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Alum Offers Innovative Solutions


Carnegie Mellon alumna Carol Shapiro (HS '76) is working to change the criminal justice system. She is president and founding director of Family Justice, a national non-profit organization based in New York City.

The organization has evolved from a neighborhood support center Shapiro opened in 1996, in a former storefront on Manhattan's Lower East Side where a police shootout with alleged drug dealers left one person dead and an officer paralyzed.

At the support center — called La Bodega de la Familia — Shapiro has developed and refined The Bodega Model®, a strength-based approach to working with families that involves partnering with government agencies and community-based organizations.

"I founded Family Justice to test the idea that lives would improve when people have solid family support that draws on each individual's strengths," said Shapiro. "And our theory proved to be true: that kind of support helps improve a family's health and well-being, which makes the neighborhood safer."

Family Justice uses family-mapping tools to illustrate and organize information about social networks and community. Instead of focusing solely on challenges  — such as substance abuse or criminal behavior — Family Justice's approach uses supportive inquiry to promote new insights into family strengths, productive behaviors and successful coping mechanisms. The information is then used to tap the strengths of families, communities and government.

In 2002, Shapiro was named one of 10 members of the first class of Ashoka fellows in the United States. The honor recognizes outstanding social entrepreneurs around the world who "have innovative solutions and the potential to change patterns across society."

In February of the same year, Family Justice's Bodega Model was cited as a "best practice" by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Honestly? I think we're changing the system," Shapiro said.

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