Why Mentoring Young Women and Girls is Important

Written by Tabby Biddle

photo by Amy Tierney/f8f11 Images

You’ve been hearing it everywhere from the United Nations to The New York Times:  when we support the growth and empowerment of women and girls, we raise the quality of life for everyone. This is because when women lead, they not only lead businesses, but they lead in their community, they fight for their children, and they give voice to issues that are important to our collective future – like education and health care. Makes sense to me.

But how do we get there?

There are a couple of organizations that I have learned about recently that are going in at the ground level and supporting girls and young women in underserved communities through the practice of mentorship.

The first is Step Up Women’s Network.

Through Step Up young women are given mentors who encourage their ambition, empower their confidence, and keep them on track by helping them set goals and work toward achieving them.

Step Up Women's Network Executive Director, Jenni Luke photo by Maya Meyers

“These girls are smart – they are capable – and what they need is you. You are their role models, you are their mentors, you are their inspiration,” said Jenni Luke, executive director of Step Up, to a ballroom full of Step Up supporters last week at the 7th Annual Step Up Inspiration Awards in Los Angeles.

Many of the young women who Step Up supports come from gang neighborhoods and families torn apart by drugs, alcohol, and abuse. Kara Isreal, this year’s Step Up Teen scholarship recipient, is one such student. “I looked forward to Tuesdays because I knew I was going to be in a stable environment for an extra two hours after my school day. Step Up offered me refuge in programs such as Spoken Word and Poetry where I was able to write down all my feelings, kept in a place no one could criticize, grade or comment about,” she wrote in a personal essay.

With the help of Step Up, Kara is beating the horrifying statistic: one in three

Kara Isreal, photo by Maya Meyers

Los Angeles high school students is dropping out of school. She won’t be one of them. In the fall Kara will be attending Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I have escaped the dark place that they call the jungle, survived abuse, and am optimistic about all of the brighter birthdays I will celebrate in the future,” says Kara.

Another organization mentoring young women that I want to talk about is Global Girl Media.

Global Girl Media is training young women to become the future generation of female citizen broadcast journalists.  Their focus is, like Step Up, on girls in underserved communities – but they are global as they name suggests.

Global Girls, South Africa

Right now they are training 20 girls in Soweto, South Africa to be broadcast journalists to speak out about the issues that affect them most. As they report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in June, being hosted by South Africa, the girls will be telling the stories that never get told. Some of the topics they will be covering include: gender justice and reproductive rights, girls and leadership, HIV/AIDS, health, educational and career opportunities for women and girls.

“Can you imagine in 10 years if we were to have 50 Global Girl Media news bureaus operating in the most economically disadvantaged places in the world, and those girls connect and form a network of support, education, and power? Well, suddenly we really are affecting change,” said Global Girl Media program director Kamala Lopez in an interview on Thursday.

There are many young women and men in this upcoming generation who are extremely compassionate, extremely globally aware, and who want to participate in making the world a better place. However, for the youth in countries and communities affected by war, disease and poverty who have been unable to take part in the new media revolution, this has made it virtually impossible for their voices to be heard. Global Girl Media is on a mission to change this.

Organizations like Step Up and Global Girl Media are leading the way in empowering and inspiring our next generation of leaders.

“With my success I hope to reach down and help the women behind me. We have the power to rise above our circumstances. We have the power to break down barriers and crush all statistics that rise against us. We are women of manner and nobility,” says Kara Isreal.

By reaching out to mentor a girl or young woman, you can change her life and put everyone’s future in good hands.

To learn more, visit:

Step Up,  www.suwn.org

Global Girl Media, www.globalgirlmedia.org

Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a writer and editor dedicated empowering the voices of women and girls. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and other national media. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.

Kara Isreal is Goddess of the Week!

“Despite surviving the misfortunes that my family and I had to endure, I know that this world will throw more adversities and challenges not only at minority women but women in general. But now I also know that I have a solid foundation of confidence and strength that will allow me to overcome anything that gets in my way on my journey to success.”

— Kara Isreal, 2010 Step Up Teen Scholarship Recipient

Kara Isreal, 2010 Step Up Los Angeles Teen Scholarship Recipient

Kara Isreal is the recipient of the 2010 Step Up Women’s Network Los Angeles Teen Scholarship. Step Up is dedicated to connecting underserved teen girls with professional women mentors and enrichment programs to empower the girls to become confident, college-bound and career-ready. I had the great pleasure of hearing Kara speak at the Step Up Inspiration Awards last week in Beverly Hills. As Kara presented her winning essay, there was barely at dry eye in the room. She is truly a goddess of strength, determination, and grace.

