By: Denise M. Champagne//March 18, 2014
By: Denise M. Champagne//March 18, 2014//
Danielle Ashton’s first memories of her father are behind bars.
Her father was incarcerated from the time she was an infant until she was about 10 years old. Ashton said as a child she would make up stories, creating events and things they had done together.
Along the way, she learned that children of incarcerated parents have a greater chance of becoming involved in crime and going to prison themselves. She set out to break that cycle — not only for herself, but as many children as she can reach.
Now a junior at Nazareth College, Ashton and Alyson Durant, who are majoring in social work, are partnering on a project called “Voices of Youth: Parental Incarceration.” It is one of six “Commitments to Action” by Nazareth students that will be presented this weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative University, hosted by former President Bill Clinton and his family at Arizona State University.
More than $750,000 is available to fund projects. More than 1,000 colleges students from more than 300 universities in all 50 states and 80 different counties will meet to discuss ways to improve the world.
Ashton and Durant, along with nine fellow Nazareth students, were recognized Monday by college President Daan Braveman and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport.
“This is our future and we’re in good hands,” Braveman said.
“I’m terribly impressed,” Slaughter said after the 11 students took turns discussing their projects. “You don’t need any advice from me. I’ve never seen more succinct presentations.”
Nazareth College just joined the Clinton Global Initiative University network last fall. Commitments to Action, a unique feature of the CGI U model, are new, specific, measurable initiatives that address global challenges in five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.
Braveman said Nazareth College is one of a few colleges in New York state invited to participate in the CGI U, launched in 2007 to expand the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative to students.
CGI, founded by Clinton in 2005, is a nonpartisan organization that annually brings together global leaders in the fall to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI University challenges college students to address global issues with practical, innovative solutions.
Ashton, a native of New York City who now calls the town of Cicero in Onondaga County home, said she eventually stopped visiting her father and was adopted as a teenager by her own choice.
Ashton said she was resilient and decided she was going to be different from the children of incarcerated parents; she was not going to be a statistic. She focused on sports and academics, making her way to Nazareth College where she met Durant, who is from Buffalo.
Durant is heavily involved in working with youth, particularly the Girl Scouts of Western New York. She and Ashton will first try to reach girls through that organization in the hopes of reducing risk and promoting greater outcomes.
“We all know that parental incarceration creates a lot of problems for families,” Durant said. “Youth are often hit the hardest.”
The women hope to empower the children of incarcerated parents by promoting healthy life skills, educational aspirations and positive self-value. Their proposal also calls for reducing the risk of stigmatization, criminal offenses and future incarceration. The commitment will work with Nazareth College Community Youth Development and other community organizations to cultivate and deliver effective workshops.
Helping Durant and Ashton are their advisors: Estella Norwood Evans and Marie Watkins, professors in Nazareth’s social work program.
Ashton said they will also listen to the girls and be advocates on their behalf. The hope is to create a sustainable program adaptable to boys and girls from kindergarten until they graduate high school or receive an equivalency diploma.
“It’s a very vulnerable population,” Braveman said. “There is a lot of impact on the children left behind when a parent is incarcerated.”
Braveman also noted having six ideas selected from one college is an extremely high number.
“The college is very proud,” he said. “We make differences in the Nazareth students’ lives and they make a different in the lives of the people around them.”
Slaughter said she was extremely proud of all the students and thanked them for caring about the world.
Slaughter said she knew Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.
“To watch that mind of his work,” she said. “As he is talking, he has the next paragraph in mind.”
Slaughter said a little known fact about Hillary Clinton is that when she was first lady of Arkansas, she was one of the nation’s Top 100 lawyers. Slaughter praised the things Hillary Clinton did for education in Arkansas and said Chelsea Clinton also has great gifts to bring.
“If you were one of my children, I couldn’t be more proud,” Slaughter told those in the group.
The other five projects are:
• Supporting Safe Birthing Practices in Panrieng, South Sudan: By Kumba Tachequee, Kaelen Austin and Jacqueline Lindsey (social work graduate program); advisors: Jed Metzger and Carol Brownstein-Evans. The group seeks to access community resources and form a partnership in Rochester with the South Sudan Village Care project to support and sustain the maternal child health clinic in Panrieng.
• Earth Step Initiative: By Nicholas Gerbino (anthropology); advisor: Yamuna Sangarasivam. This commitment to action will involve community lectures designed to educate people on the widespread effects of the consumer goods they purchase every day.
• Social Change Through Intergenerational Dialogue: By Danielle Mensing (psychology); advisor: David Steitz; an innovative movement to enhance awareness and responsiveness to issues faced by older adults and to strengthen services in long and short term health care for all present and future generations.
• Sickle the Cycle: By Omonike Oyelola, (social work); advisor: Mary Dahl Maher (nursing); to raise awareness about the chronic and debilitating effects of the genetic condition sickle cell disease in order to better educate the community about the risks affiliated with the disease.
• Yoga Empowerment Partnership: By Gina Bessing (inclusive childhood education/psychology), Olivia Harrigan (communication sciences and disorders) and Brianna Miller (music therapy and music education/psychology minor); advisors: Lynne Staropoli-Boucher, Center for Spirituality, and Cara Beslin, Mary’s Place Refugee Outreach. The group will engage with high school girls to promote health and wellness, realization of self-worth, strengthening of self-esteem and the development of self-advocacy.