Crittenton CEO and President, LaTara Harris, joins Elena Russo to address the challenges Crittenton girls face and how Crittenton’s programs help them navigate obstacles from access to educational opportunities to pregnancy to healthy relationships.
By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
LaTara Harris, the former director of external and legislative affairs for AT&T in the Mid-Atlantic region, has returned to the nonprofit sector. Harris, who previously worked for the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT), became the CEO and president of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (Crittenton) on Oct. 16.
The organization supports teenage girls in developing essential life skills, preparing them for postsecondary education and careers while ensuring they believe in their ability to succeed.
“At Crittenton, we ensure that every teen girl, regardless of her race or ethnicity, has the support, knowledge and skills that they need to thrive,” said Harris. “During the pandemic, we were serving about 600 girls, and now, we’ve doubled that number. The beauty of all of it is that we discuss the whole girl.”
Harris previously chaired Crittenton’s board of directors for several years. She said the organization addresses the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of the young women.
Year-over-year, the teens enrolled in Crittenton’s programming have had a 100 percent high school graduation rate, despite the fact that many of them attend schools with lower graduation rates, according to Harris.
“I’m most excited to finally get in front of the girls. I know I’m the CEO. I have to run the operation and get the funding stabilized and growing for us to be able to have the kind of impact we want,” said Harris. “I’m excited to bring a voice to this work.”
Harris grew up moving around a lot, as her father was in the military. Although her parents finished high school, they never went to college. It was up to Harris to choose higher education for herself.
Initially, Harris studied accounting at Bowie State University. Although she excelled in her classes, she didn’t feel satisfied by the area of study. Harris decided to switch to communications and quickly discovered that she had an affinity for community service.
While volunteering for the Donnie Simpson Morning Show, Harris realized for the first time that her career could be something that would bring her joy.
“It was the first time that I literally saw people come to work who were genuinely happy. I thought part of work was going and being miserable,” said Harris. “But, they were happy, and I wanted that. I found it through volunteering.”
When she was introduced to the MBRT, the organization needed help recruiting speakers to talk to students about life after high school and the opportunities available to them. Eventually, Harris’ volunteerism turned into a full-time job in 2002.
“When we first started the Speakers Bureau, we had hoped to recruit 30, but we ended up with 80,” said June Streckfus, former executive director for MBRT. “By the time LaTara got involved, we had 3,000 speakers statewide.”
Harris was also instrumental in creating MBRT’s Maryland Scholars program, which ensures students have completed the requisite coursework to attend college and be career-ready.
“She’s really good at rallying people’s collective sense of responsibility. She can figure out how to create spaces for others to thrive, and I think that’s really important in these times,” said Streckfus. “I know in her heart she wants to impact the next generation, and we need more people who want to do that.”
After more than 10 years at MBRT, Harris joined AT&T to lead external and legislative affairs in Washington D.C.
“I didn’t know what a lobbyist was, but lobbying is something that people do everyday. It’s all about relationship-building and understanding the push and pull and how to work on complex issues,” said Harris. “AT&T came to me at a time when my soul was ready to move forward.”
As a lobbyist, Harris worked directly with state and local elected officials to advocate for policies that would benefit the work of AT&T and the broader telecommunications industry. In her external affairs role, she identified charitable organizations to fund and support.
Harris also created scholarships for historically, Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and Lincoln University.
“I was able to work with charities in the community on meaningful programs that were really helping and moving the communities forward. That’s one job that I took really seriously,” said Harris. “I wasn’t the type of person that was going to give money just for the sake of giving money. They needed to make sure that they were having an impact on the communities that we are living and working in.”
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, AT&T appointed Harris to be a member of the company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce. She was responsible for engaging employees from her department to participate in the task force’s programming, which included unconscious bias training, book clubs, listening sessions and access to mental health specialists.
“I believed I had to lend my voice to this work because so many young people are going to come behind me, and I don’t want them to come into the kind of structure that I came into,” said Harris. “That’s not to say that the company was bad at all, but I think we all found blind spots in corporations and businesses in general.”
Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member.
After a national search, LaTara Harris takes the helm of the longest standing organization serving teen girls.
Her outstanding leadership and expertise will be invaluable in guiding the organization through its next phase of growth and development.”
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES, October 18, 2023 /EINPresswire.com/ — Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW) announces the appointment of LaTara Harris as its CEO and President, effective Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. Ms. Harris has a long history with CSGW, having volunteered at their first Leadership Summit to teach teen girls etiquette and manners. She was subsequently honored at their 2014 Anniversary Celebration and has been a steadfast member of CSGW’s Board of Directors for many years. As an active community member, Ms. Harris serves on several boards, including the District of Columbia’s Workforce Investment Council.
Ms. Harris brings a wealth of experience to CSGW, with a proven track record of success in leadership positions. Ms. Harris has been with AT&T since 2013, most recently serving as Director of External and Legislative Affairs, focused on local legislative and regulatory matters in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Southeastern Pennsylvania. Ms. Harris joined AT&T after more than a decade of working at the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education in executive roles, including Director of Partnerships and Outreach.
