The SoulFisher Ministries is a 2015, 2018, and 2019 SOS Grantee. We interviewed Shawntelle L. Fisher, Founder and Chief Executive Officer about how the organization continues to grow, evolve, and serve the community with the help of our grants. We hope you are as inspired by Ms. Fisher's words as we are.
How would you describe your organization’s mission, in one or a few sentences?
Our mission is to respond to the needs of youth with incarcerated parents and to promote restorative justice for those who are currently or formerly incarcerated.
Briefly discuss your organization’s history in the community.
TSM has been serving the St. Louis community since 2014. In partnership with the Riverview Gardens School District, we’ve been providing after school tutoring in math, reading, and ELA for students in grades K-8. We’ve also been able to supplement our tutoring with meaningful enrichment opportunities, thanks to the many other organizations that support our work. We also partner with the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Evaluation Center at Brown School of Social Work to provide quality re-entry programs and services for incarcerated women. The Adult General Academic Program of Education (AGAPE) aims to be impactful, in not only helping these women re-enter society but also helping them transform their lives.
What changes or new developments are in store for the coming year?
COVID-19 has dramatically changed our operations, particularly when it comes to how we deliver our services. Much of what we do has shifted to a virtual platform. However, we are still committed to the quality of service that our clients and students have grown accustomed to, so we are working to make sure that quality and impact are at the forefront of all of our efforts – even if our programs and services are being delivered in a new way.
What are your current goals as an organization and/or in what areas would you like to grow?
We want to continue to have a meaningful impact in the St. Louis community. In particular, we’d like to increase our capacity to serve more individuals and improve the sustainability of our programming.
How will/has SOS funding assisted you in serving the community?
SOS funding has not only directly supported our programs in the community but also has been highly instrumental in our ability to secure other funding that allows us to expand our reach and build impact.
In a paragraph or so, give us an example of someone who has been personally touched by your organization, perhaps in a life-changing way. (Feel free to use pseudonyms to protect the person’s privacy.)
Even though she desperately wanted to change for the better, Lori kept finding herself going down the same road. And the difficulties of raising a child alone only added to the mental strain.
“I was ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul,'” she recalls. “I was using drugs and drinking. Anything to numb the pain.”
Thankfully, life today looks far different for Lori. And that change came when she found her way to The SoulFisher Ministries.
She says, “Many women come home (from prison or jail) with nothing. No clothes, no shoes. Shawntelle helped me get a new apartment and gave me furniture with the tags still on it. It was beyond anything I’ve ever had. It’s incredible.”
Because Lori is an older woman, she faced unique reentry challenges, particularly when it came to rejoining the workforce.
However, since joining the AGAPE program, she has been attending classes and employer panels, and open houses. And with those, she has found new hope.
After attending her first employer panel and beginning her job search, Lori realized she was lacking many of the skills (both hard and soft) that employers are looking for. But she didn’t let that realization discourage her.
Instead, she shared her concerns with her case manager, who then assisted her in finding assessments that are designed to increase hard skills.
Lori also used The SoulFisher Ministries’ volunteer requirement as an opportunity to build more soft skills – for example, improving her ability to work as part of a team and building her capacity to add value to a company.
Lori now feels confident as she continues her job search, and has several employment opportunities within reach.
What has changed for your organization since you first received SOS funding?
The most significant change we have seen is in our ability to measure outcomes and secure major funding.
Our biggest challenge has been in trying to get our footprint in the St. Louis community. It is difficult for a new business or organization to find that toehold because there are already so many amazing organizations doing great work.
A special thanks to Shawntelle Fisher for participating in this Q & A.
Profile prepared by Jennifer Mann of 618 Creative. Photos by Jelisa Bembry, Outreach Director for The SoulFisher Ministries.