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St. Petersburg nonprofit founder honored by L’Oreal as one of 10 Women of Worth

Margie Manning

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Barbara Rhode, founder, Red Tent Women's Initiative

L’Oreal, the world’s largest beauty company, has named St. Petersburg’s Barbara Rhode as one of 10 Women of Worth.  

Rhode is the founder of Red Tent Women’s Initiative, a St. Petersburg nonprofit that works to improve the lives of women in jail.

The recognition brings a $10,000 award that will allow Red Tent Women’s Initiative to expand its work, with a chance to receive another $25,000 if Rhode is selected as the national Women of Worth honoree by a popular vote. The public has a chance to vote, beginning Monday and continuing every day for the next several weeks, at womenofworth.com

The 10 Women of Worth will be highlighted on an NBC prime time broadcast Nov. 25, the night before Thanksgiving. The program, featuring stars such as Helen Mirren, Elle Fanning, Eva Longoria, Viola Davis and others, will also showcase the city of St. Petersburg.

“The NBC film crew was just in town this last week for the filming and St. Petersburg will be on full display because it was filmed outside,” said Josette Green, CEO of Red Tent Women’s Initiative. “We’d love St. Petersburg to be watching to see our city on stage. It puts us on the map.”

Rhode, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist, discovered through volunteer work with Goodwill that the root cause of most incarceration was unresolved trauma such as a rape, beatings or torture. Rhode created a program that provides incarcerated women the skills they need to understand the unresolved trauma behind the lifepath they have chosen, Green said.

“She created a science-based program, took it to the jail and asked if they would implement it at her cost, and they said sure but no one will sign up. Within two weeks there was a wait list and it’s been going ever since,” Green said. “Prior to our program, they were throwaway people. They thought no one cared about them …Through our program they now see that they have value and worth.”

The program has served about 850 women at the Pinellas County Jail since its inception in 2012 and made a dramatic dent in the recidivism rate.

“Nationwide, research done by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that in the first year after release, 44 percent return to jail. If a woman goes through our program, that is 24 percent,” Green said.

The majority of women in the Red Tent program have been in jail previously. Of the 24 percent that do return to jail, the length of time between incarceration is longer than in the past, Green said.

The program is based on four pillars:

Connecting with others. “In the life they’ve led connection has not been there. Yet we know connecting to other humans is of value in trauma resolution,” Green said.

Therapeutic conversation. Two trained facilitators lead discussions while the women sit in a circle.

Working with their hands. This releases oxytocin from the brain that soothes and relaxes the body.  

“As a woman is bringing up these horrible feelings from trauma, she’s got something to help self-soothe,” Green said. “We use sewing and needlework. So they are sitting in a circle working on their project, using their hands, talking, and it’s a great connection.

Mindfulness techniques, such as yoga and meditation.

“Once they understand the trauma and how it has impacted their lives, they are learning how to talk to themselves, how to understand when the feelings are coming up that directs them to drugs, how to offset that. They are learning how to do affirmations and think more positively about themselves. They are learning to do a vision board, so they can envision the life they choose after they leave jail,” Green said.

All of the women in the Red Tent program are non-violent offenders. They must agree to participate for at least six weeks and many participate for much longer, Green said. The Pinellas County Jail has set aside a dedicated room for the program and partially funds it based on results, but each class is limited to 15 participants. The award would allow Red Tent Women’s Initiative to open a second class, Green said.

The need is great, she said. Since 1990, the incarceration of women is up 700 percent, in part due to a 1994 federal law that made drug use a crime instead of a health issue, Green said. Many of the women are drug addicts because of opioid addiction from prescription drugs, she said.

“We have a national problem, including here in Pinellas County, and yet there’s no solution for it,” Green said. “Once they are in jail, there is no other program for them. The Red Tent program is a great solution to helping mass incarcerations.”

L’Oreal says its Women of Worth program is a signature philanthropic effort that honors extraordinary women who selflessly volunteer their time to serve their communities, and elevates women who find beauty in giving back.

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    Diana Kane

    October 19, 2020 at 4:25 pm

    This is fabulous news! Barbara has been dedicated to this mission for a long time. I’m so happy to see her gain recognition and for Red Tent to benefit from her efforts and the efforts of the women who work beside her. Congratulations to all the women who made this possible!

  2. Avatar

    Jodi

    October 20, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you for posting about this! I never knew it existed and I’d love to be part of it. I’ll definitely be voting! It’s a win-win for this organization and for our city 💖

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