These Bexar County community organizations empower girls and women to be the leaders of the future
As we celebrate Women’s History Month and all the amazing accomplishments women have contributed to our society, UP Partnership would like to uplift the work that some of our Future Ready community partners are doing to empower girls and women locally such as Empower House, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas, Girls on the Run Bexar County, Lemonade Circle and YWCA San Antonio. These partners are key as our community works toward the collective Future Ready Bexar County Plan’s North Star goal of increasing the number of Bexar County’s High School graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030. Through these partners’ collective work, they positively impacted the lives of nearly 7,000 people within Bexar County through their programming.
Empower House believes that when women and girls are empowered to live their full potential, everyone benefits exponentially. Through their Empower Youth Program, the organization creates opportunities for youth to explore their world, achieve their goals and inspire their peers. Their Community Health program increases access to healthcare services, wellness tools, skills and support community wide change
Empower House’s Empower Youth is rooted in restorative justice principles, developmental relationships and feminist, womanist and mujerista theory. As an organization, they center the needs of the women and girls but they welcome all genders to participate in their program.
From 2022 to 2023, Empower House has served over 250 young people by providing:
• social emotional enrichment (SEL) activities
• goal setting
• life skills
• peer mentorship
• tutoring provided by certified teachers during after school programs in reading and math
• and counseling, family and youth circles, service learning and creative expression
Empower House also has passionate employees that do the work, including Krystal King, a community health worker for their Empower Youth who said that “the reasoning behind my work here is being able to help guide our youth into the men/women they aspire to be and to provide not only mentorship but to be a safe space they need.”
“What’s important to me is that the youth know that they are more than their circumstances. That they have the power to become whoever it is they aspire to be,” King added.
The impact of the work on young people is evident.
“What I enjoy most about Empower House is the activities we do brings the mentors and kids together,” one student explained. “Those activities introduced me to my mentor who has become one of my best friends.” Further, “[Empower House] has made a difference in my life by improving my social skills and personal development. I would like to thank Empower House for helping me grow, while preparing me for adulthood.”
Joining forces with fellow Future Ready partners San Antonio Metro Health and the United Way, Empower house works in the community to raise awareness around family violence, as well as bridging access to education, healthcare and resources available. In addition, they use skill-building and wellness workshops to empower women with the knowledge, skills and a supportive community to make informed choices for themselves and their families.
The mission of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas (GSSWT) is to build girls’ courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place. GSSWT champions girls as they pursue their passions and forge their future. By supporting girls and amplifying their voices, GSSWT gives them a chance to discover a lifetime of self-assurance, adventure and achievement.
As one Girls Scout member said: “Being a part of Girl Scouts has changed my life for the better. I have formed bonds with girls that I know will always be there for me; I love all the activities, especially community service projects where you not only help others but create memories with your sister Girl Scouts.”
Any girl in grades K-12 can participate in the social and emotional learning outcomes of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, a one-of-a-kind leadership program designed with, by and for girls based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming. GSLE is entirely girl-led, meaning that girls at all levels take an active and age-appropriate role in figuring out what, where, when, why and how in everything they do in Girl Scouts.
As a community centered equity approach, GSSWT takes its educational based programming to where the girls are reaching them during the school day, after school and on the weekends. This is done through many programs including after-school collaboratives, in-school programming and Gamma Sigma Girls, a leadership development series for middle – and high school- aged girls.
In the most recent program year, 56% of the more than 10,000 they serve are not in traditional volunteer-led troops and that approach allows GSSWT to reach girls who would not otherwise have access to all the benefits Girl Scouts has to offer. The impact of GSSWT is life-long:
• nearly 80% of alums vote regularly
• 38% earned earned a college degree
• On average, Girls Scouts earn salaries of more than $51,000 per year
Stephanie Finleon Cortez, Chief Development and Communities Officer for the organization, also lives up to that life-long commitment as she lives her life as “a grown up Girl Scout” who specifically said she has “an obvious passion for the work” she does particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and developing youth.
“The girls are the most inspirational part of my job. Today’s girls are fearless, have strong opinions on what is right and wrong and what to do to make our work a better place. As a professional Girl Scout, it’s my responsibility to bring adults together to help ensure our movement is adequately funded and staffed so we can continue to inspire the next generation of girl leaders our nation needs.”
Serving Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Kendall counties, Girls on the Run Bexar County offers evidence-based programs that empower girls of all abilities to build confidence, character, caring, connections, confidence and contribution.
Through physical activity and dynamic discussions, trained coaches work with the girls to build social, emotional and physical skills, while encouraging healthy habits for life. The organization believes the strategies and skills they instill in girls are more important than ever given the unpredictable world we live in.
