‘A Pivotal Moment’
Rites of Passage & Empowerment (ROPE) recently announced its official transition to independent 501(c)(3) status. The Pittsfield-based program, founded in 2010 by Shirley Edgerton, a longtime educator, community activist, and mentor in Pittsfield, has been a fiscally sponsored project of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts since its inception.
ROPE is a proven mentoring program for young women of color and young people identifying as female or non-binary. The mission of ROPE is to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescents into adulthood and provide them with skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, independent, and responsible people.
“This designation marks a pivotal moment for ROPE,” Edgerton said. “We are deeply grateful for the continuous and unwavering support of the Women’s Fund through the years. As we look ahead, we are excited to embark on this new chapter and continue our ongoing work with our scholars and ambassadors.”
Donna Haghighat, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, added that “it has been our honor to fiscally support ROPE and Shirley Edgerton’s vision. Too few philanthropic institutions believe in the power and possibility of the solutions that women of color create to address systemic barriers. The future is fierce thanks to ROPE’s nurturing of amazing young women and thanks to Shirley’s vision for ROPE itself.”
This new designation comes in the wake of other major news for the organization, which supports young people on their journey to a college education. This past April, ROPE was awarded a significant grant by the city of Pittsfield through its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Community Awards.
“This grant comes at an essential time,” Edgerton said. “Now that we are an independent organization, this multi-year funding will allow us to build into the future with a solid and secure foundation.”
In addition to the weekly mentoring, monthly workshops, and local trips through the Berkshires, two key elements of the ROPE program are college tours and biannual service-learning trips to Africa.
“These opportunities provide our scholars with deep transformational experiences,” said Jean Clarke-Mitchell, a mentor with the program. “It is gratifying to see their growth and confidence bloom with each new opportunity.”
In July, ROPE scholars and ambassadors traveled to Accra, Ghana, where they engaged with young Ghanaians, learned about the customs and culture, and visited historic sites, including W.E.B. Du Bois’ former home, which is now a museum.
Edgerton explained that, while the grant allows for a variety of initiatives, funding guidelines do not include international travel, so the organization engaged in fundraising to ensure the mentees had access to this experience. She then noted the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
“We depend on the ongoing partnership with community members who recognize and embrace their role as a part of ROPE scholars’ village. We are proud to know so many of our ROPE alumni return to the area to mentor the young people coming up behind them, to work in local organizations and government, and to otherwise give back to the community they come from,” she said. “Investing in these young people is truly an investment in the future of our community as a whole, and that is priceless.”