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The nonprofit “Girls Group,” started in 2003, continues to empower young women to become self-sufficient, whole persons: educationally, emotionally, and economically.
We interviewed Sue Schooner, its Executive Director for 19 years, to learn more about the pivotal work they perform.
“The mission of Girls Group is to empower young women to achieve emotional and economic self-sufficiency by ensuring they graduate from high school and begin their college or career journeys,” Schooner said
There are three main elements of Girls Group, including middle school, high school and college programs which last through student’s careers. Girls Group’s year-round comprehensive programming focuses on academic readiness, social/emotional life skills, financial education, and community service. Participants are also mentored by experienced staff and interns.
Girls Group provides weekly in-school programming to 450 middle school and high school students, which continues as a life-long relationship.
“The unique thing about Girls Group is that we never stop serving after participants graduate high school, we continue to provide individual and group mentoring services to support their college and/or career journeys,” Schooner described. “Since the beginning of Girls Group, we have celebrated 260 high school graduates!”
Girls Group success, in large part, is because of the long-term, lasting relationships it builds with the girls and young women it serves.
“We ideally meet participants in 6th grade and guide them through middle school, high school, college, and career,” Schooner said
Girls Group participants reside in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The driving force of their programming is to ensure high school graduation as well as college and career readiness.
“Since the beginning of Girls Group, 100% of Girls Group high school seniors who are actively involved in programs have defied the odds and graduated from high school,” Schooner said.
Schooner explained that there are clear educational disparities in the Washtenaw County K-12 school system.
“The opportunity gap has continued to widen for students of color and economically disadvantaged students,” Schooner said. “We’ve seen participants who have the desire to stay in school and graduate high school, yet as socio-economically disadvantaged young women of color, they face educational, financial, and structural barriers. We work with participants to shift this mindset starting in 6th grade to ensure all young women have equal opportunity to get to and through high school and onto their college and/or career journeys.”
Schooner detailed that Girls Group has a proven record of providing individualized and high-quality group services, resources, opportunities, and mentoring to students most in need.
“By providing services they may not receive otherwise, Girls Group directly impacts the likelihood participants will graduate from high school and pursue higher education,” Schooner detailed.
Since the beginning of Girls Group, the organization has also seen 54 college degrees earned.
Their approach and philosophy are multi-pronged. Girls Group helps young women to believe they can graduate high school and pursue their dreams, learn the necessary skills for graduating high school, become first-generation college students and graduates, develop skills to become economically and emotionally self-sufficient and use their skills and experiences to mentor family, friends, and other young women
Girls Group works with each system of a participant’s life, including families, schools, and other community support.
“We meet participants where they are at in their journeys, honor their experiences, and provide mentoring that is effective and collaborative,” Schooner said. “Girls Group uses a wraparound approach to increase the likelihood participants are supported academically and socially/emotionally throughout each step on their path to success.”
Schooner also revealed that the feedback from participants and their families is overwhelmingly positive.
“We keep in regular contact with participants and their families to get feedback about programs and to ensure participants are getting the best possible support,” Schooner said. “One parent shared, ‘Between the activities, the mentoring, the one-on-one meetings, and the multitude of resources they provide, her transition to middle school was smooth, and she truly learned how to deal with the many stresses that were occurring in our world.”
Girls Group offers safe, empowering spaces for young people to reflect on their journeys and achieve their goals, Schooner said.
Girls Group is funded by individual donors, family foundations, and grant funding. Their annual fundraiser, 25 minutes long, will be held virtually on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m.
Girls Group program sessions are essential in their long-term goal of empowering young women to be economically and emotionally self-sufficient. According to one long-time participant:
“The mission of Girls Group is to help women achieve emotional and financial self-sufficiency, and I believe I am significantly more self-sufficient than I would be without the seven years I have been in their programs. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had with Girls Group that have all shaped me into the individual I am today and who I am becoming.”
Information on how to get involved in located on their website.