Sharon Content spends her days working to help the lives of children in need. 2.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent, and Children of Promise provides support to this population. By pairing a licensed mental health clinic with an after school program and summer camp, Children of Promise provides comprehensive mental and emotional care to New York children who have a parent in prison. Sharon founded CPNYC with one goal in mind: protecting these children and giving them a bright future.
What kinds of programs does CPNYC provide?
I founded the organization 12 years ago with the goal of helping children of incarcerated parents. This population is often ignored by society, and I felt that a conversation needed to be had about how children are impacted by incarceration. Children of Promise focuses on ensuring that children don’t end up in the criminal justice system and breaking the cycle of generational incarceration. We target communities that are impoverished and have high incarceration rates. We have a unique model that includes after school programs and summer day camps. Each of our kids are paired with a clinician to have 1-on-1 therapy, and we have art-focused therapy options that range from music, to poetry, to drama. Our mentoring program matches our youth with an adult who can support them through their journey. Children of Promise allows young people to have a safe space to share their experiences and deal with the challenges and stigma associated with having a parent in prison.
How have you been able to see the impact of your work?
My work is ensuring that young people do not get involved in the criminal justice system, and I see the effects of that work everyday. Watching these children deal with the emotions associated with losing a parent to the prison system in a positive way is incredibly reassuring. We are constantly encouraging them not to turn to anger to deal with their emotions, but instead creating positive coping mechanisms. People are not always sympathetic to children who have a parent in prison, and watching these kids learn through our program how to deal with that is deeply rewarding.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I absolutely love my job– I founded this organization and it truly is a labor of love. The best part of my job is seeing the faces of 150 kids each day and knowing we are meeting their needs that otherwise wouldn’t be met. We give them turkeys for Christmas dinner, coats to keep them warm through the winter, toys for them to play with, and emotional support that they need to understand their issues. I am here emotionally for these young people. Even though the work is hard, it’s all worth it when I see their faces and know that I am working to provide a safe space for them. That satisfaction of helping young lives is a feeling that you can’t get in most careers, and I’m lucky to have it.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to make a difference in their careers?
Use your voice. If you want to make a difference, you have to speak up at your table for the community you are trying to serve. Even if you aren’t working in a traditionally “impactful” career like non-profits, you can make your Wall Street company listen to you if you use your voice in an effective way. No should never be an option, and you should never accept it. Using your voice means learning how to ask the right questions to reach your goals, and changing your mistakes to get your desired results. At Children of Promise, I try to cultivate an environment that is focused on solutions, not dwelling on the problems, and that’s a message anyone can use when trying to make a difference.