“LaTara is the perfect candidate for this position and has demonstrated her commitment to this organization over her many years of serving on Crittenton Services’ Board and as Board Chair,” says Aaron Myers, Executive Director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and CSGW Board Secretary. Aaron Myers served honorably as the Interim President and CEO prior to the appointment of Ms. Harris. “Her outstanding leadership and expertise will be invaluable in guiding the organization through its next phase of growth and development.”
Ms. Harris is a visionary leader, having been honored for her outstanding professional achievements and her significant contributions to the community. Notable among her numerous accolades are the Maryland Daily Record’s prestigious Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award in 2015 and the Washington Business Journal’s Minority Business Leader Award, further underscoring her positive impact and commitment to diversity and excellence.
Throughout her illustrious career, Ms. Harris has shown a powerful commitment to elevating women’s voices in business, emphasizing the critical importance of Black and minority leadership in corporate and nonprofit sectors. She founded We Empower Women Inc., a global women’s organization that aims to uplift and motivate women of all walks to take the next step toward their full potential. She has personally mentored dozens of individuals across the years to identify their gifts and find their space in this world.
Ms. Harris expresses her excitement about the future with CSGW and the opportunity to work with their talented staff and program team. “I am deeply honored to assume the role of CEO and President at Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. This organization boasts a remarkable history of effectively delivering vital programs and resources to empower young women. I am both thrilled and humbled to be part of this journey. Together, we will build an even stronger foundation, capitalize on new opportunities, and chart a path of sustained success.”
CSGW is hosting its 135th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Hamilton Live. If you would like to attend and learn more about the bright futures of Crittenton girls, contact email@example.com for a press pass.
For any questions or press inquiries, please contact Abby Saturni at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.crittentonservices.org/contact/.
About CSGW: For more than 134 years, Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW) has equipped teen girls in underserved communities with the skills and support to navigate the challenges of middle and high school. Through the lens of trauma-informed care, our programs teach teen girls to value their gifts and develop essential life skills. Most importantly, they attain a belief in their ability to succeed. The success of our programs is reflected by our 100% graduation rate, with 83% of our graduates going on to attend a two- or four-year college. Please visit https://www.crittentonservices.org to learn more about our programs.
Crittenton Services 135th Celebration – Kick Off Recap
Every year, the Crittenton community comes together at our Talk with a Teen Girl High Tea to hear what’s on the mind of our remarkable girls. This year, the girls spoke to the particular challenges of being a black or brown teen girl during the pandemic. Here’s what our girls want you to know about their lives:
OUR GIRLS FACE A LACK OF MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
Our girls feel rushed and invalidated when talking with school teachers and counselors. They see limited funding going to their schools and communities and are frustrated with the lack of accessible mental health services for themselves and others.
OUR GIRLS ARE DEALING WITH UNTREATED GENERATIONAL TRAUMA
Our girls recognize their parents and family members are suffering from their own trauma and mental health challenges. They urge adults to get help so they can better help the next generation.
OUR GIRLS FEEL PRESSURE
Our girls believe that, “Because black women have been through a lot and always hold it all together,” they’re seen as always having to be strong. And if they’re the oldest, they have the added responsibility of child care. (See this New York Times article, No Time to be a Child, that features two Crittenton girls).
OUR GIRLS NEED A BREAK
Whether it’s a teacher interrupting a lesson to answer questions, a counselor taking the time to get to know them, or a school day dedicated to mental health, they need a chance to take a breath, put their needs first, and tend to their own wellness.
ALL GIRLS NEED TO SPEAK UP
Most importantly, our girls agreed that they need to speak up, to advocate for themselves and others. Each one had an important point to make about this:
Ruth: If something isn’t right, speak up, even if you’re talking to someone with more power than you and even if you get in trouble.
Amiya: Everyone has a boss, so if the problem really needs to be addressed, go to the Assistant Principal, to the Principal, or even the School Board! Also, be respectful when you talk to them.
Naomi: Speaking up is how you get progress. As long as you’re making a point and expressing yourself, it’s more important to speak up than to simply accept defeat.
Jasmine: It’s hard when you’re shy, like me. But if you tell one adult, they’ll tell another, and soon your problem will be heard.
Since beginning our work in 1887, Crittenton Services of Greater Washington has supported teen girls and women.
We will continue to support the entire teen girl through informative non-judgmental education and trauma-informed care. We stand with all women today and we feel the pressure, fear, and anger with you.
- The mission of Crittenton Services and the important programs they are providing for young girls
- How Siobhan’s upbringing impacted her and led her to where she is today
- The devastating impact of COVID-19 on young, underserved girls
- What adultification bias is and how to be aware of it
- How the Crittenton team pivoted to serve the girls in their community through the pandemic
- Her advice for building relationships with teens in your community
- The importance of the whole community for raising kids
- And more!
Hear the full Podcast, here.
98% of Crittenton girls live in economically challenged communities. Over the years, when they’ve needed it most, we’ve stepped in—providing computers for school, safe rides home, feminine products, and school uniforms. During the pandemic we’ve also paid for groceries, car repairs, and, sadly, funeral expenses. Our aim is to prevent unanticipated financial hardships from snowballing into insurmountable challenges.
