When Cordelia Cranshaw, BSW ’14, graduated from Mason, she garnered media attention, including a story in USA Today. The reason: She beat the odds. Only 3 percent of young people in foster care go on to graduate college.
Cranshaw’s path hasn’t been easy. When she was 12, her mother went to prison, and Cranshaw and her siblings went to live with relatives. She eventually entered the foster care system at age 14. But she realized education was her path to success and making her dreams a reality. Her life goal has been to help other young people see that same opportunity.
After graduation, Cranshaw made plans to become a social worker and start a nonprofit to help at-risk youth. Done and done. Cranshaw completed a master of social work degree at the University of Maryland and now works for Washington, D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency. Her nonprofit, Acts of Random Kindness (ARK), is growing and recently secured its first grant.
“I like to say that ARK was the bridge in my life in terms of taking my personal knowledge of being in foster care and the professional knowledge I received from Mason,” she says. “That lived experience helps me in terms of working with these children and families. It also helps me be the face of my organization because they can see firsthand that just because you come from trauma or have an incarcerated parent or [have] been homeless doesn’t mean that you cannot be successful. Our motto is ‘you’re one resource away from reaching your dreams.’”
For Cranshaw, those resources included a John J. Hughes Social Work Scholarship from Mason, which helped her pay for her undergraduate education.
At ARK, Cranshaw has been running a program called “iCAN” in Washington, D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8 for young males with behavioral challenges living in single parent households. ARK volunteers come to schools twice a week to teach life skills and expose the students to possible career paths and educational opportunities. She is starting two new programs, including coparenting classes.
Cranshaw admits she didn’t know what she was getting herself into when starting a nonprofit. “I had to get a board together, do the IRS documentation to actually become a 501(c)(3),” she says. “It’s really about building relationships and sustaining funders who will support your mission and your vision. And that’s not easy. I want to expand it. I really want it to be nationwide.”