Who are the women that helped make you make you the person you are? Who has left an impression and impacted you during your growth? Most of us have memories of a professor, a coach, a pastor or a family friend who, though we may not have known it at the time, provided words of wisdom or counsel that assisted us. Some of us were lucky and stumbled into a relationship with the women who became our advisors and mentors and she was available to provide guidance when we had to make decisions: Should I go to college? How do I prepare for my interview? How do I ask for a raise?
This Women’s History Month, I find myself again reflecting on the women that helped me with my personal and professional growth and I’m excited that there are visionary, action-oriented women in my community who are making it a priority that girls and young women have a direct connection to a mentor.
Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) is one on my favorite organizations. Its uses a structured mentoring approach to reinforce confidence, expand aspirations, and create a civically engaged life for women and girls. Women throughout history are used as examples to encourage girls and young women to become strong women themselves. By building communities of women committed to supporting positive social change, SWSG works to create cycles of mutual empowerment for women and girls.
The SWSG programming is designed to foster high aspirations and help girls build the skills they need for academic and lifelong success. By working with girls while they are at a critical developmental period, SWSG lays the foundation for success. SWSG programming takes place one afternoon per week for 1.5 hours during the school year at the girls’ school or local community center. The program utilizes a group-mentoring model that engages teams of 2-3 college undergraduate women who serve as mentors to a group of 10-12 girls. This group-mentoring setting fosters strong relationships with both peers and mentors.
SWSG programming is curriculum-driven. In each lesson, girls and their mentors focus on learning a specific skill that research has identified to be essential to their development as young people. To start, the girls and their mentors read a biography of a female role model who exemplifies the skill of the week. Throughout the year, girls learn about 20 highly diverse role models—teaching them about a wide array of life paths and exposing them to strong role models. After reading, girls engage in a project-based activity to teach the skill in a hands-on way. Each lesson concludes with journal-writing to encourage reflection. In the spring semester, girls and their mentors take the skills that they have learned throughout the year and put them into practice through a hands-on capstone learning project. In this project, the girls identify an issue in their community, develop a solution, and mobilize to create impact. Through the community service projects, girls receive a unique hands-on learning experience that supports them as community leaders and connects their skills to tangible outcomes. For many of the girls in SWSG, this is one of the first opportunities they have to see themselves as leaders among their peers and in their communities. The impact is profound.
In addition to the weekly programming, girls attend two eye-opening field trips to their mentors’ college campus during the program year. The purpose of these field trips is to expose the participating girls to college campus, to help them to understand that college is a possibility for them, and to learn about the different activities that take place on a college campus. Field trip themes have included: “Women in Politics,” “Smart Girls & Science,” and “Women and Business.” Activities included using critical thinking skills to brainstorm the best way to market their products and attract consumers and how to manage finances, relay races, making liquid nitrogen ice cream, and how to make a rocket! Through eye-opening experiences like these, leadership opportunities, and exposure to exciting career paths, SWSG sets underserved girls on a path toward success and independence.
Since 2000, over 9,000 girls and 3,000 college age women benefit from the SWSG program in Boston, Pittsburgh, and South Florida. If you live in one of these areas, consider becoming a mentor. It’s a great way to guide the next generation of leaders, but also allows you to fulfill your purpose and passions!