By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

CAMDEN — When Andrea Sconier-LaBoo went to the home of her friend Pamela Grayson-Baltimore for lunch on one fateful day in 2008, she expected as always to have a good time, full of “laughing and discussing world events.”

Baltimore, though, had other plans for her friend and before long LaBoo joined in the vision of a mentorship program for girls in Camden — which now has become much more than a vision — the I Dare to Care Association, or ID2C.

The I Dare to Care Association provides resources to their participants (ages 7-adult) which assists them in overcoming obstacles that impede their success; empowering them to recognize the power of their voices and the value of their lives through mentoring and modeling.

I Dare to Care founder Pamela Grayson-Baltimore. Photo courtesy of I Dare to Care.

“Pam and I had worked together professionally for a few years before I Dare to Care began,” LaBoo said told Front Runner New “I always enjoyed our time together and was looking forward to a good time, laughing and discussing the world’s events.

“At the lunch, much to my surprise, when I arrived outcomes Pam with a pink three-ring binder labeled my vision notebook. She shared with me that she was led to start a mentoring program for girls in Camden City.

“At first a bit bewildered by the switch in gears, I quickly realized that this was more than just a lunch meeting, this was a ‘destiny’ meeting, those moments in time that go beyond your scope of understanding, but are inevitable,” said LaBoo, who is now president of the ID2C’s board of directors.

I Dare to Care Board president Andrea Sconier-LaBoo.

Daring to Care

Baltimore said ID2C started out as an assignment at her church on leadership management. She was instructed to create a “vision book” and a teenage mentoring group for girls called “I Dare to Care” came out of that work.

“I had been working with the Center for Family Services in Camden and developed their Community & Schools program,” Baltimore said. “I did conflict resolution groups with students at some of the elementary and middle schools. I really enjoyed the work and saw its impact.

“In 2008, I launched I Dare To Care, because I recognized the need for programming that assisted my siblings, friends and the community. I did an event that celebrated all those women who impacted my life, which included my mother, grandmother, mentors and second-grade teacher, etc. I wanted to give back what was given to me,” she continued.

Power of the Voice

Baltimore said the goal of ID2C was to assist girls in recognizing the power of their voice and the value of their lives through mentoring.

“The program within six months went from monthly, to bi-weekly to weekly sessions; all happening in my home. I was able to do programming in my home for seven years until I came home during a group session and noticed that I needed to find a bigger space.”

She said the Camden Center for Youth Development became home for ID2C for three years, allowing the program to flourish. There, the program provide services for younger ladies and started our ID2C Minis (7-12 years old) as well as began a Women’s Empowerment Group (She Cares).

Dare Academy

In August 2019, Baltimore partnered with several other Camden leaders and formed Dare Academy, located at 1656 Kaighn Avenue in the Parkside neighborhood of Camden. From there, the I Dare to Care Family Life Center on the Dare Academy Campus was formed.

“I used the physical space to work with youth, their families and the entire community,” Baltimore said. “The ID2C Family Life Center is a safe space for children and their families to grow together. Our mission is to focus on the individual and the collective needs of the family.

“The I Dare to Care Family Life Center houses the I Dare To Care Mentoring Program and, in addition, will provide a space for trauma healing workshops, child birthing classes, support groups and other services geared towards supporting youth & their families,” Baltimore added.

Sharing the Success

Baltimore said she recently created a mentoring program curriculum so that the success ID2C has had can be duplicated and implemented in cities across the country.

“We have appreciated the support from our mentors, volunteers, and community partners, and I am happy to report we began our 13th academic year in September,” she said.

Recently ID2C received a grant from the Camden Education Fund to continue their work.

“The CEF grant will help ID2C with programming and administrative costs. Because of the pandemic, we have had to become more creative in finding fun ways to stay connected to the girls and their families,” Baltimore said. “For example, we hosted a virtual cooking class where baking supplies were dropped off at the homes of each of the mentees, and we baked cookies together.

“We also hosted a virtual pizza party using the same method to reach out to the girls and their families. The 2021 Fall season has just started at the Dare Academy and we are currently meeting in person with the girls, but following all the necessary safety guidelines,” she continued.

Baltimore said having the community be so receptive to the program and its expansion has been both rewarding and heartwarming.

The Impact

“People always ask me if I get tired, and I consistently respond how this does not feel like work,” she said. “When you enjoy what you do and truly feel it is your purpose, it doesn’t feel like work, it’s just what you do, or better yet, it is just who you are.

“One of the greatest pleasures is seeing past mentees, return to ID2C as adults and work as mentors. It really becomes a ‘full circle’ moment, and I can see the cycle of change happening, where each generation stands on the last. This is how the program began, me standing on the shoulders of my mentors and now I am blessed to see the same thing happen in the lives of others,” she added.

LaBoo said she has seen improvement in the dynamics of some families that let her know the program is changing and even saving lives.

The Future

“Seeing the girls learn to value the power of their voices has just been phenomenal,” LaBoo said. “I have watched even the quietest young girl, learn to stand up, speak her opinion and think her way through a problem. Many times this is a skill that girls don’t get to practice, or better yet feel comfortable in using.

“The girls see confidence in action by working with the mentors. By being exposed to women in different professional positions, the girls gain a new insight to the possibility of what and who they can become,” she said.

Baltimore said part of her long-range dream is to see the Life Center at full capacity with staff.

“Then [we would] to move on and establish the ID2C Girls Academy that would be a school that was paperless, high tech, eco-friendly providing education and vocational certification programs from pre-k to 12 grade as well as an adult education component,” Baltimore said.

“I have learned the value of education in my life, and have seen the same value replicated in the lives of the girls mentored in ID2C. My five-year plan, not only, includes expansion of our program services to the girls, but I would love to create internships and/or work opportunities for the girls as they get older and progress in school. I envision ID2C college tours, and being financially supportive to the girls as they move towards college or their chosen professions,” she added.

Baltimore and LaBoo are seeing dreams become reality by daring to care and Camden youth and families are continuing to benefit from their efforts.

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