Oakland, CA

By Noa Mohlabane

Our vision: We are a diverse network of women willing to risk being different with one another, our families, communities, workplaces and organizations. We are committed to a process that builds personal and community well-being on the strength of self-knowledge rather than the distress of oppression. Because we believe that enduring progressive change begins with, and is sustained by, persistent personal growth, we bring to people a model for personal and organizational effectiveness that replaces silence with information, assumptions with a diversity of insights, and powerlessness with a sense of personal responsibility.

Making our vision a reality: We develop community leadership and personal growth through a network of peer-led support groups. Our peer support network is open to any woman or girl who wishes to use the Sisters & Allies peer support group model to create positive change in her life and for her community. We hold monthly support group development meetings, weekend retreats and facilitator trainings as well as peer support training in collaboration with other community-based agencies.

Who we are: We have always had a directed focus on the full participation of low income women and girls. We are a diverse network that recognizes the value of working across the historical barriers of age, race, class, etc. For example, over 50% of participants at our most recent weekend retreat were women of color and 45% were low income; ages ranged from 7 to 87. Women who live in battered women's shelters and public housing are in peer support groups with staff of community-based organizations and women of wealth. Mentorship relationships emerge naturally out of these relationships in all directions. Sisters & Allies has been a grassroots, volunteer organization for the last 13 years.

How our vision grew: This work began in 1983 by and for African American women and girls addressing issues that impacted health and well-being. In 1988 the training opened to include all women and girls committed to developing themselves, strengthening their families, and building their communities. Our parent organization, Be Present, Inc., also provides leadership training for effectiveness and inclusiveness in organizational and community efforts.

Meaningful Collaboration: We provide training in peer support group development to community-based organization staff and participants in local small business development, training and welfare-to-work programs. Our most recently completed training contract consisted of twenty-five residents from Oakland Housing Authority and Enterprise Community/Empowerment Zones (ECEZ) who spoke five different languages. (We did the entire training with simultaneous translation).

The impact of our vision: Our peer-support method breaks isolation, identifies goals, overcomes obstacles, provides mutual support, develops leadership, increases self-esteem and confidence, increases English fluency for immigrants, encourages nurturing childcare, supports entrepreneurs and inspires hope - components that are particularly essential for women who are making the transition to employment and self-employment.

© 2000 by Individual Authors
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