Spreading their Wings: Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership

Spreading their Wings: Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership

By Genna Maxwell

At Hancock Recreation Center on a Tuesday summer afternoon, several girls are snacking on fruit and talking about their upcoming film project. They are members of Girls Getting Ahead in Leadership (GGAL), and, as the name suggests, they are not interested in being left behind. GGAL is a Women's Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) program that offers academic, leadership, and college prep services for underserved and underrepresented at-risk immigrant and refugee young women. While open to anyone, current participants are mainly from Asia and Africa, including young Hmong, Karen, Ethiopian, Somali, and Oromo women. While some of the girls have been in the program two days, others have participated for up to four years and will be heading off to college soon. Likewise, some of the girls have been in the country for as little as a few months or up to several years.

This year-round program pairs girls with mentors from local colleges to receive tutoring and to hear about the college experience. Many participants are first generation college students that particularly benefit from the support that the program provides, including financial literacy counseling, help with college applications, access to college visits and follow-up services once they are enrolled. GGAL also works on developing leaders by having the girls lead activities, workshops and community projects—projects like making videos, writing, and cooking with community members. Immigrants who are professionals in the community also visit to share their inspirational stories with the GGAL participants.

GGAL emphasizes culture within their programming, and girls lead regular workshops that are focused on a particular word or phrase, for example "cross cultural learning," in which building relationships across culture lines is encouraged. This summer the girls shared examples of how they have felt invisible due to their unique background and how they can be powerful advocates for themselves. That feeling of invisibility was the theme of the GGAL video project this summer, and the filmmaking process has allowed the girls to share and reflect on their experiences while simultaneously working on their English skills.

Most of the girls are quite shy when they start the program but begin to grow and spread their wings like the WISE logo itself—a butterfly. The girls have big aspirations for their futures with such professional goals as becoming a nurse, social worker, and senator. There is clearly a distinctive theme of giving back through their future professions, as these girls are well aware what a difference supportive community members can make—especially when it comes to helping young people adapt to a new country, new language, and new opportunities.

For more information about WISE and GGAL, visit the GGAL program page on the Sprockets Program Finder.