As a young girl growing up, who was the woman you admired and respected? For me, it was my own mother, a woman very much ahead of her time when she raised me and my sister. My mom encouraged us to pursue both our educations and our passions to create a full, independent life – options she did not have. For many young girls, however, that mentor role is not conclusive and they are left to pull together their own road map for life.
Last spring, I was honored to speak at Auburn University’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. As fate would have it, lunch found me sitting across from an impressive young woman, Adaeze Ajoku, who attends the University of Miami. Adaeze has a quiet confidence that draws people to her, and before long, she was telling me about a passion project, Strong Women, Strong Girls. And before I knew it, I was hooked – both by Adaeze’s passion and the organization.
Strong Women, Strong Girls was founded in 2000 by Lindsay Hyde as a group project while at Harvard University. The program reaches out to girls in the third through fifth grades to offer weekly mentoring programs by female college students. Topics include communication, leadership, community and personal well-being.
As a professional trainer on communication skills, I am most impressed by the structure and focus provided to the volunteer mentors. A lesson plan, complete with activities and a discussion guide, is prepared for each of the initiatives undertaken by the group. Young girls also learn about early woman pioneers in professional fields as well as women who have and are shaping society.
Presently, three cities host Strong Women, Strong Girls chapters: Boston, Pittsburg and Miami. The program has garnered much national attention and critical acclaim. It’s been highlighted in the Boston Globe, Seventeen Magazine and the NBC Nightly News. Founder Lindsay Hyde was given the Jefferson Award, joining Steve Jobs and Wendy Kopp as honorees.
Monday night I had the honor of speaking to the University of Miami chapter, courtesy of Adaeze. In speaking with the members, many told me that they are active because of a strong role model early in life but most said it was the absence of this guidance that attracted them to the program. It was inspiring to watch and learn from the leadership of these young women volunteers. At every point, the well-being of their protégées was prioritized. The chapter president, Ajiah, lead by example with discussion, collaboration and consensus. Our political leaders could glean much from their demonstration…
This is Adaeze’s final semester. A double major in math and anthropology, she is about to venture into the professional world. There is no doubt that this is truly a “strong woman” and some future employer is lucky to have her, as are we. If Adaeze and her colleagues represent the future leadership of America, you can rest assured that we are in good hands.