Who Inspires You?

by Shaker Zak

Having been a member and regular volunteer of Step Up Women's Network for over two years, I've had the opportunity to see firsthand what a well-funded organization can accomplish within its community. Since we spend so much time in the blogosphere focusing on what's wrong with our culture and society, I wanted to take a moment to share success by women who want to pave the way for the next generation of professional, philanthropy-minded women.

With chapters in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, Step Up is "dedicated to strengthening community resources for women and girls" nationwide. A huge component of their work is the Teen Empowerment Programming, which reaches underserved middle and high school girls in charter schools. Run by Step Up teachers and volunteers, these extra-curricular activities offer the young women creative outlets and leadership training. Additionally, the girls get a social net via their program peers, as well as mentoring and guidance from successful women the girls aspire to be like.

For several years, members Henri Hebert and Kimberly Goodman have been documenting the girls' experiences. As Henri tells it:
I joined Step Up Women's Network in 2001, where I became entrenched in volunteering and helping them shape their programming for at-risk teens. Back then, we were leading one day workshops, yet I really wanted to do more. I kept asking various board members if we could do multi-day classes; the impact would be so much greater if we kept the momentum going.

Then four years ago, Step Up asked me to lead a 6-week photography class. Admittedly, I knew nothing about photography, but I knew how to produce. So, I assembled a very talented group of women who developed the curriculum for the first photography class, which taught the girls to think critically about what kind of photos they wanted to take. At the end of the course, a gallery event showcased the girls' work and put them in the spotlight as they discussed their projects with guests. Today, Step Up offers that photojournalism program in three cities.

As soon as the first photography class began, my producer's instinct told me there was a story waiting to be told. I wanted to be filming it all, but there wasn't time for me to be behind a camera. The following year, my producing partner, Kimberly Goodman, and I filmed the instructors as they led the next 6-week photography class, resulting in the docu-short When I am President... This was the first entry in an on-going series of docu-shorts that have become invaluable fundraising tools for the organization.
This month, their company FiveFold Productions took home two Bronze Telly Awards for their short about the after school filmmaking program at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy. Over 12 weeks, the teens set about discovering "real beauty" in their neighborhoods, looking beyond the superficial. With 90% of the girls living below the poverty level, their projects do more than give the girls voices, they tell stories typically ignored by mainstream media.

Step Up also helps the girls plan for the future with internships and college application assistance. An annual college tour for the juniors gives them a glimpse of the future that's in reach despite everyday struggles that seem insurmountable at times.

As piloted programming in Los Angeles is rolled out in NYC and Chicago, members are always ready to step up for the cause because they know a few hours of their time has a powerful impact that is going to ripple. Longtime volunteer Lisa Muse once said, "When I joined Step Up, I thought I was going to 'just' be doing some 'volunteer work.'... Having the opportunity to help them along on that journey of self-discovery has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."

So, while we struggle with the mediocre rhetoric of mainstream media and the blatant ignorance seemingly flaunted by certain members of society, know for certain that there are plenty of people trying tirelessly to clean up the mess and create opportunity for the next generation. They're just too busy to stop and shout it from the mountain.

If you'd like to contribute, consider a tax-deductible donation or help Step Up with their program supply wish list for the fall.

Keeping with the theme of Step Up's fundraising efforts for their teen programs, an interactive gift house that allows women to honor their inspirations, here's a question for the Shaker community: Who inspires you?

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus