Interview with Shirley Edgerton, 2013 Beneficiary

Shirley Edgerton
Shirley Edgerton

Shirley Edgerton is an amazing area activist on many fronts, and WAM Theatre was pleased to support her Rights of Passage and Empowerment Program (ROPE) with funds raised by our 2013 production of Emilie: La Marquese de Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight. The ROPE program is an multicultural empowerment organization for middle and high school girls with a strong focus on girls of color. The initiative is designed to celebrate and honor the entry of adolescent girls into womanhood; and to provide them with skills and knowledge to be successful, independent and responsible women. Lastly it supports  participants in discovering their inner voice and all components of personal development.

WAM Theatre: We often see ROPE girls at our WAM productions. How are things going for the program now?

Shirley Edgerton: ROPE is going very well. We are growing in terms of our relationships with other organizations and are now able to develop collaborations which benefit our girls in many ways. Right now, for instance, we have two interns working with the Berkshire Theatre Group at the Colonial Theatre, and six young women acting as mentors to girls in STEM programs at Flying Cloud Institute in New Marlborough. It is exciting to be able to provide such empowering opportunities for our participants.

WAM: We are always delighted to hear that our support has played a part in helping a worthwhile program grow.

Check presentation to ROPE at the closing performance of Emilie.
Check presentation to ROPE at the closing performance of Emilie.

Shirley: We didn’t just get a check from WAM, we got an ongoing relationship. Our girls love seeing your great productions, like Emilie… and In Darfur. Your monetary gift enabled us to go on our college tour when we received it, for which we are eternally grateful. It is important to have the girls travel to historically black colleges and universities where the students and administrators reflect who they are and who look like them. It gives them hope for their futures.

WAM: What colleges did you visit?

Shirley: We visited several local schools, and then went to Lincoln University and Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, then we stopped in New York City and visited Herbert H. Lehman College and Fordham University.

WAM: A diverse group of schools. How many girls are involved with ROPE now?

Shirley: We have twenty girls enrolled now, after starting with 15, and we’ve had such a wonderful response from the community and recommendations from young women we can benefit from area schools Most of our work is Pittsfield based because of transportation issues, but the girls working at Flying Cloud live in South County. We all come together to participate in our annual retreat and in our training program at BCC. There are structured times for interaction.

WAM: Are of the ROPE alumnae attending college now?

Shirley: College isn’t a common topic of discussion with most of the girls we work with, so we try to open them up to that possibility. We’ve been very fortunate and so far all our girls have graduated high school, which is an important milestones. More than 85% have gone on to college, and none of them are mothers yet. We had seven girls graduate high school in 2014, and all of them were accepted to colleges and all attended. They are at a wide variety of schools, including one at Williams College. We are very proud of them.

WAM: As are we!

Shirley: Our girls are involved in challenging situations, and we are so proud that they are making better decisions and plans for the future. The saddest thing to see is a 16 year old thinking she has no future because she has no idea what’s out there in the world and doesn’t recognize her talents and abilities. We teach our girls to find their voice and to stand up for themselves and for causes they believe in. We have an incredible group of women who work with our girls, they model lives as professional, creative women who have grappled with similar challenges and still achieved success as human beings.

WAM: You traveled to Ghana last summer. Any plans for more travel in your future?

Shirley: As a matter of fact, I connected with Susie Weekes at In Darfur and we are planning to take the girls to visit your 2014 WAM Beneficiary, Mother of Peace Orphanage in Illovo South Africa, during the February school vacation week in 2016! I went there with Susie last winter and it was such a positive and enriching experience, just amazing. Illovo is a beautiful place, very peaceful, and the kids there are great and inquisitive. So we have created an exchange program, our girls will go over there in February and do some physical service work; and then some girls from Illovo will come here. So my work now is raising money for that trip and preparing the girls to travel internationally.

WAM: Wow! What a great synergy of WAM Beneficiaries! We look forward to staying in touch with you all as plans progress and, of course, greeting the Illovo girls when they come to the Berkshires.

Shirley: We are so glad that WAM is here and are a part of the Village for our girls.