New Haven ‘Perfect Blend’ Program Offers Leadership Training, Mentoring For Girls
After viewing the ball on national TV in 2006, which was then a three-day celebration held by Winfrey honoring 25 African-American women in art, entertainment and civil rights, Sykes picked up the baton and thought it would be beneficial to create a similar model in the city.
“We wanted to bring this concept to our community by connecting young women with leadership and to show support for older professional women as a way to support young girls and help them plan for their career goals,” said Sykes, 61, a transition service coordinator for Pathways Academy in East Haven.
“Learning people’s life history and why they do what they do and to be inspired and passionate about what they do — we thought it would benefit young girls of color,” she said. “It also gives us an opportunity to honor professional women who have opened the door and have been pioneers for us.”
The Perfect Blend is a non-profit organization, established in 2007 with the aim of mentoring young girls in middle and high schools from urban communities. The organization’s Youth Leadership Program is a key component of Sykes’ work and is designed to promote development of leadership skills through twice-a-month workshops, projects, and activities for empowering young leaders from surrounding towns.
Some of the objectives of the program also are geared towards increasing community awareness, empowering youth through civic engagement and increasing awareness of multi-generational contributions and challenges.
Each aspect of the program challenges young girls to innovate, reflect and share dialogue about the role of leadership and the team culture that a leader creates, according to the organization’s website. The program runs for from September though May.
Program builds character back to top
Metropolitan Business Academy senior Ijan Whitaker said the program has made her a better leader in her community.
“The experience has been great. The program builds a lot of character, and helps you deal with different life situations,” said Whitaker, 17, who will attend Central Connecticut State University in the fall.
Whitaker, who has been in the program for four years, is a peer leader at her school and a co-captain of an area cheerleading team.
“It has helped me build self-esteem and confidence,” she said. “You have to talk to a lot of people in big crowds, I’ve seen myself grow from when I started in program up until now.”
In 2009 the organization created a scholarship program to assist high school girls to further their education goals.
“We’ve offer a support system when they leave and go off to college. We stay in touch with them their first year, they also can apply for a supporting scholarship if they complete the program,” said Sykes, who has been working with youth for more than 34 years.
Amber Lane, 17 said the networking has been a big part of the program for her.
“’I’ve met a lot of successful black women and they’ve all said as a common theme, that I need to advocate for myself as a black female,” said Lane, who will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall.
In her spare time, Lane, who’s a senior at Amistad High School, is a cheerleader and is a freshman math tutor.
“The networking and meeting people who can help me down the road, has been great,” she said.
Sykes said she wanted to expose young girls to different experiences.
“We are planning and helping them make positive decision about their future; we’re constantly connecting women together,” said Sykes.
Board member Jennifer Tillman said one of the pivotal things has been college visits for participants.
“They really enjoyed the college tours and getting out there knowing that there is more to New Haven and even a whole life outside of here,” said Tillman, who has been a social worker for more than 30 years.
“We always look at famous people and not recognizing that there are people in our community holding these roles,” she said. “They don’t have to look at Beyonce, but, they can look at the common people in the community who have excelled.”