BY ALICIA PONTE
Winston-Salem is the hardest city in which to escape childhood poverty in the United States.*
Despite this distressing statistic, how do we ensure that our young women have the tools they need to break down these barriers and become the next generation of leaders?
LEAD Girls of North Carolina is on a mission to help girls beat these odds by providing young girls with the tools they need to overcome barriers to success and thrive. This one-of-a-kind organization cultivates the next generation of women engineers, nurses, business owners, and LEADers. Through this nonprofit’s work with local at-risk girls, we are changing the trajectory of their lives and breaking the cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement for our girls.
“We are losing our children, and the time is now! We must provide a space for our girls to navigate challenges and learn alternatives to fighting and negative choices. We must be willing to listen and give a safe space for our girls to find their voices and dream again,” says Joy Nelson Thomas, the founder and executive director of Learning Everyday Accomplishing Dreams (LEAD) Girls of NC.
LEAD is dedicated to providing the tools and resources that low-income/at-risk preteen girls must have to become productive citizens and active leaders in their communities. Using an evidence-based curriculum, LEAD encourages and mentors girls to aspire and achieve greatness academically, emotionally, and creatively. In our fifth year serving local girls, LEAD has provided leadership development to over 500 school-age girls in Forsyth County.
Through programs at Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools and our community LEAD Program, LEAD challenges girls to look to the future and envision a world where women are at the forefront of innovation and impact. And it’s working! Girls who participate in LEAD programming are 90% more likely to report being more confident setting goals, working better with others, and being motivated to do good things. More than 87% of girls report feeling connected to their families, and 78% feel more connected to their community. On average, 2 in 3 girls report doing better academically after completing our leadership program. This impact is paving the way for these future leaders.
LEAD has provided girls and their families the tools and resources they need to overcome the challenges of the past two years and emerge stronger than before. At-risk girls in Winston-Salem have been impacted greatly by the pandemic when their development and mental well-being are so critical. Despite confronting generational poverty, food insecurity, and social and family issues, girls participating in LEAD are looking towards the future and growing their resilience and grit.
“LEAD helped me get through a lot of my stress and anxiety around online school. I love how we start each session by asking how we are doing and talking to each other about what we are going through,” says LEAD Girl, Kenzie. “I have been getting a lot better at managing my stress and having more fun at school.”
The 2021 LEAD Expo, Growth Today for Greatness Tomorrow, emphasized the importance of planting the seeds for success today. Participants were led through several workshops, helping our girls and their families navigate social anxiety amplified by the pandemic, rebuild self-confidence, and cultivate interests in STEM fields.
“I’ve never really known what I want to do when I grow up, but LEAD has taught me that I have options and I can set goals for my future and actually accomplish them. I’m happy to know I can make a plan and do something exciting with my future,” said LEAD Girl, Sofia.
How can you help ensure that our future is filled with confident and secure leaders? LEAD Girls of NC aims to make programming free for all LEAD Girls, but this takes a village. Consider sponsoring a girl today and give the gift of LEAD. Your donation of $250 will provide one LEAD Girl with 30 hours of support along with a LEADer box with supplies and necessities to help her succeed. You have the opportunity today, in this season of giving, to help us change lives. We encourage you to honor the woman in your life who supported you by sponsoring a girl so she can have that support too. Learn more about LEAD and how to join our village at leadgirls.org/.
Change a girl. Change a community. Change the world.
*According to a 2015 Harvard study conducted by Dr. Raj Chetty.