MARGARET MEAD (1901-1978)
Mead 2001 Centennial Awards
They're spending a year in "City at Peace," a musical theater group whose staff helps them write and perform their own show -- a series of skits, musicals, dialogs, and dances based on their life experiences. They perform in theaters, community centers, churches, and schools. Since CaP's founding in 1994, more than 500 young people from over 60 schools and workplaces in the Washington DC area have participated, performing nine original musicals for more than 50,000 people. While not on stage, CaP staffers and participants work with community organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, local elementary schools and other nonprofits to help resolve issues facing youth. CaP creates educational materials for adults and coordinates theatrical games for elementary school kids.
Hundreds of young people "audition" for CaP each year by filling out a survey about their lives and goals. From the applicants, CaP staff selects those -- about 120 -- who will benefit most, and are willing to make the commitment.
"I was fat. I was weird. I was lonely," writes Assata Elom Perkins. "I was coping with problems I didn't feel I deserved. I was slashing my wrists. That was before I got in City at Peace. Inside City at Peace I felt loved and accepted and I had a second home....I could talk about my feelings and not be judged."
The DC group, now headed by Sandra Halloway, was the first City at Peace program. With only nine employees, including a choreographer and musical and technical directors, it's an exemplar of Mead's "Never doubt..." challenge. That's just how Paul Griffin, CaP's idealistic original founder, who's now developing City at Peace/National in New York, wanted it. In a development that would delight Mead, the DC program has already served as a model for other "Cities at Peace" -- Charlotte, North Carolina; Santa Barbara, California; and three in Israel. Others are in the works for Los Angeles and Jordan.
Griffin sees theater as a natural for encouraging growth and empowering kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks. An actor and theater teacher, Griffin formed City at Peace to combine dance, voice, and acting training with conflict resolution, self esteem and leadership training. The young participants choose the topics of the shows, which have included rape, racism, body image, sexuality, the landscape of friendship, parental abuse, eating disorders, love, courage, fear and death.
Many CaP "graduates" have become inspiring real-life success stories. "One of our kids was kicked out of school, couldn't get a job. After City at Peace, he went to an open audition and spent more than three years at a dance company, just out of sheer will and talent. We had one girl who was a runaway from home, and now she works for a law firm. These kids tour with the show, volunteer and still maintain their inherent sense of optimism and hope, " says Griffin. "The smartest thing I ever did was listen to them."
The Spring 2001 Award Winner:
City at Peace / DC
1328 Florida Ave. NW
Washington DC 20009
City at Peace HBO Special (video)
(Moving firsthand accounts of the award-winning DC CaP program)
Learn how to start a similar program:
City at Peace / National
315 W. 23rd Street, #2D
New York, NY 10011
The Homeless Prenatal Program
Martha Ryan was training health workers in African refugee camps to prevent epidemics. "I had always imagined that my working life would be spent in the Third World," recalls Ms. Ryan. But upon her return to the United States, she recalls, "I found the Third World right here in San Francisco." Ryan modeled the Homeless Prenatal Program on work she'd done in Africa, teaching former clients to reach out to homeless and poor families. At its start in 1989, HPP's part-time staff of three served 72 families. Today 24 staffers (most are former clients) serve more than 1,500 families.
From headquarters in San Francisco's Tenderloin district, HPP runs six projects. Volunteers (many are former clients) offer lots of support. They provide childcare to children of homeless pregnant women and serve as labor coaches. Some volunteers transport clients to their medical and social service appointments. Volunteers also coordinate a yearly fund-raising dance party with a silent auction; they raised almost $70,000 last year.
HPP's Prenatal Services Project increases the chances for homeless mothers to give birth to healthy babies and helps decrease abuse and neglect. HPP offers home visits for new and expectant mothers and workshops on prenatal care, child growth and development, and parenting skills. Ninety percent of the babies born to HPP's clients have been of normal birth weight and 93 percent have been born drug-free.
The three-year-old Housing Assistance Program, coordinated by Vivian Harris and funded by the San Francisco Department of Human Services, has already helped hundreds of women find permanent housing. The weekly housing clinic distributes listings and information.
