Space of Her Own was established in 2002 through the 18th District Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court Service Unit (CSU) of the City of Alexandria as a way to curb the increase in juvenile delinquency in the City, particularly of children from low-income households. Linda Odell, Director of Crime Prevention Programs for the CSU, knew that a program for high risk girls needed to include one-on-one mentoring and also be highly engaging. An informal survey of a few hundred Alexandria middle school aged-girls indicated that 97% were interested in art. At the time, the HGTV program Trading Spaces was hugely popular and a frequent conversation piece among women at parties Linda attended. When she read an article about Oprah Winfrey teaming up with designer Todd Oldham and renovating the bedrooms of two wealthy suburban girls, Linda thought that less fortunate girls in Alexandria would love to have their rooms renovated in the same style – and the concept for Space of Her Own was born.
Linda approached multiple nonprofits in Alexandria, but it wasn’t until Linda connected with Alice Merrill, then employed at The Art League, that she found a willing and enthusiastic partner. The two began collaborating with The Art League to design and build a program that would inspire and engage youth in visual arts and essential life skills lessons. Initially an intervention program, teenage girls aged 15-16 were referred from the Alexandria Court Service Unit. Over the years, experimenting with the SOHO program model revealed that mentors were better able to bond with mentees of younger ages. As a result, Space of Her Own transitioned into preventative mentoring, and is currently serving 5th grade girls.
In 2013, the City of Alexandria identified the need to increase access to opportunities for social and emotional development for high-risk youth.(1) In response, SOHO expanded its reach to involve 7 schools in Virginia and established a brother program, Space of His Own. SOHO currently runs two girls’ programs and a boy’s program in Alexandria and 1 girl’s program in Arlington.
Each Space of Her Own program assists 12 girls from local schools. SOHO’s creative mentoring helps close the achievement gap by addressing cultural challenges, economic disparity and other risk factors. SOHO has served 239 girls and boys since the program’s inception, and in the past 5 years, 96% of SOHO youth have not become involved in the juvenile court system.
SOHO has evolved its curriculum in response to the newest research from the City of Alexandria. SOHO currently serves youth by:
- Supporting social, emotional and intellectual growth
- Creating caring networks of positive adults and peers
- Fostering a sense of community
- Nurturing cultural connections and awareness of diversity
- Exposing youth to new ideas and opportunities
- Increasing youth civic engagement and responsibility
- Exposing youth to projects that facilitate creative expression and inspire confidence
- Helping develop essential life skills such as goal-setting, planning and decision-making
- Providing ongoing support for mentor matches
Alexandria Children & Youth Master Plan 2014, p. 12.
2001 City of Alexandria identifies a need for mentoring and arts programs for youth in Alexandria, Virginia in Developmental Assets Survey
2002 SOHO-Old Town is founded in a partnership between City of Alexandria’s Juvenile Court Service Unit & The Art League
2003 SOHO is featured in Washington Post and on WAMU 88.5
2004 SOHO receives Leadership Fairfax Northern Virginia Community Partnership Award for City of Alexandria Court Service Unit and The Art League
- SOHO Sisterhood developed for program graduates to maintain circle of support during middle school years
- The book, Healing the Inner City Child: Creative Art Therapies with At-Risk Youth, includes a chapter about Space of Her Own
- SOHO West End program begins. The program is volunteer-run on a shoestring budget
- Visual Arts Center of Richmond develops its own version of SOHO
- SOHO wins Virginia Juvenile Justice Association Community Service Award and is semifinalist for US President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Coming Up Taller Award
- SOHO is recognized as Coming Up Taller Award Finalist by the US President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities
- Alexandria Commission for Women’s Salute to Women Making a Difference Award goes to Alice Merrill and Linda Odell
- SOHO umbrella organization developed with support from Alexandria’s City Attorney, City Manager & Court Service Unit and The Art League: SOHO -Space of Her Own, Inc. attains 501c3 status with goals to foster mentor relationships beyond the initial program year and expand to reach girls in other communities
- Alexandria NAACP gives SOHO Community Service Award
- SOHO earns recognition from Harvard University’s Innovations in America Government Awards Program as a “Bright Idea”
- SOHO’s co-founders, Linda Odell & Alice Merrill, recognized as Living Legends of Alexandria
- Space of Her Own, Inc. receives Partner in Education Award from Alexandria City Public Schools
- SOHO is featured in National Education Association Magazine as part of anti-bullying campaign
- SOHO’s director receives scholarship to Georgetown University’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program
- SOHO is awarded grant from ACT for Alexandria to fund strategic planning consultant
- SOHO wins free marketing campaign from AD2DC, including new website and marketing videos
- SOHO is identified in City of Alexandria’s recognition as one of 100 Best Communities for Young People
- Space of Her Own, Inc. receives second Partner in Education Award from Alexandria City Public Schools
- SOHO is accepted as member of Virginia Mentoring Partnership
- SOHO is awarded a financial improvement grant ACT and is partnered with a national accounting firm that specializes in nonprofits
- SOHO is awarded three-year, full-time AmeriCorps VISTA grant via Virginia Mentoring Partnership
- SOHO director is awarded participation in ACT’s Project LEAD to promote leadership development
- SOHO partners with Alexandria’s Juvenile Court Service Unit and Seaport Foundation to pilot Space of His Own for boys during the 2013-2014 school year
- SOHO is awarded funding from ACT to work with fund development consultant
- SOHO partners with Arlington Public Schools to develop Arlington SOHO at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School
- Amy Creed, Board President, receives Making a Difference Award from the Alexandria Commission for Women
- SOHO after school programs begin the school year for students of Jefferson- Houston, Hoffman-Boston, Maury, Mt. Vernon
- SOHO publishes its own life skills curriculum and partners with the Arlington Community Foundation and Marymount University to evaluate the curriculum
- Space of Her Own Inc. completed a Quality-Based Membership improvement process, evaluated by Boston and Portland State Universities, and received full membership with the Virginia Mentoring Partnership
- SOHO maintains long-term partnership with The Art League, which provides photography and clay animation classes.
- Visual Art Center of Richmond changes their SOHO program name to “Make Space”
- SOHO publishes a 6-project Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math Curriculum (STEAM)
- Space of Her Own, Inc. was awarded full membership with the Virginia Mentoring Partnership after participating in a national Quality Based Mentoring improvement project, based on best practices as outlined by MENTOR—The National Mentoring Partnership. Funded by the MacArthur Foundation and conducted by Brown University, SOHO is one of only 10 mentor programs in Virginia to have successfully completed this process.
- SOHO establish the SOHO Club as a 5th official program with a paid program manager to support long-term mentor mentee relationships and ongoing STEAM education, career exploration and community service.
- A curriculum development specialist worked with volunteer engineers, carpenters, teachers and architects to develop 6 new STEAM Anchor projects for SOHO, which include building and wiring a lamp that doubles as a bookend, making a bookshelf with a recycled palette, creating a voice-alarmed lock-box for valuables, making a self-portrait with found objects, designing and building a shadow box and making a glow-in-the dark motivational wall hanging.
- Experts from Marymount University evaluated our life skills curriculum and suggested improvements to our evaluation measures. The Chicago School of Psychology evaluated and enhanced our pre and post-tests.
- An AmeriCorps VISTA staff member was awarded to SOHO by the Virginia Mentoring Partnership and supported mentor recruitment, screening and training, and also helped improve organization policies and procedures.