StrongHER TogetHER is a local organization helping girls rise above stereotypes that alienate them from one another and instead, grow up to be women who understand the power of their collective strength in the fight for equity. Founded in 2017, StrongHER TogetHER proudly serves Durham, NC.
What strides has your organization made towards achieving a more equitable society? What have been your lessons learned?
At StrongHER TogetHER, we recognize young people experience disparities that are out of their control. For that reason, we tailor our programs such that these disparities are not only openly recognized and discussed, but we also work to minimize their impact. For example, when we seek nominees each spring from school counselors, we don't ask specifically for academic, sports, or performance standouts. Why? Because the reasons a child might not be able to devote enough time to studying or sort out a way to and from practices are too many to name. And yet, the impact a program like ours can have on a young girl's life - offering steady peer-to-peer support and amazing programming opportunities for 8 years - is undeniable.
Having said that, one thing we've learned is that offering effective programming for populations that are largely marginalized requires scrappy creativity at every turn. Transportation, communication, and technology issues abound. Though structured, repeatable, and geographically-limited efforts make for simple programming, it doesn't make for inclusivity. We work hard to be nimble and open to new ideas. Ideas that might take more time, might be more complicated to implement, and yes, they might cost more money. But those are the ideas that have given girls in our program the assurance they are important enough for us to take on the twists and turns required for their participation. We are so grateful for their growth in understanding our mission. And, we are equally grateful for a community who gets what we are doing and supports us at every turn. Evolving StrongHER TogetHER in Durham's embrace is a gift.
What programs, events, initiatives, or services showcase your organization's commitment to excellence?
We have far more interest in StrongHER TogetHER than we have the capacity to support. Waiting lists for every group and every grade level are long, but current financial and leadership resources limit our ability to effectively grow the numbers we serve. The tug of our community's needs is ever on our minds.
With the onset of COVID-19 in the spring, our programming efforts elevated to another level. We realized girls in our program were depressed, frustrated, worried, and looking for social and extracurricular outlets. We also realized they were but a small reflection of the much larger population of girls in Durham we do NOT serve – girls who are also searching for something positive throughout these months of isolation.
In May, we introduced the first ever "Durham Girls Summer Book Club." Over the next 3 months, we gave away 1,000 books at food distribution sites throughout Durham to interested girls in grades 5-8. By summer's end, we raised enough money to buy 3 books for over 300 girls, met 3 authors, discussed their books and many more via Slack, and shared quite a few virtual laughs. Girls participating in the program decided to continue monthly Zoom sessions until next summer (when we plan to include food distribution site pen pal stations, too!). Above all else, StrongHER TogetHER was able to continue our efforts to connect girls in a positive way. Despite a pandemic. Despite waitlists. Despite all the things that make us different from one another.
This summer experience was fuel for our ongoing efforts. StrongHER TogetHER is committed to teaching girls a better way. In overcoming stereotypes through positive experience, we are helping the next generation in the fight for gender equity. Because, we believe, collective power is world-changing power.