Last year we launched the Crittenton Cupboard Campaign to stock our virtual Cupboard of necessities and emergency funds. Below is one example of how these funds made a difference for an alumna of our programs.
“Pray for me.” Jahnia asked Lameka, her best friend since they were in Crittenton’s Pearls program together.
After three years in an apartment with black mold, a broken oven, and a refrigerator that leaked constantly, Jahnia thought she’d finally found a new home for her and her boys. But the security deposit kept increasing. First it was $500, then $1,000. When it hit $1,500, she knew she was in trouble. She’d been saving; she had first and last month’s rent, $1,000 for the security deposit, and even money set aside for a DIY moving van. She needed another $500. Worst yet, she’d given notice and her current landlord wouldn’t grant her an extension. She had to be out in a few weeks.
Jahnia tried everything she could think of. She asked family members for a loan. She reached out to her church. She was stuck.
Lameka had been watching this saga play out over the past few years. She would have gladly lent Jahnia the money, but she and her husband had just moved their family, so money was tight. “I was thinking through options, and thought ‘Let me check with Miss Deb’”.
Miss Deb is the long-standing and much beloved advisor to many of the Crittenton Pearls groups, including the one where Jahnia and Lameka learned to balance the demands of motherhood and high school. “Whenever I had an issue—if my baby wasn’t latching—I could turn to Miss Deb. If she didn’t have the answer, she knew where to turn.” Lameka explained.
“Call Siobhan.” Miss Deb told her. “I think Crittenton can help.”
Crittenton’s CEO and President, Siobhan Davenport, got the call a few minutes later. Although she wasn’t on staff when Lameka and Jahnia were in Pearls, she happened to be honored by Crittenton their senior year. (In fact, it was Jahnia who introduced Siobhan at Crittenton’s 2015 Anniversary Celebration!)
Lameka explained the situation and Siobhan told her about the Crittenton Cupboard. Within two hours, Jahnia had the money in her bank account. The move went smoothly, and she and her boys are thriving.
“I’m so grateful.” Jahnia wants donors to the Cupboard Campaign to know. “I hope I can be part of something like this in the future, helping someone else in a similar situation. Thank you.”
The 2022 Crittenton Cupboard Campaign will take place in June. If you’d like to participate, please contact Siobhan Davenport at email@example.com.
GOLDMAN SACHS ONE MILLION BLACK WOMEN ANNOUNCES LATEST ROUND OF INVESTMENTS, PARTNERSHIPS AND GRANTS TO KICK OFF 2022
- One Million Black Women announces new investments, impactful partnerships and philanthropic grants for 17 leading organizations and projects across the country to lift up Black women and girls.
- One Million Black Women announces new partnership with the renowned King Center ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
NEW YORK, January 12, 2022 – The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE: GS) today announced the next round of investments, partnerships and grants for the One Million Black Women initiative. The announcement was made following the January 12 One Million Black Women Advisory Council meeting, which consists of 17 Black business and community leaders. At the meeting, One Million Black Women highlighted a new partnership with the renowned King Center to prepare young people to be the global leaders of tomorrow ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The series of 17 new investments, partnerships and grants reflect One Million Black Women’s ongoing commitment to invest in the core pillars of healthcare, job creation and workforce development, education, affordable housing, digital connectivity, financial health and access to capital that impact Black women at every stage in their lives. Many of the organizations were identified through the more than 50 One Million Black Women listening sessions held with nearly 20,000 Black women from around the country, and the One Million Black Women Advisory Council.
“At our very first listening session, the one and only Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, called One Million Black Women the start of a movement. With this next round of investments, partnerships and grants, we are reaching a new depth of how transformative Goldman Sachs $10 billion commitment is set to be,” said Melanie Campbell, Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable, President & CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
“Through the listening sessions, we’ve heard from Black women all over the country. These women are building non-profit organizations and companies with their personal savings and loans from family members because they care so deeply about their communities,” said Dr. Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M University. “I am so pleased that with this next round of investments, partnerships, and grants, we are able to support these phenomenal women and we can see how transformative their initiatives and projects can be.”
New investment capital will be provided to expand the impact of the following seven organizations and entrepreneurs across the country:
- Chime Solutions (Atlanta, GA) to provide capital to Shelly Wilson, co-founder of Chime Solutions to accelerate its mission of creating jobs and economic opportunity for people in underserved communities.
- Grameen America Elevate Initiative (National) to make microloans and provide financial training, asset and credit building tools to underserved Black-women entrepreneurs across the country.
- Funding U (National) to make loans to high-performing low and moderate-income students attending four-year, not-for-profit colleges across the United States.
- Wonderschool (National) to reduce “childcare deserts” by scaling access to high-quality, flexible care for children and families.
- On the Road (Dallas, TX) to expand existing operations and increase the number of women in high-paying, skilled auto repair jobs through an extensive apprenticeship program.
- Sendero Verde (New York, NY) to finance the construction of a public-private, mixed-use, mixed-income development in East Harlem which will consist of a Harlem Children’s Zone K-5 Promise Academy, and affordable and workforce housing units.
