February 18, 2015. Girls and women gathered at LSA to create “patches” for a virtual quilt in tribute to Los Desaparecidos: men, women, and children who have disappeared. The activity was part of the LSA Girls Mentoring program, which matches 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students with successful women professionals who serve as positive role models, expose girls to new experiences, and introduce them to social activism.
All of the girls in the LSA Mentoring Program live in East Harlem, recently cited by the Citizen’s Committee for Children among neighborhoods in the city with a high risk to child well-being. These risk factors include poor economic conditions, quality of education, and environmental impacts on health. The Program works to instill in the girls a sense that they can create positive change in their own lives and in their communities.
“Activism is social action, something that opens our minds to the realities of our community and society at large,” said LSA’s Director of Education and Youth Programs, Martha Andrade-Dousdebes. “It is important to teach the girls that they can be actively involved in some form of social change. It helps them realize that they are important in the political and social processes.”
Leadership is one of the qualities emphasized by the program. To develop their public speaking skills, two of the girls made a presentation to the group about their participation in a workshop at La Casa Azul bookstore in East Harlem, where they learned about the Virtual Quilt for Los Desaparecidos.
The quilt was inspired by an LSA volunteer, who wanted to do something to commemorate the 43 students kidnapped in Mexico, which came from an area from which many LSA clients originate. The art project expanded to include tributes to people who have disappeared all over the world. So far, 10,000 works of art have been contributed to the virtual quilt. They can be seen at La Casa Azul bookstore in East Harlem, or online at: https://www.facebook.com/tributetothedisappeared.
“It is important for the girls to be involved in the virtual quilt,” Adrade said, “because many of our families at LSA, including the families of three mentees, come from the state where the 43 students were kidnapped. By participating in the Quilt, they are giving voice to themselves and to their community.”
Strong Relationships Nurture Future Leaders
Success of the Girls Mentoring program rests in the strong relationships mentors and mentees are able to form through the activities they do together.
“I really enjoy the fact that it’s a long term thing,” said Sarah, mentor to Lizette, an 8th grader. “We get to meet every month. If all goes according to plan we’ll see each other through 12th grade.”
“I would recommend the program,” said 8th grade student Lizette, “because if you stress out you know that you can count on her.”
Girls start the program in middle school and can stay in it through high school graduation. As part of the program, mentor-mentee pairs participate in community service activities, such as working in soup kitchens, or cleaning up public gardens. In addition, they research and interview successful women, and explore professions in areas of interest to the girls. In the 11th and 12th grade, activities are focused on the college application process. Over the course of the program, girls and their mentors often develop strong and lasting relationships.
Gina, a 12th grade student, joined the mentoring program in the beginning of the 7th grade. She is now in her 6th year with her mentor, Vanessa, and working on college applications with the goal of entering the healthcare profession.
She reflected on her experience in the program: “Being in this program at 12 years old, you really don’t imagine hanging out with just one adult, one-on-one. It taught me how to behave, to become more mature and open minded.”
“It’s so amazing to watch Gina grow,” said Vanessa. “She was 12 years old when we met. To see her now — she’s a real adult. It’s really fun to see that transformation and to see her opinions form. She’s just fun to hang out with.”