Local nonprofits team up to make young women their own advocates.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Not all nonprofit organizations can ask their beneficiaries what they want. Sea otters and Monterey pines, for example, don’t advise conservation groups. Historically, teenage girls have been similarly absent from the tables of the nonprofits that advocate for them.
So in 2009, the Community Foundation for Monterey County’s Women’s Fund set out to identify what girls need to make healthy decisions. They deployed 57 teenage girls to survey their peers and were surprised to see nutrition place highest – well above alcoholism, which didn’t even make the top 10.
Next, the foundation sourced a $160,000 first-year budget from various grants. The resulting initiative, Girls’ Health in Girls’ Hands, aims to transform thousands of local young women into their own advocates, setting the agenda when it comes to their health-related needs.
About 120 girls aged 11-18, many wearing pajama pants, gathered at CSU Monterey Bay on Nov. 17 to launch the effort. They spent the day brainstorming and articulating what they want from the organizations that serve them.
Participants put orange dots on posters to emphasize which issues take priority for them. Self-esteem comes in first (with 164 dots), followed closely by stress (106), then alcohol abuse and sex (tied with 90). Depression (87) place well above body image (72), friendships (55) and disease (46).
At one table, participants talk about how tough it is to come by information about sex. “Girls hide when it’s about that topic,” 15-year-old Martha Pedraza says. “If you’re in a group of friends and start talking about it, it’s like, ‘Really?’”
Community Foundation Vice President Julie Drezner says those insights are important: “We’re believing in the ability and wisdom of these girls.”
In July, the Community Foundation awarded $15,000 to each of six nonprofit groups that serve young women, including the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center and Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. Now, their directors meet regularly. They could be viewed as competitors, but here they are collaborators. Organizers hope that dynamic will set the stage to pool existing resources.
For 17-year-old Noelly Garnica, the Nov. 17 workshop is a place to open up more freely than she can even as a peer educator in the Health Department’s POSTPONE program, which reaches some 2,700 students a year with reproductive health information.
“It’s a little different here,” she says. “I feel more comfortable talking about my issues. It makes it tough when the guys are around.”