year 2, week 6: this week i'm gonna... empower girls
In 2003, Sue Schooner met sixteen extraordinary girls from Pine Lake cooperative housing that changed her life.
Sue had never taken a social work class. She had no experience with kids. She had no idea what she was getting herself into, but she did know that she needed to get more involved to give the girls the support they needed. “Until I met the original Girls Group participants, I didn’t even like young people,” Sue said.
After two years of spending all of her free time with the girls, Sue made a drastic decision. At age 47, she retired early from her job as an automotive executive to become a full-time director of Girls Group, the non-profit organization she founded. Working with the young women of Girls Group changed Sue's view of the world, something she sees as the most humbling experience in her life. “The more time I spent with these young women, I realized that there was so much I didn’t know,” Sue said. “For the last 12 years, I feel like I’m learning and growing all the time.”
The group started having weekly Friday discussions about important topics such as sex, parents, communication, and anger management. It wasn't easy - “In the beginning, there [were] a lot of issues... I really didn’t know what I was doing...” Sue states. “I never had my own kids, so every time a teenager acted like a teenager, I just panicked. Every time something went wrong, I kept thinking what a disaster it was going to be.”
Despite the difficulties, Sue persevered. “[At first], it was teaching them good values. Then the girls never left, so it became a high school program. Then it was to encourage these girls to make it through high school and not drop out, not get kicked out for fighting, not get pregnant, and not do drugs and alcohol,” she says.
The girls' potential inspired Sue to develop a new component to the group – college prep. “It became apparent that so many of these girls had so much more potential than they or their parents or the school system realized they had,” she said. “No one ever told these girls they could go to college… so if no one’s ever told you you could go to college and you don’t know anyone who’s gone to college, then you just assume that you aren’t college material.”
Girls Group changed that mentality. Because of the group, 90 girls have successfully graduated high school and started their college careers and/or have started their journeys to economic and emotional self-sufficiency.
Girls Group empowers young women in middle and high school to achieve emotional and economic self-sufficiency by graduating from high school and becoming first-generation college graduates. Girls Group provides year round programming and mentoring to develop character, leadership, self-confidence, and social consciousness, including the desire and ability to mentor others. Girls Group currently supports 100 middle school girls, 160 high school girls, and 90 first-generation college students..
Girls Group mentors and participants create a positive, affirming atmosphere where young women work towards their goals of achievement and economic independence. Girls Group helps young women to find their voice, define their goals and dreams, and establish support networks to move forward in the world with pride and self-confidence. Girls Group provides daily support to the young women as they finish high school, avoid drug and alcohol abuse, delay pregnancy, and build safe and healthy relationships.
Since its inception, 100% of Girls Group high school students have graduated and gone on to attend college. To learn more about Girls Group, please watch the video below.
Alexia Burton, pictured above, is a Tuskegee University graduate and a Girls Group alumnus. Alexia states, “I didn’t really think about it [college], but going to Girls Group and being around all the mentors who were in graduate school really inspired me to go to college. I [knew I] could do it, too, because a lot of the mentors were African American,” Alexis says. “Girls Group gave me confidence and helped me realize that I have limitless potential.”
As Alexia mentions, a major component of Girls Group is the mentors. They work to create a positive and encouraging atmosphere for the girls and are available 24/7 to help them in all areas of crisis. Girls Group provides both one-on-one and group mentoring for students. Topics range from academic management to others benefiting social, spiritual, intellectual, and sexual health. Sue believes that students who have access to these resources have greater chances at reaching their goals and taking control of their lives.
“[Girls Group] is pretty much open [to whomever]; it tends to be girls who have difficult family situations because what they like about Girls Group is there are people who can understand what they’re going through and not judge them and are able to empathize with their situation,” Sue says. “We create a support system that they wouldn’t normally have and that some people take for granted.”
Notes for this week:
- Many of you may have participated in the recent Womens' Marches across the country; givetwig is proud to support women and Girls Group to help all girls be positioned for success!
- Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor a local college tour for Girls Group participants.
- For more information regarding Girls Group, please check out their website.
this week i'm gonna donate to Girls Group.