The following is Kara’s winning essay that she shared with all of us last week at the 7th Annual Step Up Inspiration Awards.

Written by Kara Isreal

I wake up on the morning of October 4, 2008 feeling so excited – it’s my sweet sixteen! But then the reality of where I am kicks in. I’m in an unknown territory. I hear more sirens outside than normal, I hear the neighbors arguing about where the last drop off of drugs was and who was going to change the baby’s diaper. I look out of the window and see the transactions of narcotics and money from one hand to the next. I think to myself, this is why this neighborhood is called “the jungle” – people make up the animals in a jungle fighting over drugs, property, women and even parking spots. And this was supposed to be the start of a good day.

I close the blinds, having seen enough. I start to reminisce about birthdays of the past and think about how much I always love the annual call from my granddad who enthusiastically congratulates me on making it through another year in life. I sigh, knowing that I won’t get the call this year because he doesn’t have my number….NO ONE does because one month earlier, my family was evicted, and we have been bouncing from place to place, eating dinner in our car in McDonalds parking lots and on this morning, my 16th birthday, my family and I are staying in a two-bedroom bedroom apartment making room for 7 people. It was supposed to be my sweet 16 but it was more like salty tears and a super wet pillow. This was the beginning of the most challenging time in my life. Things got worse from there and I experienced the unimaginable, including being raped………more than once.

But through my pain and innumerable tears I found a way to walk with my head up and not have it hung in constant shame. In between the unpredictable travels between school and maybe a hotel room. I began to appreciate school and a new found safe haven in an organization called Step Up and the support system and stability it provided.  On a weekly basis I looked forward to Tuesdays because I knew I was going to be in a stable environment for an extra two hours after my school day. Step Up offered me refuge in programs such as Spoken Word and Poetry where I was able to write down all my feelings, kept in a place no one could criticize, grade or comment about. Step Up gave me the microphone I needed to either reach out for help or encourage my fellow Step Up sisters; which includes my younger sister who also found a safe space in Step Up.

Through Step Up I have gained mentors that have shaped my ambition, built my confidence and who I will never forget. Powerful Step Up women like Shannon Gabor; who I worked for last summer in Step Up’s internship program. Her achievements taught me no obstacle is too big and she pushed me to be a strong writer by having the confidence in me to give me important projects. Powerful Step Up women like Michelle Centeno, my Step Up SAT Prep and college applications instructor who guided me through the stressful processes. She is the first in her family to graduate from college and as I saw her walk across the stage at her UCLA graduation I was reminded that I have to set the standard for my younger siblings as she did for her own. Powerful Step Up women like my Step Up young luminaries mentor Reese Alexander who always keeps me on track with setting my goals and making sure they are realistic.

The most impactful thing Step Up has given me is the key out of Los Angeles. On our spring break Bay Area college tour during my junior year I finally realized that it was totally okay to leave the only place I had ever known. I wasn’t scared to step out of my boundaries and I placed myself in a picture without Downtown L.A. as the backdrop for my college home.

2009 Step Up Teen Scholarship recipient, Shalisa Craig, hugging Kara. Shalissa is currently attending Cal State Northridge & received a 4.0 GPA during her first semester of classes!

My goal in life is either to become a child psychologist with a private practice helping sexual, mentally and physically abused kids; or be a part of a marketing and advertising company. I set my sights high! Thanks to Step Up I am already on my way and can clearly see myself achieving these goals because I am proud to announce that this fall I will be attending Bethune-Cookman University a Historically Black College in Daytona Beach, Florida founded by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune a civil rights leader and an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dr. Bethune is the educated, influential black woman I strive to become.

Despite surviving the misfortunes that my family and I had to endure, I know that this world will throw more adversities and challenges not only at minority women but women in general. But now I also know that I have a solid foundation of confidence and strength that will allow me to overcome anything that gets in my way on my journey to success. I have escaped the dark place that they call the jungle, survived abuse, am optimistic about all of the brighter birthdays I will celebrate in the future. With my success I hope to reach down and help the women behind me. We have the power to rise above our circumstances. We have the power break down barriers. We have the power to break down barriers and crush all statistics that rise against us. We are women of manner and nobility. And I thank you all for your support along the way.

To learn more about Step Up Women’s Network, please visit www.suwn.org.

All photos by Maya Meyers.