County and surrounding areas and receive full support in their application and admissions process. ROPE’s support doesn’t end at college admission or high school graduation. We track and support our graduates throughout their college experience. Many if not most are first-generation college students. ROPE mentees further expand their horizons on biannual trips to South or West Africa, where they engage in cultural, educational and service learning experiences. This trip is an important opportunity to share their life experiences as young women in America, and learn more about their counterparts on the continent of Africa. These journeys are life-changing; they become global citizens and increase their knowledge and pride in their cultural heritage, which positively impact their self-esteem.

Through employment and internship opportunities here at home, ROPE mentees gain a broader experience of the world of work. Cultural events and reading groups intensifies their hopefulness for their future.

In 2020, 10 of our mentees graduated high school and entered college. The Berkshire community generosity enabled ROPE to provide financial support of $40,000 in scholarships as of this month. It is hard to overstate the value to these young women of their community’s belief and investment in them, as well as the reassurance that their education will not be interrupted by financial problems or the life-hindering impact of hefty student loans.

During semester breaks, our college scholars return to share and encourage younger mentees to follow their path. This important expectation is rooted in ROPE’s mission of mentorship and it is moving to witness the young women paying it forward. Three of the current 12 mentors are alumnae of ROPE and/or Youth Alive, our performance arts sister program. The investment returns abundantly to the community in other ways; many who have graduated from college return to Berkshire County as young professionals and leaders.

In this nurturing, supportive and inspiring environment that we have created, results are yielded: 100 percent of the mentees have graduated from high school, 85 percent attend college and 80 percent graduate from higher education. These young women demonstrate again and again how powerful an effect we can have on young lives when we believe in their potential and allow them access to the tools they need to live into it. We celebrate those who have joined us in the work of removing barriers in order to create success for our young women. An African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. Thank you for being a part of their village.

Shirley Edgerton, M.Ed., of Pittsfield, is the director of the Rites of Passage and Empowerment program. She is also a member of The Berkshire Eagle’s advisory board.