- South Meadows (Rome, GA) to provide capital to Dionne Nelson, CEO of Laurel Street to finance the construction of a 100% affordable residential development with 80 multi-family units, an onsite educational facility and community farm.
Four new partnerships will support the work of the following organizations:
- The King Center (Atlanta, GA) to support the launch of the reimagined Beloved Community Leadership Academy over the next two years, creating a One Million Black Women cohort for Black girls from across the country.
- Eat. Learn. Play. Foundation (Oakland, CA) to combat food insecurity and low literacy rates, the partnership will employ Black woman-owned restaurants to provide meals in high-needs areas and help distribute 500,000 books through new Eat. Learn. Play. Town Libraries used to promote neighborhood book sharing along with Eat. Learn. Play. branded bookshelves in local Black-owned small businesses.
- New Leaders (National) to recruit and train principals of color. The grant will develop a one-year pilot program to support Black women in education leadership.
- The Tory Burch Foundation (National) will partner with the venture leaders at the Fearless Fund and peer coaching platform The Cru, to scale a grants program and community for entrepreneurs of color.
New philanthropic grants will be provided to expand the impact of the following six organizations across the country:
- Black Girls Breathing (National) to address systemic issues impacting Black women and girls’ access to health care by providing free and accessible mental health care resources.
- BlackFem (National) to transform school-based learning so that girls of color have the skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain personal wealth.
- Corner to Corner (Nashville, TN) to help underestimated entrepreneurs in Nashville plan, start and grow their own small businesses.
- Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (Washington, D.C.) to support the social and emotional skills development of middle and high school-aged girls from low-income families to complete college and become economically secure.
- Jeremiah Program (National) to help disrupt the cycle of poverty for single mothers and their children through quality early childhood education, a safe and affordable place to live, empowerment and life skills training.
- The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, PA) to increase the hiring and retention of BIPOC teachers working in Philadelphia schools.
Goldman Sachs Black Womenomics research informed One Million Black Women’s investment strategy and ongoing research and measurement remains core to the initiative’s success. Through partnerships with The Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), the Urban Institute and The Center for Racial Justice at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, additional research will be conducted centered on continued investment in Black women across One Million Black Women’s previously identified impact pillars.
“This next round of funding strategically connects the dots across several One Million Black Women impact areas and not only supports the infrastructure that Black women and their families need to thrive but has the potential to uplift communities and address generations of racial and gender inequities,” said Margaret Anadu, Global Head of Sustainability and Impact for Goldman Sachs Asset Management. “We are focused on deploying Goldman Sachs resources in the most effective and impactful ways, and so we are thrilled to support these entrepreneurs and organizations who have a demonstrated track record of supporting their communities.”
“We are proud to lift up the brilliant work of organizations positively impacting Black women and girls,” said Asahi Pompey, Global Head of the Office of Corporate Engagement and President of the Goldman Sachs Foundation. “The systemic gender and racial biases black women have faced won’t be reversed overnight, but with continued investment, coordination, and focus, we have good reasons to be optimistic.”
About the One Million Black Women Initiative
In partnership with Black-women-led organizations, financial institutions and other partners, Goldman Sachs has committed $10 billion in direct investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic capital over the next decade to address the dual disproportionate gender and racial biases that Black women have faced for generations, which have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. The initiative, One Million Black Women, is named for and guided by the goal of impacting the lives of at least one million Black women by 2030.
About Goldman Sachs
The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. is a leading global financial institution that delivers a broad range of financial services across investment banking, securities, investment management and consumer banking to a large and diversified client base that includes corporations, financial institutions, governments and individuals. Founded in 1869, the firm is headquartered in New York and maintains offices in all major financial centers around the world.
Twelve years ago, my life changed.
On the outside, I looked like a typical 16-year-old high school student. But, on the inside, I was secretly suffering. It felt like the world was against me. I was the victim of vicious rumors by students, and racist school administrators made it hard to show up every day.
But, everything changed when I joined Crittenton’s SNEAKERs program. I remember the exact activity we did that day. We each wrote our names on paper, and each person in our group went around and wrote positive affirmations about each other. In a group filled with all the personalities and attitudes of high school girls, this was epic. For the first time in my teenage years, I had a group of girls I could actually trust and speak freely about the many issues I was going through at the time. For the first time in my life, I genuinely felt validated by my peers in a positive light. SNEAKERS stands for Self-efficacy, Nurturance, Expectations, Assertiveness, Knowledge, Empowerment, Responsibility, and Success, and throughout the school year, we learned about safe sex, building healthy relationships, and creating SMART goals. I still use those principles as a foundation today.
My experience in SNEAKERS stayed with me well into adulthood because it was the first time I had ever had an open and transparent relationship with an adult in my life, too.
I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my parents, family members, or any other adults at school, but Crittenton’s program leaders were the trusted adults in my life. It made all the difference.
Crittenton’s program left such an impact on me that I began my career in youth development work after I graduated. Little did I know there was an entire field of adults dedicated to working with kids in a way that prioritizes social and emotional learning similar to SNEAKERS!
