My friend Heather Harvison is a Semi-Finalist for the Compassionate Marylander Award. If she wins, $5,000 will be donated to her non-profit, My Sister's Circle. It only takes 5 seconds and you don't have to register. Thanks in advance!
Some more information about her:
Fifteen years ago, Heather Harvison was living a life straight out of “The Devil Wears Prada” but a move back to her hometown and a heart to heart conversation with an elementary school principal changed all that. Now she works out of a tiny home office with a staff of two, often times starting her workday in flannel pajamas. She now has 120 “sisters” who depend on her and the team of volunteers she leads like their lives depend on it—sometimes it does.
Heather Harvison is the founder and Executive Director of My Sister’s Circle a mentoring group for girls from poverty-stricken Baltimore neighborhoods. The idea for My Sister’s Circle evolved from the conversation Heather had with then-principal Irma Johnson of Dallas Nicholas Elementary School, located just off of North Avenue in Baltimore City. After being introduced to Ms. Johnson by her mother, Heather went to her and asked what she could do to help: the answer became a new career—a new life—for Heather. Principal Johnson explained that she needed someone to help her fifth grade girls. Heather recalls: “She said, ‘As they transition to middle school, we are losing them to the streets. A few years down the road, I see them pushing a baby carriage in the neighborhood.’” That was the call to action Heather needed to hear.
Ten years later, My Sister’s Circle has grown into a project bigger than anyone imagined. Over 120 girls from 5th graders to college seniors (“once a sister, always a sister”) currently comprise the program. This means there is a cast of almost 100 dedicated mentors who have made the commitment to be stable, steady and consistent forces in their mentees’ lives through middle school, high school and into college. This long-term commitment is what sets My Sister’s Circle apart from other mentoring programs and is the product of Heather’s unique vision and understanding of the needs of the girls her program supports.
Heather knows each girl personally and intimately. She can tell you the stories of which girls have lost their mothers to drug addiction and brothers to street violence, which girls have become homeless and knocked on Heather’s door for a place to stay and which girls have caused her to shed tears of pride and joy because they have beaten the odds and achieved success. Long ago, she lost count of the trips downtown at all hours of day or night, visits to a principal’s office to advocate for a student and late night calls for support or advice. Heather has maintained since day one “it’s a person, not a project”. For her, these are words to live by.
All the while, Heather has a life of her own. She’s a single mom to a 7 year old son and she raises every penny required to run this small but efficient organization which does so much for so many with so little. From her tiny home office, Heather and two staff members recruit and train mentors and volunteers, run a weekly after school program for fifth graders in two schools, put on monthly events open to all mentors and mentees, guide students and their families in the school selection process, secure scholarships when possible and connect students with opportunities for summer camp, enrichment programs and provide support and counseling in the college and financial aid processes. And this is just the job description. They also field calls around the clock from students, parents and mentors calling to share good news and bad about successes, failures and tragedies in the lives of Baltimore’s poorest children.
Heather understands that it really does take a village. Her close knit family has supported her through tough times and is very involved in her daily life and the care of her son. This concept translates directly to Heather’s philosophy of mentoring. For her, it’s a team effort and we can all use help wherever we can get it.
Heather is petite and energetic and she packs a lot of punch. When she walks into a room of mentors and mentees, she is almost like a celebrity. They all know how much they owe to Heather and how deeply she cares for each and every one of them. She has changed their lives for the better. While the influence on the girls is obvious, a less expected benefit is the reaction of the mentors. Mentor Katie Waddell says “I never realized the impact that (MSC) would have on MY world. There is no greater feeling then being a rock for a young lady who needs one.”
This holiday season, Heather opened her home once again, this time welcoming a group of the 29 students currently attending college and their mentors. With tears in her eyes, she listened intently while Imani Yasin, a current sophomore at Philadelphia University says to her: “Miss Heather, if it hadn’t been for all the opportunities you exposed me to, I can’t imagine where I would be today.”
These girls may have completed the program but they will always feel the warm embrace of My Sister’s Circle.