Girls on the Run, the program for grades 3-5, promotes a blend of physical activity and life development skills so girls are able to adapt to changes that will occur in their lives. Built in a team setting, the girls compete together in a 5K to give them a sense of accomplishment and creates confidence in those that compete.
Heart & Sole, a program for grades 6-8, considers the whole girl — body, brain, heart, spirit and social connections — to meet unique needs of middle school girls. The program serves as an inclusive, safe space for girls to feel supported, inspired to explore their emotions, cultivate empathy and strengthen both physical and emotional health. At the end of the program, the girls also compete in a 5K together.
In Bexar County, Girls on the Run has had the following impact:
• served over 6,000 girls since 2010
• had more than 300 volunteers and 160 coaches annually
• averaged 65% of participants receiving scholarships annually
• are located in schools, parks, YWCAs, churches and community centers
• the 5k runs are held twice per year.
Participants of their programs had positive things to say about the organization, including the importance of giving back to the community and the gratification of self-confidence they received as being part of Girls on the Run. “Girls on the Run gave me the self-confidence to accomplish things that might be hard in my life, and really just taught me to be brave and be strong,” one participant shared with UP Partnership.
Dedicated to empowering young women of color, particularly Black females grades five and beyond, the Lemonade Circle provides opportunities for the girls to explore and engage with their community.
With a focus on leadership development and civic engagement, Lemonade Circle seeks to ensure that all of their girls are given the opportunity to identify and network with other women of color within their communities. Those experiences teach personal and professional skills to the girls in order for them to advocate on their campuses and in their communities.
The girls are given the chance to take part in civic engagement by serving as youth representatives in local, state and national communities and nonprofit organizations that are working to ensure equity and equality are accessible to all people regardless of race, gender, religion or political belief.
Lemonade Circle’s program model is the Empowerment Circle Model in which the girls earn community service hours, gain the values of “Lemonade” — Lead, Excel, Mentor, Overcome adversity, Network, Affect change, Discover power and Explore the world — as well as build relationships with girls and women in their community.
The following are the empowerment circles offered by the organization:
• STEM Circle works to enhance girls’ understanding of STEM fields in order for them to take charge of their careers through culturally relevant conversations, personalized self-paced projects and engage in community initiatives designed by women of color in STEM fields.
• Literacy Circle engages participants in conversations about literary works, with a focus on those written by women of color. The circle also analyzes artwork and participates in community projects that elevates Black voices in art.
• Mental Health Circle focuses on erasing the stigma surrounding mental health by educating their girls on why maintaining their mental health is important to live a healthy, balanced and productive life.
• Mommy Circle provides moms with events and opportunities to express their thoughts and feelings spiritually, mentally and physically. The circle also shares community resources, as well as offering professional development exercises to empower moms in their careers.
YWCA San Antonio exists to eliminate racism and empower women, which we achieve by removing barriers for women — especially women and girls of color — to break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient through numerous programs and services. Youth programs include:
Mi Carrera, their signature school-based program to build self-esteem, prepare girls and young women for post-secondary success by introducing them to education and career opportunities, and provide guidance on healthy relationships and social/emotional wellness, with 152 young people being served through this program in 2022.
RESET is a program for women 16-24 years in age that offers workforce training opportunities, with an emphasis on community health workers, which can prepare participants for careers in the allied health sector. The program also partners with Workforce Solutions Alamo as part of the City’s /Ready to Work program, providing their participants who are over the age of 18 the ability to obtain training for in-demand careers. Last year, 30 young women were certified as community health workers and a total of 74 individuals obtained post-secondary training and certification for in-demand jobs.
In addition, YWCA provides Texas Rising Star 4 early childhood education and care for children, ages 0-5, and after school care for children in grades K-5. YWCA advocates for – and provides – thriving wages for child care workers, who are disproportionately women of color.
Through advocacy and education efforts, the YWCA provides wage equity awareness and training that includes salary negotiation training and a wage equity business cohort. In 2022, YWCA staff members participated in panels, webinars and training to raise awareness about the wage gap and promote changes in business and policy behaviors to close the wage gap.
For Misty Harty, YWCA’s Director of Racial Justice and Gender Equity, YWCA’s work reflects her own personal mission.
“I am honored and privileged to advocate for racial justice and gender equity internally,by incorporating our mission into the work of our staff and programs, and externally by educating the community and promoting health,” said Harty. She further explains that YWCA’s work on wage equity impacts all of its services including: child care, youth success, health equity and economic independence.
If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement like the organizations above, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner or donate to the work here.
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