Crittenton also piqued my interest in philanthropy after volunteering with them. As an alumna, I learned about other NGOs and their missions to serve youth through different mediums. I began interning, volunteering, and working part-time for three different Montgomery County nonprofits. Then, at 23, I started my professional career as a full-time Youth Development Program Coordinator and Training Coordinator for the Montgomery County Collaboration Council.
For five years, I researched and developed digital platforms for youth workers, coordinated over 200 public events and symposia, and supported the distribution and monitoring of over 1.5 million dollars to fund countywide youth development programs–including Crittenton. Talk about full circle! I am proud to be a Crittenton girl who is not only an alumna but someone who is equally invested in uplifting our youth of color through advocacy AND action.
Now, 12 years later, as an Entrepreneur, Philanthropist, Wife, and the proud mommy of two, I am forever grateful for the impact Crittenton programs have had and continue to have on my life. Crittenton puts the WHOLE girl first so that the future woman can prosper and evolve.
Young D.C. residents who dealt with food and housing insecurity during the pandemic are still dealing with the consequences, even when more resources are available.
Long before the start of Fall 2021 classes were on anyone’s radar, caretakers, teachers, and other adults in children’s lives already had reason to fear that the kids were not alright. In D.C., food insecurity and housing instability, in addition to disruptions from their routines, the longtime isolation from peers, and the loss or illness of family members due to COVID-19, meant children’s mental health was in a precarious place during this formative time in their development. The return to in-person classes—and subsequent high number of quarantines due to potential COVID-19 exposure that has marked the start of schools—didn’t help the problem.
Dr. Stacy Cary-Thompson, a D.C.-based pediatrician who has seen patients in person throughout the pandemic, points out that child abuse has surged during the pandemic, partly due to such overlapping issues of insecurity. Child abuse has a significant correlation with mental illness and is something she, as a pediatrician, constantly has on her mind.
“Parents and other caregivers are stressed during COVID,” she says. “Their support networks have shrunken, [and] … there have been changes to job and financial security. And children feel the effects of this. And so certainly there can be changes in family dynamics that the children witness, but also the pressure of the changes can manifest in a violent way.”
Housing Instability: Not Just a Home Issue for Students
“D.C. is a very special place in the sense that … a lot of what’s happening in the streets and in the homes often pours into the schools,” Sam P. K. Collins of The Washington Informer said during a “World in Black” virtual roundtable discussion on education Wednesday. “When students come in … they’re suffering from homelessness, they’re suffering from mental health issues, things that manifest in low grades and low educational attainment.” This is particularly the case in communities located east of the Anacostia River, Collins points out.
Housing insecurity isn’t just the typical picture we have of homelessness, Alexis Taylor, a teacher and contributing writer for the Baltimore Afro American, reminded folks at the same panel.
“Homeless doesn’t always mean that you’re on the street,” she said. “Homeless can mean that you’re bouncing from couch to couch each night, homeless could mean that sometimes you’re sleeping with a cousin at their house, and then other times with a family friend, so it’s not stable housing.”
Along with housing insecurity, food insecurity is one of the top factors that has contributed to a “twin pandemic” of COVID and systemic racism and inequality, both nationally and in the District. Caregivers at the Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center reported that the number of children they see for “failure to thrive” due to malnutrition rose by 40 percent during the pandemic. New patients were in more critical condition than pre-pandemic and an unusual number of “graduated” patients were returning for the same issue. In D.C., the Capital Area Food Bank’s 2021 hunger report showed large spikes of food insecurity among Black and Latino households.
Particularly early on in the pandemic, with supply chains disrupted and supermarket shelves left bare, many families couldn’t get the food they needed during this critical period in children’s growth. Many folks, having lost their job or left their job due to COVID-related health concerns, struggled to put food on the table. With schools closed, school meals were no longer a food source on which low-income families with children could rely. Some families lost their SNAP benefits once the pandemic boost in unemployment benefits kicked in. Now that some pandemic unemployment benefits have ended, the city has been pushing for folks to apply or reapply for resources like SNAP.
But even now, with food supplies mostly restored and social service programs and community support helping fill the gaps for some families, children impacted aren’t left unscarred: For developing brains, even short-lived moments of food deprivation can contribute to social-emotional and behavioral problems, apart from other ailments. A BMC study published in late March of 2714 low-income families nationwide found that food insecurity was highly associated with anxiety and depression during the pandemic—it posed three times the risk of developing mental illness as that of losing a job. And researchers found that SNAP, unemployment benefits, and stimulus payments weren’t associated with a reduced risk of mental illness.
When schools closed last March, Crittenton Services of Greater Washington conducted a needs assessment of the roughly 500 sixth- to 12th-grade girls the organization serves annually, finding that these teens were already experiencing food insecurity. The nonprofit, which partners with schools to deliver social-emotional learning and academic success programs for teen girls, was one of various organizations that stepped in to help fill the gap, helping more than 450 families in the DMV secure food and other essentials at the peak of the pandemic.
