Categories: News
      Date: Oct 21, 2011
     Title: Nurturing Hearts helps Erie girls stay on track

Nurturing Hearts helps Erie girls stay on track

BY DAVID BRUCE, Erie Times-News

Dominique Kafondo, Nurturing Hearts StudentDominique Kafando struggled to stay in school just 12 months ago.  The Central Career and Technical School student had D's and F's on her report card, and had been assigned to Central's alternative-education school.  "I was missing a lot of classes," said Kafando, 18. "I didn't care much about school." A teacher referred Kafando to Nurturing Hearts, a local nonprofit organization that provides leadership and life skills for teenage girls.

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Kafando was less than thrilled about joining the twice-a-week, six-month program."I didn't want to go at first," Kafando said. "I wasn't excited about school, and I certainly didn't want to do anything that required staying after school."  Then Kafando went to a meeting and met Shawnta' Pulliam, the founder of Nurturing Hearts.

Pulliam talked about her childhood, growing up in inner-city Erie. She had to help raise her brother and sister when her father was incarcerated, and later was expelled from school for fighting and poor grades. "It was like what I was going through," Kafando said.  Pulliam, 31, then told Kafando and the other girls how she turned her life around.

She went to Community Preparatory Academy, the high school division of Community Country Day School, where she graduated as valedictorian. She later went to Gannon University.  Pulliam credited mentors at Community Prep for helping boost her self-esteem and giving her reason to believe in herself.  She tried being a social worker but quickly burned out from the job.  I took every case personally," Pulliam said. "You can do that."  Later, she found work at GE Transportation but still wanted to help inner-city girls as she used to be.

In 2006, Pulliam founded Nurturing Hearts. She and a team of mentors provide workshops in leadership, self-esteem, healthy lifestyles, even etiquette.  "We get girls who are referred by the Erie School District, but also others who are referred by their parents or who learn about us from advertisements or word of mouth," Pulliam said.

The program accepts up to 35 girls for the six-month program and up to 50 for its annual three-day workshop, which begins today at UPMC Hamot Women's Hospital.  A funny thing has happened over the years. Though the program targeted inner-city black girls, Pulliam started seeing girls of all races from all over the Erie area.  What many of these girls have in common is low self-esteem and family problems, Pulliam said.

"We are seeing more girls whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs," Pulliam said. "It's hard for the girls to study in that environment. We let them know it's not their fault. We also contact the parents and refer them to other services if they are willing."

The program worked wonders with Kafando. By the end of her junior year, she was earning straight A's and was transferred out of the alternative-education program.  Now she plans on continuing her education after graduation and becoming an ultrasound technician or dental hygienist.  "Nurturing Hearts has been a big help, a real eye-opener for me," Kafando said. "They made me realize school is important and to have faith in myself."

DAVID BRUCE can be reached at 870-1736 or by e-mail.


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