Darlene Crider, a retired Baltimore City police officer and founder of the youth mentoring program From Young Girls to Young Ladies, laughs when she’s asked about her own children.
“I have a son who I love, but I always wanted a daughter,” says Crider, 54. “Maybe that’s why I gravitate toward young girls who are in need.”
After more than 14 years of police duty and mentoring in the Oliver community, Crider has certainly made herself known as a motherly figure to the neighborhood’s young women. With From Young Girls to Young Ladies, she’s worked with scores of middle- and high-school students. She says in Oliver and across the city, too many girls grow up with few positive role models and low self-esteem.
“Their attitudes get shaped by what’s on TV and in the media,” she says. “Young girls want to dress certain ways and act disrespectful. Sometimes I just need to tell them that they’re beautiful, they’re strong, smart and that welfare doesn’t have to be a way of life.”
Oliver is one of the most at-risk communities in the city with high rates of teen pregnancy, crime and blighted properties. During her police tenure, Crider says she observed countless Oliver families and children being overwhelmed by daily challenges in the community, but girls especially seemed to have few resources. Now, she’s recruiting fellow retired female law enforcement officers to join Sisters-In-Law, an extension of From Young Girls to Young Ladies that will work to create a safe, positive learning environment for young women in Oliver.
Sisters-In-Law mentors will work with mentees to develop life skills such as buying and cooking healthy food, etiquette and conflict resolution, career exploration and study skills. A computer room with Internet access helps participants with job searches and homework. And by doing chores or reaching milestones, girls in the program can earn credits to purchase new clothing as well as donated clothing and shoes.
The impact on Oliver’s girls is evident, she says.
“We’ve been in operation for a year and I can see the changes already,” Crider says. “My bullies who used to fight once a week, now they fight once a month. Now, that might not mean much to people on the outside, but it means a lot to me.”
Crider says the OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship will make Sisters-In-Law, which currently operates out of space provided by Zion Baptist Church, more comprehensive and more responsive to girls’ needs. She anticipates eventually moving to a location that better suits increased enrollment and days of operation.
“I was once asked why I only had 15 girls [in the program],” Crider says. “It’s because of the location. Just having a space isn’t enough when we need to teach basic life skills. We need a kitchen; we need a pantry; we need closet space. The fellowship gets us closer to that goal.”
Crider also hopes to leverage the fellowship to reach more potential mentors and possibly expand to multiple locations.
“In two years, I want to be able to say that there’s an East Baltimore Sisters-In-Law and a West Baltimore Sisters-In-Law,” she says. “There’s so much out there already for boys, but I want to do something positive for our girls.”
The Sisters-In-Law mission to help girls with life skills might seem small, but Crider says you don’t have to go big to make a change.
“People say little things like etiquette and setting the table aren’t important,” she says. “They are important. They’re part of living right. You clean the whole table, not just your place.”