From Mentoring to School Advocacy, These Four Women Are Committed to Making a Difference

Jocelyn Gainers

President and CEO, the Family Recovery Program, Inc.

Her Mission : Launched by Jocelyn in 2011 as a nonprofit, the program aims to reunite families by offering specialized programs for parents who are recovering from substance abuse. In September 2016, the Family Recovery Program, Inc. added a residential component: 23 apartments at the Sage Center in East Baltimore where families can live together while parents complete counseling, domestic violence education, relapse prevention, job readiness and more.

“Through intensive case management, we offer a seamless transition—an affordable place where families can stay for the longer term while parents really work toward changing their lives,” Jocelyn says.

What’s Most Fulfilling: “Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces.”

Many kids come to Sage Center having been in foster care for a year or more, and some are highly traumatized.

“They look frightened. They have no trust,” she says. “We make it a part of our day to extend love and warmth to them and to model good parenting. At first, there are no smiles. Then one day you look around and the kids are outside running on the playground. They’re smiling. They’re happy. They rush to my office after school to tell me about their day.”

Life Lesson for Her Daughter: “To accept people for who they are and know that every person has value and deserves to be listened to and cared for. My daughter, Brittany, is 29 now, and she works at Morgan Stanley. But she can talk to anybody about anything. And she’s involved in outreach, too. You’ll find her under I-83, distributing socks and hats to the people living there who are homeless.”

Yara Cheikh

Parent Advocate, Baltimore County Public Schools

Her Mission: Over the last 12 years, the mother of four has advocated on behalf of the county’s schoolchildren, teachers, and staff “to ensure they have what they need to be successful.” At the start, Yara focused on addressing overcapacity, successfully lobbying for the new West Towson Elementary and an addition to Hampton Elementary School. Then she took on the aging infrastructure at Dulaney High School, where politicians first looked to renovation as the answer, stirring community ire.

“Using data from state and county reports, we showed that replacing the school with a new building would be the better long-term solution from an economic perspective,” Yara says. “We were able to stop that renovation in 2016 based on facts and a determined community.”

What’s Most Fulfilling: “Working toward tangible solutions is immensely rewarding. When someone comes to you with a problem at their school, and you can show them an avenue toward a solution—when you can empower them to ask for what they need—that’s an incredible gift, and I love it.”

Life Lesson for Her Kids: “Don’t take no for an answer, and be involved in your community. Finding solutions may take time and effort, but most everything worthwhile does.”

When someone comes to you with a problem at their school, and you can show them an avenue toward a solution … that’s an incredible gift, and I love it.”


Laura Sinche

Managing Director, Towson University’s FoodShare

Her Mission: Launched in fall 2016, FoodShare is a program for Towson University students, faculty and staff who find themselves in need of food and personal items.

“I had worked with numerous students in my ministry who were experiencing food insecurity, and I knew we had a need on campus,” says Laura, a pastor who heads The Table: a Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at TU.

FoodShare first opened in the basement of the Catholic Ministry Center and last August moved on campus to the lower level of the Health and Counseling Center.

“We’ve had more than 300 visits since then—primarily students but also some staff,” she says. “We find students needing toiletries as much as food; toilet paper and laundry detergent are the most requested.” 

What’s Most Fulfilling: “Students come for a range of reasons. Some are supporting their families at home because a parent is out of work. Some live in housing that requires so much money they don’t have anything left over for food. Some students have health issues and need to eat specific foods,” Laura says. “This has been a grassroots effort, and while I manage the day-to-day operations, I work with some wonderful people: the Office of Sustainability, the Office of Civic Engagement, plus student groups and many others. It’s been pretty amazing to watch it all come together.”

Life Lesson for Her Daughter: “We share so that everybody has enough. That’s part of who we are as Christian people and also who we are as human people who share this Earth together.”

“We find students needing toiletries as much as food; toilet paper and laundry detergent are the most requested.” 

Heather Harvison

Founder and Executive Director, Sisters Circle

Her Mission: Sisters Circle, which begin in 2000, provides long-term mentoring to foster meaningful and sustainable change in the lives of young girls living in Baltimore.

“At the time I started Sisters Circle, the national average for mentoring a student was one year,” Heather says. “We knew that to see lasting change and to break the cycle of poverty, we needed to be or have a long-term presence in girls’ lives.”

Volunteer mentors are matched with students in sixth grade, and the relationship continues through middle and high school—and often beyond.

What’s Most Fulfilling: “We’ve created a space for women and girls of different ages and backgrounds to listen and learn from one another. It’s really powerful to see that exchange take place,” Heather says.

Such mentoring has proven effective: 98 percent of girls mentored through Sisters Circle graduate from high school (the remaining 2 percent earned their GEDs) and 90 percent are in or have graduated from college or an alternative training program. Heather herself as had two mentees; she notes proudly that one is now a corporate paralegal, and the other works in human resources at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

Life Lesson for Her Son: “Sometimes there is so much need in this world, and it is so overwhelming that we don’t know what to do or where to start, so we become paralyzed. The important thing is just to start somewhere.”