When the District shut down last year, Black and Latina teens in D.C. had to step up as caregivers to younger siblings and family members. A seventh grade girl confided in staff at the nonprofit Crittenton Services of Greater Washington that she was taking care of four children at home, one of them an infant, while doing distance learning. A high school senior who had been caring for a sick elderly grandfather witnessed him die while she was taking care of him.
“That’s a lot of stress on our young girls at a time in their lives where children should just be children,” says Siobhan Davenport, CEO of CSGW and an author who writes about equity issues affecting girls and women of color.
On this last day of Suicide Awareness Month, it’s time to reckon with the intersections of race and gender that impact the mental health of Black and Latina girls in the District. Suspected suicide attempts by girls aged 12 to 17 increased by more than 50 percent in February to March 2021 compared to the same time in 2019 and surged by varying degrees at other times throughout the pandemic, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that looked at emergency visits nationwide. By contrast, suspected suicide attempts that led to ER visits among boys in the same age group increased by only 3.7 percent compared to the same period two years ago. Race compounds the gender disparity in suicide attempts and suicides that researchers have seen as a silent pandemic. While the number of suicide attempts among White adolescents nationwide dropped from 1991 to 2017, the number of Black children attempting suicide increased. Suicide death rates among Black girls in the U.S. aged 13 to 19 rose by 182 percent from 2001 to 2017.
Girls of color are more susceptible than their White peers to face adverse mental health effects from the stress of pandemic conditions in the home. They are more likely to lose a family member due to COVID-19: Black residents in the District and across the nation have been disproportionately sickened and killed by the virus, as have Latinx people, in ways that can’t be solely attributed to socioeconomic status or underlying health conditions. They are also more likely to get worn out and strain other aspects of their wellbeing due to caregiving responsibilities, the New York Times recently reported. A 2020 World Economic Forum report sheds light on how COVID further contributed to gender inequities in caregiving among women and girls.
These COVID-era findings reflect more of what CSGW had found in their Declare Equity For Girls Report back in 2017. The nonprofit serves mostly young Black and Latina girls and their families, providing programs on life skills, healthy behaviors, and pregnancy prevention. CSGW had conducted focus groups with 71 Black and Latina girls from wards 5, 7, and 8, listening to these teens describe their experiences and expectations in and outside the home. Through listening sessions and surveys, together with national and global research on caregiving disparities, staff found that girls of color face more expectations for caregiving and other household duties than do both White girls and boys of color. Apart from suicidal ideation, staff found that 63 percent of girls in their program reported significant stress, 43 percent reported they are worried about their emotional health, and 50 percent reported feeling worried about their academic performance and the uncertainty of their future.
Lessons from Crittenton on Helping Young Girls Manage their Mental Health
Davenport’s greatest hope is for greater mental health support that teens can access.
“That everyone … who is in the ecosystem of our teen girls—be it your caregiver, your parents, our immediate family, your teachers, counselor, et cetera—that everyone creates that safe space,” she says.”So that they can … continue to thrive, knowing that they are being nurtured and cared for … being listened to.”
Davenport highlights a couple strategies that she as a mother and CSGW as a community have tried in order to support the mental health of young girls:
• Self-Care: Encouraging youth to identify and nurture their passions and hobbies. CSGW girls have taken up activities like cooking, arts and crafts painting, micro-entrepreneurship (developing lip glosses and body butters), and singing as ways to nurture themselves.
• Safe Community Involvement: A CSGW program leader facilitated an exercise where she invited her teens to make a Mother’s Day gift while socially distanced. “It was just a meaningful exercise to show the girls that regardless of how they’re feeling,” she says. “[Even though] we all can feel a bit helpless during these times, there are things that we can do to bring joy not just to ourselves, but to those around us.”
Boys Need Help, Too
While girls are disproportionately impacted by gender-based inequities that contribute to mental illness, boys also need support.
“As a community, we need to allow boys the safe space to share how they’re feeling during these times but also outside of these times,” Davenport says.
Davenport says she is always doing check-ins with her son. “There are times when I get one-word answers and then there’s times when he just opens up a floodgate. And I’ve learned to be patient either way,” she says. “So the one-word answer pretty much means that now it’s not a good time to talk. But he does get around to sharing with me how he’s feeling throughout all of this.”
While city officials seek to make schools as back to normal as possible amid a heightened outcry for greater COVID safety precautions from parents, teachers, and advocates, normalcy may not cut it for the other pandemic facing teens and girls of color.
“Normal wasn’t always so good for everyone,” says Davenport of the mental health crisis. “And it certainly wasn’t always good for children and the teen girls that we serve from vulnerable backgrounds.”
“Black girls deserve to be children.”
A 15-year-old student at DuVal High School in Maryland who takes care of four children under 10.
Photographs by Erin Schaff/The New York Times
A 17-year-old at Gaithersburg High School in Maryland who feels the need to support her family financially.
A 15-year-old at George Westinghouse College Preparatory in Chicago who juggles school with caring for her grandmother and toddler niece.