HPP social workers and case managers help women address their short- and long-term needs for shelter, prenatal exams, domestic violence counseling, substance abuse programs, and job training. Case management coordinator Viviana Matrinez says, "I try to work with clients to help them realize that the same way that they came to this point of crisis, they can use that force to move in the opposite direction toward stability." Carla Roberts provides pre-treatment counseling and support, and motivates pregnant and parenting mothers with substance abuse problems to enter treatment programs.
Women who were formerly homeless and pregnant can participate in a fifteen-month Community Health Worker Training Program that prepares them for employment as health workers. Currently the program emphasizes outreach, office skills, and policy advocacy. These women seek out homeless families throughout the city and county jails. The program also teaches staff and clients how to make recommendations to local and state government officials to assist families.
Ramona Benson, former supervisor of the Community Health Worker training, had been a mother addicted to crack at the inception of the Homeless Prenatal Program. She was told that if she went into recovery and found stable housing she could begin training as a community health worker. "In 1990, I thought I'd work for Martha (Ryan) for a couple years," she recalls, "then get a real job." Instead, she stayed ten years. In 1998 The San Francisco Foundation awarded her the Resourceful Women International Award for her work with HPP.
HPP's focus on moving women in crisis from dependency to self-sufficiency makes their work a fitting response to Mead's "Never doubt" challenge.
The Homeless Prenatal Program
Ms. Martha Ryan, Executive Director
995 Market St., Suite 1010
San Francisco CA 94103
Project AVARY (Alternative Ventures for At Risk Youth) offers "fun with a safe, loving environment," says Executive Director Danny Rifkin. Rifkin had been director of the Rex Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Grateful Dead. "After Jerry [Garcia] died, I was really looking for something to do," he says. Inspired by San Quentin State Prison chaplain Earl Smith's vision of addressing the needs of a badly neglected population, Rifkin started a project to serve 8-12 year old kids in the San Francisco Bay Area whose parents are incarcerated. The kids are treated to one to two weeks of summer camp, as well as monthly "Adventure Days" throughout the year.
Almost two million minors across the country have incarcerated parents, and the numbers are increasing. The lack of parental care, usually coupled with deep poverty, fosters childhood trauma and inadequate care. "We want to provide a consistent, caring community for these children that's not going to change," explains Rifkin, a longtime camp counselor and mentor (or "child enrichment worker") at Wavy Gravy's Camp Winnarainbow. "The focus isn't necessarily on the parents." At Project AVARY they're in it for the kids. "That's what we're about," says Rifkin.
Since 1998, Camp AVARY has offered sunshine, laughter, music, writing, theater, dance, martial arts, yoga, environmental education, swimming, quiet times and lots of stream walks and nature hikes to help city kids feel more comfortable outdoors.
Anger is not uncommon among the children of the jailed. George [not his real name] couldn't be controlled, and his explosive bursts kept him out of camp activities-until he met Colin, a youngster with Down's Syndrome who was also head dishwasher at AVARY.
Says Rifkin, "Where George would usually be withdrawn and keep a scowl on his face, he would smile and be creative when he was around our head dishwasher. Colin's complete acceptance and his absence of prejudice or violence provided George with a sense of safety that he relished. He began helping with the dishes. We could see that having a sense of responsibility was truly rewarding." Other campers took notice and soon everybody began fighting for the "opportunity" to wash dishes, until it became a coveted position.
Rifkin finds his campers through various government social service agencies. Just over 30 kids attend Camp AVARY every summer week. During the rest of the year, Project AVARY offers educational excursions to theaters, museums and parks in the Bay Area. A major goal is to cement long-term friendships between campers, so they'll have a peer-based support group, no matter how turbulent their lives. "The idea is that in ten years, the staff should all be alumni," says Rifkin. "In a few years this will all be turned over to them."
Mr. Danny Rifkin Director
1016 Lincoln Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94901
All rights reserved. Mead/Bateson photo ©Fred Roll.