For the fifth consecutive year, Andrea Moore Johnson, LICSW, and Ann Brackett will lead their workshop series “Surviving and Thriving” at the Brookline Community Mental Health Center. Johnson is a clinical social worker on staff at the Brookline Community Mental Health Center, while Brackett is a longtime educator and program evaluator who works as a consultant and volunteer with the Center.

“Surviving and Thriving” is free for low-income women. The goal is to bring women of different backgrounds together and teach them how to improve their day-to-day life by practicing positive self-talk, assertiveness, small steps, and other skills.

Johnson and Brackett adapted “Surviving and Thriving” from Abby Seixas’s guide “Finding The Deep River Within” to meet the needs of the attendees of their workshop. During the workshop, participants learn how to utilize skills that can lead to accomplishing personal goals like going back to college, applying for a job, or taking charge of their health.

In September 2014, based on the overwhelming success of the “Surviving and Thriving” workshop series, Brackett and Johnson began a new initiative called “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline.” This ambitious yearlong program is comprised of over 50 influential local organizations and individuals and “Surviving and Thriving” alumni.

Women and Girls Thriving

The goal of  “Women and Girl’s Thriving in Brookline” is to assess and rectify the needs of low-income women and girls in the Brookline community. As Brackett puts it, “We give woman in the community a greater opportunity to have a voice, take a leadership role and help others.”

Johnson added, “We developed a beginning model and eventually we got funding from the Brookline Community Foundation and the Chang Fund for Single Women.  We had an idea from our research and some of our own experiences as women, as to what might be helpful to learn in a group setting.”

A key element of the “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline” working model is focused, need-based working groups. Groups include Healthy Food and Lifestyle, Access and Information Sharing, and Education/Training and Employment. Each group meets a couple of times a month to discuss community needs and uncover available opportunities in Brookline. Each working group then plans and creates events, workshops or educational materials. Once a working group comes up with an initiative, they can apply for a Spotlight Grant from Brookline Community Foundation to fund the project, which are usually about one thousand dollars.

One Spotlight Grant funded a workshop called the “Healing and Thriving Community Arts Group,” a collaboration with the Brookline Community Mental Health Center and the Brookline Arts Center. During a period of 10 meetings, the “Healing and Thriving Community Arts” program has women telling their stories through art.

“It’s evolving as they go on,” Johnson says. “There’s probably going to be some sort of a community display that comes out of it.”

A leadership team made up of two people from each working group, plus people from key organizations who are involved in the Brookline community, oversees “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline.” There are approximately twenty people currently on the leadership team

The Community Resource Guide

In an effort to make resources more accessible to community members, “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline” Access and Information Sharing working group is working with the Brookline Health Department and the Brookline Interactive Group to form The Community Resource Guide. Originally intended to help women and girls in Brookline, it has expanded in scope to benefit Brookline as a whole. “It’s been in the making for a year,” Brackett said.

The Community Resource Guide will be available in print and online. “This didn’t exist before, so that’s really important,” Brackett added.

Women and Girls Looking Forward

While most of the activities in “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline” are for women in their late 20s to mid-60s, the project is planning ways to reach younger women, teenagers, and girls in the community. The original “Surviving and Thriving” workshop might be adapted for girls in the coming year.

“It was always in our minds to do programs for girls as well, and that really hasn’t happened in this past year, because this was all that we could do,” Brackett said. “But that’s certainly in the plan.”

You can support programs like “Surviving and Thriving” and “Women and Girls Thriving in Brookline” by making a donation to the Brookline Community Mental Health Center. You can also become a BCMHC volunteer.

—By Ellen Parmar