I would like to write a poem to honor my girl/friends
to the ones who pushed pins into their skin
and the ones who were forced under someone else’s
to the ones who smile in the midst of a battle zone
and to those who carry the battle zones in their hearts
to the ones that always look for something to smile about
with their broken eyes and
eyes that don’t grow weary and
eyes afraid to close
This is a poem to the black girls who have cried about being a black girl
Who filled their bodies with hate and envy and disgust
Hate, and envy, and disgust
Hate, and envy, and disgust
Breathe.Black girls deserve to be children.
Siobhan Davenportl | SDavenport@crittentonservices.org
I was recently appointed to the Montgomery County Taskforce on School Safety. Alongside Councilmembers Will Jawando, Craig Rice, and other community leaders and students, we will craft a roadmap to police-free schools and safer learning environments for youth.
This issue is personal to me. Not only am I the parent of two teenagers, but Crittenton works with Black and Brown teen girls who live in communities with the highest incidents of poverty and violence in our region. In our Declare Equity for Girls Report—a landmark study that revealed the obstacles girls face in achieving education equity, girls shared that their school environments were not conducive to learning and identified persistent bullying and difficult interactions with teachers and staff as some of their primary concerns.
Safe and supportive environments, whether at school, home, or in the community, are essential to unlocking the potential of our youth—no matter their backgrounds. Here’s how to use a Restorative Justice Framework to create safer schools and communities for our teen girls as they prepare for the new school year.
“Bad vibes everywhere! Negativity is everywhere in the school building. Nobody can get along. It’s always something with somebody.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report
Restorative justice seeks to repair damaged relationships. Before any learning takes place, administrators must first acknowledge that the relationship between staff and students is damaged. Prior to the pandemic, the trauma that some youth experienced in the community manifested as difficult behavior in the classroom. Teachers and staff bore the brunt of these interactions on top of demands to perform at underfunded schools in challenged communities. The result was despair. Now, after a global pandemic and an emotionally exhausting school year, we should expect students and staff will bring some historical trauma and current frustrations into the classroom too.
“The teachers are always talking about ‘you have to respect them.’ You have to respect me if you want respect.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report
Trauma-informed care starts with creating a safe space. Safe spaces create cultures of mutual respect. Administrators can mend their relationships with students by establishing new dynamics with each other. Acknowledging the leadership of another person is crucial to fostering respect. At Crittenton, we position our program coordinators to become the trusted and caring adult who is a partner in a girl’s success. They do this by seeing and respecting teens as experts in their lives. Girls are then excited to be a part of Crittenton’s sacred sisterhood and activate their inner leader. A similar experience can be replicated in the classroom. The most successful educators create safe environments to learn and recognize the leadership of teens to interpret or reimagine information to deepen their learning.
“I don’t have any negative feelings towards my school because after a while, you just zone out.”– A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report
Restorative Justice Framework contends that everyone has a personal responsibility to restore the relationship and create a better future. We open every cohort with a group-building activity. A simple yet effective activity is Group Agreements. Group Agreements maintain the structure and order of the group and also encourage personal responsibility to the cohort. Teachers can interpret this exercise for the classroom. Create space for students to write their desired rules, needs, and expectations of the classroom to do their best learning. Once the class has created a comprehensive list, give students an opportunity to decide agreements are necessary. Also, give the class a chance to suggest consequences for breaking the agreements. Simple exercises like this give teens a chance to express themselves, any hidden needs, and also feel ownership and autonomy in their education.
“The drama stops people from learning.”– A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report
Toxic learning environments shut students down. Administrators, teachers, and school staff must work to repair the culture of negative schools to reignite the desire to learn. Restorative justice acknowledges that all damage cannot be repaired; however, change must begin immediately and fully for parties to gain their self-respect and respect for others. Adults have control over the following: providing students with adequate school supplies and better-funded schools, ensuring staff is trained in culturally competent teaching practices and undergoing unconscious bias and gender-bias training which impacts academic performance. I also recommend increasing the number of mental health specialists and trauma-informed counselors to show commitment to providing the proper care and resources needed to meet the needs of students and to transform the school culture.
“One of the positive things about my school is some of my teachers’ support and give tough love on the bad days.” – A Crittenton girl from the Declare Equity for Girls Report
The restorative justice process ends with reintegration. Parties must contribute to and collaborate on a new path forward. Teens will need time to reintegrate into structured learning and social environments with school staff and their friends. Administrators cannot assume that things can or should go back to normal. In DC alone, more than 40% of students are considered at-risk youth. Additionally, our internal needs assessment revealed that 22% of girls took on additional caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. Returning to normal is not an option. The old normal resulted in poor academic achievement, discriminatory discipline, and ultimately the push out of Black and brown girls in schools. The new normal must be better for Black and brown teen girls and we must engage them in developing solutions that heal their trauma and match their current and future needs.
President of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington, Siobhan Davenport, discusses strategies to use to deal with back to school stress.
President & CEO of Crittenton Services of Greater Washington, Siobhan Davenport, joins Daniel Bauer from Better Leaders, Better schools to share her insight into why teens are experts of their own lives. Listen in as they discuss:
- Understanding barriers that girls face and teaching action advocacy.
- Creating safe space and suspending judgment as an intentional move as an organization.
- The key to building world class culture with one question.
