Lashawn Reed and her “Strong, Ambitious Women,” sixth graders at Sto-Rox. Photo by: Trevor Miles
Kym Macek | MRCDC
For several years now, a fantastic program called “Strong Women, Strong Girls” has been offered for fifth-grade girls who attend the Upper Elementary at the Sto-Rox School District.
Run by Lisa Williams, the fifth-grade special education teacher, the program is designed to empower young girls and help them to find their voice. However, as their fifth-grade year winds to completion, “Strong Women, Strong Girls” ends and these girls are left without the support and empowerment the program provides as they move onward and upward to the sixth grade.
When I joined McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation as a Masters of Social Work intern this year, I expected to be here and there doing odds and ends in the community. Maribeth Taylor, resident services coordinator with MRCDC, mentioned Williams’ program and the dilemma as to how to continue this program for these youngsters. Taylor also mentioned someone she had in mind – Lashawn Reed.
Founder of the Strong, Ambitious Women, LLC., Reed is a published author, and even has a day named after her in the City of Pittsburgh. Additionally, she’s working to raise $40,000 through a GoFundMe to build a safe center for women and children of the Sto-Rox community.
Taylor discussed bringing these two women together, and possibly starting a partnership to bring Reed’s “Strong, Ambitious Women” to the sixth-graders.
“Kym, do you think this is something you’d like to do?” As Taylor is telling me all these things, I begin to panic as I think about meeting both these women. Though I have my experiences, I’m still just an intern. I see myself looking at something bigger than myself, something that could help these young girls and suddenly it’s all on me. Of course, this is something I’d like to do. I immediately contact Williams and Reed to set up meetings.
Reed is a ball of sunshine and energy; it’s no wonder she’s done so much in her life. Williams is sweet and caring; at our first meeting together, she brought along one of her girls from the Strong Women, Strong Girls program, who would be moving on to the sixth-grade. You see how strongly Williams feels about her program and the girls she works with just by listening to her talk.
As I conducted individual meetings with each of them, I knew that together they could do fantastic things for these young ladies at Sto-Rox. I was right. Putting them together felt like the meeting of two minds. As they discussed the things they could do, worked out the logistics, and talked about things that they both accomplished, I could see they were going to do great things.
“I’m fat. I don’t have any friends,” she recalled some of them saying as they began pouring out their fears and worries. “I was so surprised that they opened up to someone they met just 10 minutes ago,” she says.
Additionally, Williams commented on another facet allowing her and other after school programs to operate – transportation.
“The no. 1 barrier, is not cost, but transportation. There are so many programs in the [Sto-Rox area] that are not filled because of transportation, ” says Taris Vrcek, executive director, MRCDC. “This is the missing link, it’s transportation.”
A bussing solution worked out by members of The Youth Partnership – another MRCDC collaboration where CORO Fellow Reena Naik is an organizer – allows students to attend weekly after-school sports and arts programming at the school or try out golfing lessons at The First Tee located at Pleasant Ridge.
The cost to provide a bus just once a week totals $125 and members of The Youth Partnership are hoping to be able to raise enough funds to offer three sessions of seven weeks each, says Naik.
Currently, there are 62 students enrolled in the first session which continues through Dec. 20. Session two will begin Jan. 24 if funding is available.
Let’s hope the funding can be found. As to the Strong, Ambitious Women program brought to the sixth-graders earlier this month, I was excited to find twenty girls in attendance the first week and thirty the second. That number continues to grow.
I am proud to see what these women are bringing to so many young ladies. Not only do they provide guidance and empowerment, they give these girls the confidence to become doctors, scientists, teachers, stay at home mothers…anything that they want to be.
For donations to the transportation program or other Youth Partnership initiatives, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.