Laurel was a shy little girl in the corner.
Her mom didn’t want her home alone while she was working, so she began taking six-year-old Laurel to a colorful, welcoming place where young girls of all ages played and learned after school.
She didn’t say much during her first few weeks at Girls Inc., but eventually Laurel became interested in the classes and programs the nonprofit organization offered. Today, as an 8th grader, Laurel is involved with track, volleyball, softball and cheerleading. She credits Girls Inc. with part of her success.
“I learned how to be confident through Girls Inc.,” said Laurel, now 14. “So many inspiring girls and leaders have taught me to never let anyone take away the confidence I’ve developed inside me.”
Laurel is one of millions of young girls who have benefitted from the national nonprofit youth organization “dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Girls Inc. has provided educational programs in the U.S. for over 150 years, particularly to girls in high-risk, underserved areas.
Earlier this month, Starbucks announced that through its partnership with Oprah Winfrey, sales of Teavana® Oprah Chai have raised more than $5 million for youth organizations in the U.S. and Canada. All proceeds directed to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation from Teavana® Oprah Chai provide support to nonprofit organizations, including Girls Inc.
More significant than the donation, is the impact Girls Inc. has on young women around the country – a story told best through those closest to the programs.
‘Life is better than your circumstances’
Zhomontee is a thriving 18-year-old college student at the University of Nebraska. Her early years were challenging, however, because her mom had an addiction to drugs and alcohol which she has since conquered. Between the ages of 8 and 11, Zhomontee took care of her siblings – three brothers, including twins.
“I cooked breakfast, took them to daycare and then school and did everything a mother would do. At first it was exciting because it was like playing house, but it wasn’t much fun after a while.”
Zhomontee made up for what might have been a lost childhood when her grandmother introduced her to Girls Inc. “My outlook changed being around strong women and older girls. Seeing all they were doing for the community and their own lives made me want to be like them,” she said.
Over the years, Zhomontee gained positive decision-making skills and received the support she needed to succeed academically. She would like to give back by developing a sign language class for Girls Inc. as she studies counseling and therapy in college. She’s also established a better relationship with her mother. In addition, Zhomontee’s brothers have good grades in school and are also learning “life is better than your circumstance and you don’t have to be your past, you can be a success,” she said.
Sparking new passions
Girls Inc. ignited a new interest for 14-year-old Jhaelynn, who found the program a few years ago through her church. She attended one event and recalled an enthusiastic Girls Inc. leader asking the group, “Who’s ready to learn science?”
“I was like ‘uh, not me.’ But the more I paid attention to what they were demonstrating with robots and other amazing things, I thought, ‘this is for me,’” said Jhaelynn. She’s just in 8th grade now, and plans to study chemistry so she can one day have a career creating cosmetics.
Encouraging girls to be more interested in science, technology, engineering and math has always been a priority for Mary Wagner. She’s Starbucks senior vice president of Global R&D, Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory, and serves on the Girls Inc. board of directors.
“Often the girls come from situations that are not as conducive to having strong role models,” said Wagner. “We give them exposure to experiences that boost their confidence and curiosity.”
For the past few years, Wagner has given young women in Southern California a hands-on opportunity to discover food science. In addition to interacting with college professors, a bonus treat for the students is learning about science by making their own ice cream. A handful of girls each year go on to attend a food expo where they’ve had a chance to hear from Starbucks beverage developers and a woman who developed food for NASA.
“The girls are highly engaged and fascinated to hear women talk about their professions. I can see that it’s eye opening for them,” Wagner said. “That keeps me energized to make sure we’re growing the next generation of female leaders in science and technology.”
Not all work, some play
Several young women from Girls Inc., including Laurel and Jhaelynn, were recently invited to a behind-the-scenes experience on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning musical competition series “The Voice” (8-10 p.m. ET/PT). They talked with members of “Team Christina” – vocal contestants coached by Christina Aguilera.
“When we were backstage we were treated just like the rest of Team Christina. It was great!” Laurel said. “And do you know the best part? We got to go to Starbucks and order anything we wanted. Who gets that? The whole day made me feel special.”
The Voice and Starbucks have teamed up to make others feel special through a community service project in the Los Angeles area. About 500 Starbucks partners (employees) and artists from The Voice have been beautifying Haddon Elementary School. They’re working alongside City Year Los Angeles corps members, who are helping with the community service work during Starbucks Global Month of Service.
The Pacoima, CA school serves a student body of 800 students – nearly all Hispanic and eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. Resources for the school beyond basic educational needs are scarce.
Starbucks Global Month of Service
April is the month when Starbucks invites its partners, customers, and local nonprofit organizations to join together in volunteer projects around the globe. This year the emphasis was on volunteer efforts that supporting Opportunity Youth – young people ages 16-24 who are not employed or in school. Starbucks plans to hire 10,000 Opportunity Youth by the year 2018.
Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing over 140,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the right tools and support to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment, peers who share their drive and aspirations, and research-based programming.
Teavana offers high quality teas and a unique in-store experience to new tea drinkers and tea connoisseurs alike. Acquired by Starbucks in 2012, Teavana immerses customers in a full tea experience where they can learn more about the ritual and enjoyment of tea with products available in more than 300 locations including Teavana tea bars, shopping malls, and Starbucks® stores. Teavana offers premium tea accessories and an array of loose leaf teas, including Teavana Oprah Chai, created in partnership with Oprah Winfrey.
Photos courtesy The Voice and Girls Inc.