- Reflection for leaders to help navigate and engage at school and at home.
- Serve the whole child by suspending judgment with specific staff training.
- Evolution of a sacred sister circle-hood. “Meet girls where they are, but don’t let them stay there.”
“Let Teens Lead. As adults, we have wonderful experiences in our lives and we get to a point where we say, ‘Do this, do that, do the other.’ We forget that teens are the experts in their own lives. They come with so much experience and they know what they need, and we can be a support to them and get the services that they need.” – Siobhan Davenport
As a mother to a teen girl and a leader of a nonprofit that’s helping our Black and brown girls navigate this pandemic, I see daily the importance of prioritizing the emotional wellness of our children. As parents, we must provide the tools, community, and support systems to help maintain our teen’s mental health and wellbeing for them to overcome challenges and thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges we’ve all been facing, and teens are feeling the fear, strain of uncertainty, and the stress of competing at school, work, and extracurricular demands more than ever.
“When You make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, You create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires.”
They need help, but sometimes youth lack the skills and opportunity to communicate their needs. You can start by creating space for this at home. In recognition of Minority Mental Health and Awareness Month, here are some tips and best practices for parents to continue supporting teens’ mental health and wellness.
Foster a safe, non-judgmental space that inspires your teen to share what’s on their minds
Our Black and brown children are often looking for an opening to express themselves. You must keep at the forefront of your mind that youth voices matter and their experiences are real and valid. If you create an environment where kids believe their perspectives don’t matter, they may find it difficult to share their deepest concerns with you. You have to model for your children that you care, and show them what active and respectful listening looks like in conversation. They can carry these skills from home to school.
You can create the opening by asking specific questions about their day (for example: “How was class today with teacher X?” versus “How was school today?”). Asking more specific questions can help get to the core of what may be pressing or heavy for your child at that moment. Welcome and encourage frequent dialogue for your teen to express themselves to you. The more you keep an open mind, the more it builds a trusting relationship.
Encourage your teens to focus on the things they can control, even when life feels unpredictable
Help your children to identify what they can control in their lives. This includes helping them understand how to break down larger blocks of homework into smaller achievable goals, structuring manageable schedules, especially if they are engaged in multiple school and extracurricular activities. It can be simply directing them to keep their personal spaces in the home organized, as well as helping them ensure that family spaces and tasks are organized as well.
Show them that we also have control of taking care of our minds and bodies. This can be as simple as eating the healthiest food available, incorporating physical activity into each day, and getting consistent sleep — specifically, eight to ten hours of sleepper night as experts have long recommended for teens. Integrating routines will provide consistency to help keep teens’ mental health in check. These organizational skills not only provide structure but also help alleviate stress to maintain your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. It prevents young people from becoming overwhelmed when all of their “to-dos” come at them at once.
Encourage teens to practice self-advocacy and ask for help from adults and their peers
You can aid your teen in developing the skills and confidence to advocate for themself at school, out in the world, and at home. Being able to express their needs and desires is essential to them feeling valued. Asking questions and creating space for teens to first identify and then share what they are feeling, or what they need, helps them to feel as if they have a little more control over their experiences. I also have to spend more time listening to see how my daughter is working through challenges, instead of being so quick to offer solutions.
When you make space for teens to self-advocate for their personal needs, you create an environment where they feel safe and confident enough to use their voices and articulate their desires. In turn, this empowers a confident parent, equipped with the skills to be in dialogue with their children while honoring youth voices.
It’s been a tumultuous 16 months, and we need to make sure that our kids can recover. As a parent, it is imperative to create adequate spaces and support systems for your teen’s mental health and wellbeing. You can start some of the work to create spaces at home, but you’ll need every participant in your children’s learning ecosystem — schools, summer learning programs, youth-serving organizations, parents, families, and communities — to play a part in the recovery process so your children can reach their full potential.
Congratulations to the Crittenton Services of Greater Washington Class of 2021! We wish you good luck on your journey ahead and we look forward to celebrating your future achievements.
To download your copy of this year’s yearbook, click the button below.
More than 100 teen girls from Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County school districts gathered on April 22 at 6 p.m. for a virtual community conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on the area’s youth.
Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW) hosted students and community members for the nonprofit’s annual High Tea. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was virtual and the conversation centered on empowering young women through the effects of COVID-19.
Siobhan Davenport, president and CEO of CSGW, was one of the adults who participated in the High Tea. Davenport told the AFRO that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges that students of Crittenton already face.
“We as an organization have many conversations on how the inequity in healthcare, and housing and in education have risen to the top because of the pandemic,” Davenport said.
According to a CSGW news release, a February needs assessment showed that out of nearly 400 students surveyed, 63 percent of the students feel more stressed than usual and 43 percent are worried about their futures.
The event included a main session that was hosted by NBC reporter Juliana Valencia and featured appearances by the Mayor of Somerset, Md., Jeffrey Slavin, and Crittenton Honoree Catherine Leggett.
After the main session, the teen girl participants were placed into several small groups or breakout rooms where they had an open dialogue with one another surrounding the pre-chosen theme: “My Voice Matters.”