University of Delaware

Beautiful Flowers

Two UD undergraduates lend open ears, hearts to young girls


8:54 a.m., Sept. 13, 2013--Each week, two University of Delaware juniors drive to the Wordsworth Residential Treatment Program at the edge of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. 

There, they meet with girls aged 12-16 and together they share original poetry, sing gospel songs, read Scripture. And listen.

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“Many of the girls come from broken homes with no lights, no food, drug addicted parents, have experienced physical and sexual abuse -- they’re pretty much fending for themselves at a young age,” said Emlyn DeGannes, or Ms. Em, a noted author, activist, entrepreneur and philanthropist who developed the Beautiful Flowers Program with the help of UD students to “offer a beacon of hope and healing touch” to the young Wordsworth residents.

UD education majors Katrina Bleeker and Rebecca Guarino, who first met Ms. Em through Shuaib Meacham, then a UD faculty member, have accompanied DeGannes for the last year on her mission of healing.

They’ve been going to Wordsworth for over a year now, and they plan to go every week until they graduate to serve as constants in the lives of young girls who have never had that luxury.

“When we go to see the girls, we do not hold anything back from them. I think that’s what they love,” said DeGannes. “We laugh, sometimes we cry, we sing -- it’s really an experience,”

DeGannes first came to UD six years ago to share her work with one of Meacham’s education classes. She spoke about her book, Letters to Ms. Em, and how anyone can make a difference in someone’s life. 

“DeGannes’ work puts a human face on all the statistics and stereotypes people may have about young, incarcerated women,” said Carol Henderson, chair of the Department of Black American Studies. “And her work with our UD students gives them a unique discovery learning experience outside of the classroom. It gives them the opportunity to make a difference in the life of another human being.”

The student volunteers cherish this experience.

“Our end goal is to eventually have a house or a building with colorful walls where the girls can come when they leave Wordsworth,” said Guarino.

She and Bleeker plan to work closely with the program even after graduation, with hopes to establish a non-profit organization that will raise money to help the girls get back on their feet after leaving the treatment facility, publish a book featuring original poetry and working to increasing funding for the non-profit organization.

A blog has been established where people can go to learn about, and also how to become involved with, the Beautiful Flowers project.

Article by Gregory Holt

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