The young women participating in this year’s Young Women’s Initiative (YWI) program were tasked with identifying three topic areas where they could make recommendations for change in Springfield. The topic areas they chose were Dress Codes, Mental Health, and Practical Education. Each of the three task forces studied the issues and made recommendations for change and then researched area nonprofits that are currently working to solve these issues. The young women then chose three of those nonprofits to receive a $5,000 grant addressing their respective topic areas.
The selected organizations are: Catie’s Closet, Inc., Gandara Center, and Pioneer Valley Project.
Dress Codes Task Force
Recognizing the lack of gender equity in school dress code policies, this task force focused on creating change to those policies that affect young women’s daily life in school by compounding rape culture ideologies. Students from low-income families are especially impacted by these policies, so these young women considered this issue through a gendered and economic lens.
The Dress Codes Task Force determined Catie’s Closet the most suitable grantee to address the dress code problems they are facing in Springfield schools. Their rubric outlines priorities such as the organization’s experience with understanding and addressing dress code issues, focusing on K-12 aged students, demonstrating success in the past five years, showing transparency in use of budget, and outlining the specific $5,000 project and its impact.
Grantee: Catie’s Closet, Inc.
Mission: Catie’s Closet improves students’ school attendance, emotional well-being, grade progression and ultimately, graduation rates by providing in-school access to clothing and basic necessities to students who are homeless, living in poverty or low income.
Project: With the YWAC’s grant money, Catie’s Closet will be able to open a new closet in a Springfield school. The young women chose this organization based on their criteria, and also based on their direct impact on the students who need support most. Catie’s Closet had the ability to speak to their impact both with numbers and a story, and this gave the YWAC Dress Codes Task Force the confidence to move forward in supporting their efforts to alleviate dress code inequities in Springfield.
Quote from application describing problem:
“Lack of access to appropriate clothing and basic necessities has emerged as one of the top 5 reasons for absenteeism, a core reason for bullying and a root cause to many students feeling isolated from their peers.”
Mental Health Task Force
This task force focused on avenues for affecting positive change in mental health supports for youth. This relates to regular life at home, in school, or after graduation, and in dealing with structures like the court system or hospitals. Women and girls of any age or background are impacted by mental health, so this task force saw an opportunity for their generation to be involved in destigmatizing mental health and encouraging other to seek help without shame.
The Mental Health Task Force chose Gandara Center to use the funds to promote awareness of accessible mental health resources and to encourage acceptance and normalization of those resources. Their rubric outlines priorities such as the organization’s education outreach, prevention efforts, program implementation, professional development and support for staff, and the makeup of the board and staff.
Grantee: Gandara Center
Mission: The Mission of the Gandara Center is to promote the wellbeing of Hispanics, African-Americans and other culturally diverse Populations, through innovative, culturally competent behavioral health, prevention and educational services.
Project: With the YWAC grant money, Gandara Center will be able to provide joint training for staff and youth to formally learn the practices of co-leading a Photo Voice-a nationally recognized Photo/Narrative process by which members of a community gain awareness (research), and promote local change. Once the training is completed each staff/youth lead team will work with groups of youth to implement a Photo Voice education campaign designed to promote/demystify stigma around mental health and addiction.
Practical Education Task Force (Civic Engagement Focus)
This task force aimed to find solutions that address the gaps in education that secure their future success. They were focused on basic life skill learning such as comprehensive sexual education, financial literacy, and civic participation. In order to really create an impact, this task force focused even further within practical education to consider how to empower young women’s ability to be civic engaged. Young women from this task force wanted their peers to understand their rights and responsibilities as young citizens and as young women.
The Practical Education Task Force decided that the Pioneer Valley Project’s proposal best fit their goal of supporting their peers in understanding the reality of the world around them. Their rubric outlines priorities such as the organization’s use of funds, project goals, budget and financial stability, program evaluation, and ability to support the people of Springfield directly.
Grantee: Pioneer Valley Project (PVP)
Mission: PVP is an organization of people, congregations, unions and other groups in Springfield, MA building community and power for justice and the common good.
Project: Pioneer Valley Project and PVP Youth Voices United will offer its first Summer Freedom School, a 7-week, twice weekly experiential program for high school age youth modeled after the Freedom Schools of Mississippi in the 1960s. This program will use popular education approaches to engage participants in creating shared social analysis with an understanding of historical context, including some of their own experiences as migrants and refugees. The program will increase participants’ understanding of political and economic structures which perpetuate oppression in our community and beyond.