Response: March 2014 Issue

Summer of Sisterhood

West Side Community Center’s sisterhood group is set to perform at United Methodist Women’s “Make It Happen” Assembly in Louisville, Ky., April 25-27.

Summer of Sisterhood
Girls in the Sisterhood program serve meals at the center.

I am the change that I want to see
I’ll make a difference as the change
begins in me.
 
Lyrics from “I Wish”
Summer of Sisterhood 2013
 
The West Side Community House continues to make a difference in the lives of children and families, as it has since 1890 when the agency was founded as the Methodist Deaconess Home of Cleveland.
 
“The word ‘house’ in our title is so appropriate because the building feels like home,” said Executive Director Dawn Kolograf. The new fully accessible facility completed in 2006 is located in the heart of the agency’s core service area.
 
“It’s a gift to be here,” Ms. Kolograf said. “West Side Community House is a great combination of interacting with people every day, while also creating programs for the community.”
 
In 2008, she and the staff identified the need for a program for girls aging out of the day care program that would focus on life skills and personal development. Lilloise Talley—a retired school teacher, former West Side Community House board member and a United Methodist Women member at Cleveland’s Aldersgate United Methodist Church—met with agency staff to develop the parameters and curriculum for the West Side Sisterhood program.
 
In September of that year, two master’s degree-students placed at the center selected 20 girls in the neighborhood and began convening after-school sessions to test different program ideas.

The majority of the girls then, and now, were Cleveland Metropolitan School District students who live below the poverty level in single-parent homes.
 
In June 2009 the agency was awarded a $12,000 United Methodist Women A Call to Prayer and Self-Denial, Learning for a Lifetime grant. The funding became the genesis for the program, which launched that fall with a new name: Sisterhood.
 
The program was a success.
 
On that snowy afternoon in December 2013, 18 girls gathered in an upstairs room at the West Side Community House for Sisterhood. They were there to study, laugh, play games, listen to, talk with and support one another.
 
Sixteen-year-old Jaliya Dawson has been involved in Sisterhood since she was 9. “It’s a good program, and more girls should get involved with it,” she said. “I’m improving as a person. I’m not as shy as I used to be, and I’m learning to stretch outside my comfort zone.”

“Sisterhood,” said 12-year-old Cherron Smith, “is a place where you can be yourself, be more comfortable, meet people and try to improve yourself and your confidence.”
 
Asked what she would tell someone who isn’t involved with Sisterhood, 11-year-old Kayla Diop replied, “It will change you, and you will be a better person. You’ll meet new people, make new friends, and your life will be better.”
 
“The girls keep me coming here every single day,” said Allison McClain, Sisterhood’s first youth services director. “It’s great to see their progress. Four years in, I have developed exceptional relationships with the girls and their families.”
 
When she arrived, Ms. McClain recognized the lack of summer programming and created Summer of Sisterhood. Strongly supported by North Coast District United Methodist Women groups, the summer arts camp teaches inner-city girls how creative expression can transform a community and positively impact public perception.
 
During the intensive eight-week program, girls ages 10 to 18 work with professional artists in music, poetry, creative writing, dance, acting, videography and graphic design. The summer culminates with the live debut of a song that the girls develop, write, choreograph, perform and record as a CD or DVD.
 
There is no cost for Summer of Sisterhood, but there is an application and audition process. The audition of singing, dancing and acting reinforces that participation in Summer of Sisterhood is an honor and not a right.
 
“We don’t screen for talent,” Ms. Kolograf said. “We pick neighborhood girls first and give preference to girls who have been in Summer of Sisterhood before.”
 
“Girls have to apply every year for the program,” Ms. McClain added. “There is a strict attendance policy. Girls can only miss three days all summer.”
 
Last year, 39 girls were selected for the program that meets in June, July and August from 1-6 p.m., Monday through Friday, with occasional weekend activities.
 
Summer of Sisterhood started in 2008 on a shoestring budget with no paid staff. It has grown to a budget of $175,000 with two full-time staff members, a full-time intern and six part-time tutoring positions. In addition, there are three part-time positions that are filled by girls in the Sisterhood program.
 
“I always wanted to be a missionary,” Ms. Kolograf said. “I’ve loved working with United Methodists because they give their agencies so much room for mission. This is a place where girls feel safe with female role models. I’ve had the privilege of working with mothers, their daughters and now their granddaughters.”
 
Summer of Sisterhood will perform at United Methodist Women’s “Make It Happen” Assembly in Louisville, Ky., April 25-17.
 
“We get to perform in front of a lot of people,” Ms. Diop said. “It means a lot that people want us to be there.”
 
One of the songs Summer of Sisterhood will perform is “I Wish,” written by the group in summer 2013. Its lyrics include:
 
I wish
We could all just get along
I wish
The broken heart would know peace
I wish
We could all sing the song together.
 
Ms. Kolograf and Ms. McClain have Sisterhood wishes of their own.
 
“I wish the national recognition of performing at Assembly will bring additional funding so we can keep the program going,” Ms. Kolograf said. Sisterhood receives less than $3,000 a year in government funding, with the exception of an approximate $20,000 Cuyahoga Arts & Culture grant for Sisterhood of Summer.
 
“I wish that what Sisterhood is doing for the girls stays with them, encourages them, motivates them and inspires them to be great and amazing and successful and productive forever,” Ms. McClain said.
 
There is currently a waiting list for both Summer of Sisterhood and the school-year Sisterhood programs.
 
To learn more about the West Side Community House and ways in which you can support it, please visit www.wschouse.org.

Rick Wolcott is director of communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Posted or updated: 2/28/2014 11:00:00 PM
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