By Jenn Macris

Like other non-profits, businesses and organizations around the world, Touchstones is moving forward in the new normal we all face due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to loyal donors and generous foundations, our good work in education continues. We are especially pleased to announce that Touchstones was awarded, for a second year, a $20,000 grant from Anne Arundel Women Giving Together (AAWGT) to continue our weekly discussion programs in the school at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCI-W) in Jessup, MD. Our AAWGT grant liaisons, who participated in that program at the prison in March, were able to see firsthand how their philanthropic investment in Touchstones is helping women inside to change their lives.

Cindy Whittle, one of our liaisons from AAWGT, recently shared this about her own experience and thoughts on Touchstones receiving another grant for this program: “I have truly enjoyed seeing the Touchstones program in action. It was an emotional experience to see the women at Jessup embracing the discussions and committing to the process. I was touched by the level of engagement and the thoughtful way participants respond to each other. Touchstones empowers the women to make better choices, to understand other participants’ viewpoints, and is an asset for these women. I am so pleased that AAWGT understood that and voted to extend the funding for another year.”

Although the prison program will look different due to additional safety measures when programming starts again, the core teaching and learning together will remain the same. This will be true even if our discussions initially take place with Touchstones staff joining remotely. We look forward to working with the prison school staff and the women incarcerated at MCI-W with a renewed focus on strengthening skills of civil discourse, reflective thinking, and cooperative learning—skills that serve us all well. Working together, we’ll honor each other’s experiences and ideas and strive to establish the mutual trust and regard we know is required for collaborative learning.

In addition to our renewed partnership with AAWGT, Touchstones hopes to further develop existing partnerships with two other local organizations: Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM) and Seeds 4 Success. Last year, we worked with the Girl Scouts to produce a unique program at the Waxter Juvenile Detention Center for young women in Laurel, MD, which GSCM is hoping to expand. Likewise, Seeds 4 Success, which provides comprehensive, intensive, and academically focused programs to low-income youth and their families in Annapolis, has applied for a grant to bring Touchstones programs with a community engagement and civic leadership focus to afterschool programming at high schools across Anne Arundel County, MD.

The Touchstones staff is excited to move forward with each of these partnerships and continue our vital endeavors—be it in person or virtually—to foster critical thinking, collaboration, and community. For 34 years, we’ve been developing and implementing programs that yield a more inclusive, respectful, and connected society. Never before has our country been as ready as they are now to join us in these crucial endeavors.