There are many meaningful connections between Washington University and local non-profit agencies making a difference in St. Louis. Last month, we shared highlights from our first Thrive pop-up on-campus service project events. Read about how we partnered with LifeWise StL to help provide local children with “Smile Kits”, supporting healthy, bright smiles for children in need. This month, we’re highlighting another local United Way agency, The SoulFisher Ministries. Read how we’re making an impact below, and join us by donating today.
DeNyne Carter, a graduate student at WashU’s Brown School of Social Work, knows firsthand how incarceration impacts individuals, families and communities. Carter, whose father was incarcerated most of her childhood, is currently pursuing her master’s degree in social work and completing her practicum at The SoulFisher Ministries, a St. Louis non-profit that provides support to children with incarcerated parents as well as programming for women currently or formerly incarcerated.
Carter found her way to The SoulFisher Ministries after the Founder and CEO, Shawntelle Fisher, MSW/MDiv, also a graduate of the Brown School and an Olin Fellow alum, shared the organization’s vision and successes during a class.
“At that moment, I knew The SoulFisher Ministries was where I belonged,” Carter said. “[Shawntelle] does amazing work, is so passionate, and I am convinced that everyone who knows her loves her. SoulFisher’s vision is to re-empower women and give them better opportunities. That is why I am proud to be a part of this team.”
Completing her practicum with The SoulFisher Ministries has provided invaluable experience for Carter. She’s assisting with program coordination and educational classes for the women in the program as well as helping with case management, and more. Not only has Carter found intrinsic value for herself, her education and future profession, but for helping and providing support to others in the St. Louis community. As Carter would tell you, seeing the women succeed and find their own strength has been extremely rewarding
“Engaging in community service activities is one of the most important things you can do in this field,” Carter said. “It is not enough to read a book or sit in a classroom. Learn from people with real-life experiences and get a first-hand account of their needs to understand what truly matters.”
The SoulFisher Ministries was founded as a way to break the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline and provide resources for those who have been incarcerated. It offers two programs: one dedicated to helping youth with incarcerated parents and the other for women who have recently been released from prison.
The number of incarcerated women in the U.S. has continued to rise over the past four decades. Missouri incarcerates 105 out of every 100,000 women while the national average is only 61 per 100,000 women (Prison Policy Initiative, 2015; Sentencing Project, 2019). That translates to 105 women who could be an influential and positive leader in someone’s life: a mother, guardian, sister, aunt, etc. The SoulFisher Ministries is one non-profit organization founded to provide programming and resources for these women and affected children in our region.
“After cycling in and out of prison for 20 years, I had to allow God to transform me from the person I had become into the person He created me to be,” Fisher, founder and CEO of The SoulFisher Ministries, said. “That led me back to college and on the path of restoration I now find myself on. On this path, I am privileged to serve students who have an incarcerated parent and women involved in the criminal justice system as we support their academic, social, and emotional well-being. Each day we are reminded of our motto: Restoration is Possible, Success is Real!”
Carter, now with real-world experience knows how important The SoulFisher Ministries is in the community and the impact it has on the women in the program as well as volunteers. Their organization, which includes volunteers, relies on civic engagement and donations for part of their support.
“These two programs really show how dedicated Ms. Fisher and her organization is to positive community impact,” Carter said. “I think the most rewarding part is that we truly care about empowering those within the community to be their best selves.”
WashU launched Caring for the Community efforts in fall 2021 to provide employees with opportunities to support the St. Louis region. Part of our efforts involve the United Way of Greater St. Louis, of which The SoulFisher Ministries is an agency partner and holds a special connection to WashU through the Brown School’s practicum program. This graduate program provides real-world experience for students who take what they’ve learned in the classroom and in the community, and then carry it forward on their post-graduation journey. By engaging through acts of service or donations, whether as an employee or WashU student, our financial support and service time provide support that truly impacts and help those in need in the St. Louis region.
Much like many WashU employees who have expressed interest and gratitude for civic engagement and giving opportunities, Carter is also thankful for the opportunity to be involved and help those in the community. She looks forward to staying in St. Louis after graduation and plans to continue helping St. Louis youth and women that have been impacted by legal system.
“I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to share my story and current work with a United Way agency,” Carter said. “I have learned so much in my short time here, not just about working within this system, but about myself and the women within the system specifically.”
Learn more about the United Way of Greater St. Louis and consider donating today to support the more than 160 agencies they partner with in St. Louis. If you’re interested in sharing your Caring for the Community story with the WashU community, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.