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Portsmouth Nuclear Scientist’s Mentoring Program Helps Area’s Young Women

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

Although Traci L. Chisholm is a nuclear engineer, she had no idea her mentoring program for young minority females would skyrocket when she launched The Crowned Academy and TL Ministries, in 2014 in Portsmouth.

Enrollment jumped from 22 in 2014 the first year and climbed to 101 this year, when 27 young women added their names to a waiting list. The after-school and summer mentoring program is for minority females ages 5-17. It costs $31 a month.

It is impossible to count all of the mentoring programs that exist for young minority males. That may explain why Chisholm’s Christian-based program for minority females has taken off to the point that this year she moved it into vacant space located in Alliance Christian School, a private school in Portsmouth that closed in 2017 after operating for 45 years on Portsmouth Boulevard.

“We are the only facility of our kind servicing minority girls in a structured building,” said Chisholm, 32, who finished Hampton University in 2009 with a physics degree and worked as a nuclear engineer at several federal sites before she launched The Crowned Academy in Portsmouth’s New Beginning Christian Center five years ago.

In a sense, she is following her parent’s gigantic footsteps. Her parents, Bishop James Chisholm and the Rev. Vernetta Chisholm pastor New Beginning Christian Center.

It is a church  that her father, a contractor, built 35 years ago under the professional supervision of Elder Alfonzye Chisholm, a master builder by trade, according to the church’s website.

Her father was nationally recognized for inventing three mechanical robots. His accomplishments appear in several news reports including the June 1970 issue of Ebony Magazine, a number of periodicals and a school textbook. Bishop Chisholm also served as a police Chaplain in Portsmouth for 10 years and eight years as the director. 

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“In 2014 I made a decision to step out on faith,” Chisholm said. “I felt like I wanted to do more,” she said pointing to how Portsmouth Public Schools and her parents exposed her to science, technology, engineering, and math. However, some young female minority students are not exposed to STEM courses at a young age.

“I just felt called to provide guidance. I wanted to do more than show up for work every day from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.,” she explained, adding that she ultimately aims to produce mentors, like Jesus produced disciples, who in turn mentored other disciples.

The mentoring program continues to take off, she said, pointing to several success stories including a student who transformed herself from a chronic runaway to an honor-roll high school graduate. Currently, she is a college freshman.

“We have been producing some wonderful young ladies and I would like to believe it is because of their faith in God, word of mouth advertising, plus our first honor roll graduate (who came from a troubled background when she enrolled four years ago; but now attends college). She joined my church, texts me, and calls me her aunt,” Chisholm said, smiling.

And this is where the faith-based initiatives annual fundraising program comes in. It has seven staff members and an annual operating budget of about $80,000. To meet its obligations, it holds numerous fundraising events including a calendar sale that aims to raise $15,000 in 2020.

Specifically, the non-profit will sell its inaugural 2020 Black G.O.A.L.S. (Girls Overachieving and Leading Society) Calendar for $19.95. (Donate an extra $31 a month, and you will receive the Black G.O.A.L.S. Getter Box, which will include a tee shirt with an inspirational quote, goal-setting information, and a surprise gift each month. Women and girls will receive a different box each month).

The 2020 calendar highlights 200 African American female trailblazers including Michelle Obama, Coretta Scott King, and Ruby Bridges (an African American civil rights activist who desegregated all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960).

The 2020 calendar features monthly inspirational quotes, significant dates. The calendar also includes 12 members of The Crowned Academy. One young lady is dressed like Coretta Scott King while others are dressed like trailblazers pictured in the calendar. The calendar also highlights the accomplishments of 20 local living legends in Hampton Roads.

You can go online and purchase the calendar at www.thecrownedacademy.com. 

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Chisholm said, “We. . .hope that it inspires girls and young women to be motivated like Michelle Obama, courageous like Coretta Scott King, or revolutionary like Ruby Bridges – 365 days a year … We hope this calendar will serve as a historical reference for our young girls unfamiliar with the accomplishments of such powerful female pioneers.”

However, it is important to remember that the way a rocket shoots toward the sky at a dazzling pace but sheds some of its original hardware to increase efficiency, Chisholm, an engineer, has added some new programs in the past five years. For example, she has launched a mentoring program for college-age minority females, who are enrolled in college, trade school, working, or mothering. “Everybody doesn’t go to college,” she explained.

Meanwhile, sales from the inaugural calendar will support the Girls Up Foundation, which helps refugee girls in Uganda enroll in school by providing uniforms and textbooks.

“We don’t just throw a lot of Bible verses around,” Chisholm said. “We are very practical. We teach in parables, like Jesus did. Our counselors are very transparent and open. We listen. Then we tell our students how we handled a similar situation. We also tell them the consequences, what happened.”

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