Imagine that you are are a single mother raising a little girl. Joy is what everyone wants you to feel, but you are depressed at best, angry most of the time. You know this situation has grown beyond your control and that you have to do something, but even if you had insurance for a doctor, everyone around you would call you weak or even crazy if you admitted to what you were feeling and fearing.
So you spin into increasing despair and hopelessness, until you learn of a parenting class that just might be of help.
In that parenting class you meet a psychologist who encourages you, and other women like you, to share your mutual experiences. With them, you find common ground and the strength to explore your own situation and how the adversity in your life—childhood sexual abuse, rape, teenage pregnancy or emotional abuse—can be used as the very turning point towards growth, rather than as a dead end.
Continuing in these sessions, and working individually with a therapist, you start to feel less depressed, gain control over your emotions and outlook and develop the motivation and resources to plan for—and eventually attain—higher paying, steady employment that enables you to care for your child in a more stable manner.
Your life no longer feels like a dead end. It feels like a beginning.
This is the work of Ascensions Community Services, Inc. in Washington, D.C.—a new Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation receiving the largest grant—$50,000—in the history of the African American Women’s Giving Circle.
Sandra Jibrell, a member of The Women’s Foundation’s board of directors and the African American Women’s Giving Circle, explains why the circle chose to invest so much in Ascensions. “It was the opportunity to make a grant that would really make a difference. Ascensions was started and run by a young African American woman with a deep commitment to delivering mental health services east of the Anacostia River, to women whose emotional and mental health needs have been overlooked as they struggle to keep their families safe and financially stable.”
Dr. Satira S. Streeter, licensed clinical psychologist and founder and Executive/Clinical Director of Ascensions, explains, “We’re dealing with families in Ward 7 and 8, and family is typically comprised of a mother and her children. About 85 percent of those we serve are women.”
The need for such services is well documented—particularly for women—who tend to experience mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety with far greater frequency than men, according to The Women’s Foundation’s Portrait Project. The report found that in Washington, D.C., 43 percent of women reported poor mental health days. Nationally, one-third of young women report feeling sad or hopeless. Further, depression tends to impact African American women at a rate almost 50 percent higher than it impacts white women.
Ascensions meets these needs by providing psychological and community interventions that assist clients to improve their self-concept, interpersonal relationships and make positive contributions to their communities. Services infuse psychological theories and research with culture, history, and spirituality to offer each client an individualized plan for growth.
Ascensions emerged from Streeter’s work in a school providing psychological services to students. “We would scratch our heads as to why the kids weren’t getting better,” she says. “It was because we were sending them back into a dysfunctional household that unraveled our work. The kids would come to Virginia from Southeast and Northeast D.C., and I wanted to do this in a way that would include the whole family and do so in the community.”
Ascensions’ clients—which number approximately 75 families—come for services voluntarily through walk-ins, referrals from community schools and outreach efforts such as parenting classes and groups for young women.
Streeter currently counsels eight families per day during the week, and 10 more on weekends, a full-time job that she has been doing without a salary for three years to get Ascensions off the ground.
The grant from The Women’s Foundation’s African American Women’s Giving Circle will play a significant role in that journey. The grant will enable Ascensions to increase the number of clients they serve by paying for greater staffing. Ascensions will expand their three part-time therapists’ hours so they can do more counseling, enabling Streeter to focus on group work and outreach. She also hopes to offer more training for her clinicians and for other budding clinicians to build the base of African American psychologists in Washington, D.C.
“It’s one thing to have the heart to do this work,” Streeter says. “But it’s another to be able to develop the fiscal systems, the program evaluations and the development work that will allow us to continue to work with these women and families on a daily basis.”
This is precisely what the members of the African American Women’s Giving Circle had in mind when they elected to support Ascensions. “It is our hope that our support and interactions with Ascensions will enable its young director to build and sustain the service organization that she envisions—addressing the unmet needs for therapeutic mental health services for the women, strengthening collective self help and support group activities and increasing their organizational capacity and partnerships,” Jibrell says.
The community outreach Streeter will focus on is crucial to Ascensions’ ability to provide services. It provides an entryway into psychological services that may not otherwise be available due to the stigma that often surrounds it. People are far more likely to attend a parenting class, Streeter says, than to make an appointment for counseling.
Her approach is working. As the community begins to understand the value of the services Ascensions offers, the related stigma is decreasing and people feel more comfortable seeking the help they need.
Streeter says clients are less guarded when they come in and that she frequently hears things like, “A couple of years ago, I would never have come to see a psychologist, but now that I know what you do, and I know that it’s not that I’m crazy…”
Just as so much of Ascensions’ work depends on strong community ties and outreach, so too does the African American Women’s Giving Circle define its success by the connections it makes to the organizations—and communities—it supports.
“This Grantee Partner provided the opportunity for the giving circle sisters to realize critical goals of their grant making,” Jibrell says, including, “helping stabilize a very promising, but under-resourced African American woman-led organization through significant grantmaking, but also through its connections to the resources, talents and networks of the giving circle members.”
Streeter is emboldened and optimistic about the power of this new partnership. “We haven’t had the challenge of getting people in and wanting services,” Streeter says. “It’s really been a challenge of getting the staff to support the need. You don’t know how huge this is, and how it takes Ascensions to a whole different level of what we’re trying to do. So many good things are going to come because of this.”
Ready to make more good things come as a result of working, together, to making our community stronger by investing in women and girls? Get involved in the power of giving together. Join us for our annual Leadership Luncheon on October 10!