Content Warning: This post is part of a series that deals with intersectional gender-based violence.
Circle of Sisters is a nonprofit organization that facilitates afterschool programs for girls ages 9-12. The organization started in 2000 and has helped girls around the County ever since. The girls meet after school with their Circle facilitators and go through a number of activities that help the girls with homework, go on field trips, share experiences, and form female relationships in a safe environment.
Students should get involved with Circle of Sisters if they want to be mentors and role models for young girls. Students in Psychology, Sociology, and Women's and Gender Studies are the usual interns and volunteers at this organization. There are other departments that may accept internships done at Circle of Sisters but just be sure to first consult your advisor. Don't let that deter you from volunteering because all volunteers are welcome!
I interviewed my (now recently graduated) Women's and Gender Studies colleague and long-time Circle of Sisters facilitator Mira Fielding about what Circle of Sisters is and what it can do for students and the community. Here are some of the highlights from our meeting:
Ashley: So why was Circle of Sisters created?
Mira: Circle of Sisters was created because in Sonoma County in the early 2000's there was a lot of really alarming statistics that coming out during the after school hours of between 2 and around 6pm. And it was around youth violence, specifically around gang violence. And so Circle of Sisters really worked with the surrounding communities around trying to find solutions and ways of prevention so that the youth could have a space and Circle of Sisters was brought about because of it. Circle of Sisters is an extension of Saint Joseph's Memorial Hospital. We are one program out of many, many others that in a department called Community Benefit. So it's exactly that; we want to give back to our community in whatever way possible, whatever their needs are. We go directly into those communities and find out what it is. And so Circle of Sisters is on the side of prevention and specifically around youth and girls in between the ages of 9-12 years old.
There are lots of programs that currently have money set aside for the sole purpose of curbing and preventing juvenile violence.The statistics that Mira refers to are from various sectors of local government. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, for example, is a nonprofit organization reporting that juvenile crime peaked in the after school hours between 3 and 4pm. Data from these reports show that supervision decreases the amount of juvenile crime in the after school hours. In 2002, California passed Proposition 49, an initiative that amended previous educational programming and resulted in the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program. It provides funding each year for K-12 schools to keep open all existing after school programs and also grants eligibility for additional California schools that apply.  In addition, Measure O passed in Santa Rosa in 2004, aims to increase funds for police, fire, and gang prevention & intervention programs. Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks receives funding from Measure O for grants set aside for applying agencies, to which Circle of Sisters qualifies under St. Joseph Health.
Mira first worked for Circle of Sisters as a volunteer and worked her way up to a paid position.
Ashley: So what did you do as a volunteer?
Mira: As a volunteer, I help with the day to day. I was organizing my specific site and at that time it was a middle school site [...] I helped with snack preparation, I helped with art projects, outdoor activities and as I slowly warmed up to the girls I was able to actually write my own curriculum and then do creative projects around different topics that I was personally really passionate about.
As a WGS major, Mira's passions include promoting girl-centered friendships, helping the social and personal development of girls, and creating a space for girls to explore their interests. Mira's works to deepen the connections between young girls to create sisterhood. She says "At the end of the year, I could honestly say that group of girls was a group of sisters. And that is part of our goal in Circle of Sisters as well." She continues, "You know, 'Go help your friend. Can you help your friend with their homework.?' It's 'Go help your sister if she needs help on her math homework.' [T]hat was something that was really like a passion of mine."
[Related: Circle of Sisters: the Power of Know]
Ashley: How long have you been working with Circle of Sisters?
Mira: This is my 6th year. I started just as a volunteer. I was a Santa Rosa Junior College student at the time and I have always volunteered in my spare time and I found their website, called them up and was a volunteer for about 2 years. And then I went into the AmeriCorps program, which is like the domestic Peace Corps and was about to be their Volunteer Coordinator for 2 years. So I did basically did like work for free for 2 years with them still continuing to because I really believe in that program and the work I was doing and I love my girls; they're amazing. Then slowly but surely was able to get a paid position. It's part-time; it's a nonprofit, obviously, but I really enjoy my work and I would do the work if I didn't believe in it. So I have been with them for about 3 years as a paid staff member and I'm their Program Coordinator and Site Facilitator.
Mira and I also talked about the benefits of Circle of Sisters.
Ashley: So what do the interns and volunteers get out of this?
Mira: What interns and volunteers can get out of this: it's obviously a life experience, the warm fuzzy feeling helping out a demographic that definitely needs some assistance! I mean obviously if you are an academic we offer hours for internships as well as certification after a certain amount of time and recommendation letters look really good on CV's and resumes because it shows that you've worked with a diverse population as well as with youth if that's maybe something they want to go into, that field, mental health.
Volunteers and interns can be Circle Mentors and Circle Leaders Volunteers can also work in the Circle of Sisters office doing things like filing and data entry. An administrative internship can be made out of this work. Just ask! Like most organizations, Circle of Sisters prefers long-time commitment to the program. However there are some ways to get involved for a short time. Guest presenters come to one meeting with the girls after school for a one-time presentation. Girls also occasionally go on field trips that require chaperones. Circle of Sisters can use all of your unique skills and interests to make for a great experience!
Ashley: So how do you think the community benefits?
Mira: I think the community benefits because it is youth, right? That's the next generation. We're helping reframe and reshape what it is to be that generation. That you don't need to always be zombied out because you're always attached to your screen. There are different avenues and different areas that are outside your four walls, your home, or in your classroom. We really try, again, to bring that diversity in so that the girls can really see those ways and not only of exploring what it is they want to do one say for a career or just their own passions and we increasingly see that girls drop off math and sciences, or interest in those two fields around this age group. Probably around 11 and 12. You know, we start to get a little bit quiet, you know, a little bit shyer in the classrooms. So we really try to bring in those diverse women from our community that are very much representing that idea of, "I am woman and I can do whatever it is that I want to do." So exploring the different areas and different passions for the girls. So I think we give back to the community in that way, that we actually bring the community into the room but also take the girls out of that room, too.
Read the full interview transcript here.
1. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids: California: After School Programs Can Fight Crime
2. OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book. Online. Available: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/offenders/qa03301.asp?qaDate=2010. Released on May 22, 2014.
3. California Department of Education - Program Description:
Background information, program objectives, and requirements for the After School Education and Safety Program.
4. City of Santa Rosa - Measure O: Quarter Center Public Safety Tax
5. Lanzendorfer, Joy. Measure O. Bohemian, 2005.
6. City of Santa Rosa - Measure O Qualified Agencies Resource List 2008 - 2011