learn / 2014

WriteGirl: The Write Place for Girls

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by WriteGirl, a project of Community Partners

To provide a safe space for teen girls to write, create and connect in critical afterschool hours.

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

To provide a safe space for teen girls to write, create and connect in critical afterschool hours.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside
  • Northeast LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The WriteGirl “Write Place for Girls” afterschool program will provide a safe place for LA teen girls to write, create and connect. Since 2001, WriteGirl has paired underserved teen girls with professional women writers for mentoring, creative writing workshops, public readings and award-winning publications. WriteGirl offers exceptional programming to inspire girls to develop their voices and their confidence. In a city where only 66% of students graduate from high school, WriteGirl has had a 13-year record of guiding 100% of its seniors to enroll in college. WriteGirl has partnered with the Goodwill Enrichment Center to create a unique writing center in the underserved Northeast Los Angeles region - the Write Place for Girls.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

For many years, WriteGirl has offered workshops and creative programming for girls at community centers, museums, parks and theaters all over greater Los Angeles. While girls have enjoyed learning songwriting at Disney Hall and poetry at the Autry Museum, we have seen that girls need the consistency of a calm and positive space that’s just for them.

In the fall, WriteGirl will move its headquarters to a 2,100 square foot space in the new Goodwill Community Enrichment Center in Glassell Park, near downtown LA. This space will not only house the WriteGirl offices, but a large area will be built as a library and writing center for teen girls – a safe and exciting place where girls will want to connect and learn.

The Write Place for Girls will be a comprehensive afterschool writing and college guidance program for teen girls, offering small group workshops, one-on-one mentoring, special guest speakers, innovative writing activities, film screenings, group discussions and quiet reading and writing time. All programming will be offered at no cost to participants. To implement this program we will conduct extensive outreach throughout Los Angeles, including students, parents/families and schools. WriteGirl will expand its volunteer base to provide ample mentors, as well as recruit and train additional staff members to manage programs and members, develop new curriculum and establish new community partnerships.

This new Write Place for Girls will be a center for creativity, collaboration and community for LA teen girls. WriteGirl is about transformation. When girls are given the space, time and support to just be themselves and say what they feel, all the while surrounded by creative and dedicated mentors, they excel and their confidence soars. We know that this new space, and the exciting programming it will offer, will give girls a foundation for individual growth.

This grant would support staffing and outreach needed to double the amount of programming hours WriteGirl offers. Girls in our Core Mentoring Program currently receive 10 hours of programming per month through group workshops and one-on-one mentoring. In contrast, the Write Place for Girls afterschool program will offer a minimum of 30 hours of group programming monthly, in addition to 90 hours of mentoring time. WriteGirl leverages the skills of hundreds of women writers to inspire teen writers, training them to lead workshops and mentor girls individually and in small groups.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

WriteGirl is an esteemed educational model for organizations across the country. In 2013, WriteGirl received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the highest national honor awarded to exemplary afterschool and out-of-school time programs from across the country. In 2014, WriteGirl Executive Director Keren Taylor was named a CNN Hero. In expanding WriteGirl’s presence through this new Write Place for Girls, WriteGirl will be a more visible inspiration for other nonprofits and educational institutions throughout Los Angeles, helping to make 2050 a time when all youth have inspiring places and mentors to guide them to their full potential.

For 13 years, WriteGirl has been an important gathering place – a sort of town square for girls to connect with other girls, meet accomplished women and be inspired; a place to stand up for their ideas and ideals and most importantly, to celebrate their own unique voices and identities. Research supports that girls, who may be overly self-critical in the presence of teen boys and men, learn best from other girls and women. Girls learning in single-sex environments are more self-confident, have heightened career aspirations, develop broader interests, are more willing to accept challenges, engage in more leadership opportunities and embrace achievement in academics, the arts and sports.

The Write Place for Girls is designed to meet the unique needs of teen girls, expanding on what WriteGirl has been building and refining for over a decade. We always keep it fun, fresh and creative, but at its core, WriteGirl is a rare and vital pathway for girls to find their way forward, to grow confident and clear in who they are, what they believe and how their ideas and choices matter, in their families, communities and in the world. The center will offer a lending library of books on writing as well as college entrance handbooks, special guest speakers, computer and internet access, specialized workshops in everything from resume-writing to novel writing clinics and field trips to LA landmarks.

Teen participants will be published in WriteGirl’s award-winning anthologies and on the WriteGirl blog. WriteGirl teens are increasingly published in many prominent outlets and featured as guest performers throughout the greater Los Angeles region, from events sponsored by Mayor Eric Garcetti to public readings at Skylight Books, the Los Angeles Public Library and onstage at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Whom will your project benefit?

Building this center for girls in Northeast Los Angeles is a deliberate choice, recognizing the urgent need for creative programming for diverse youth in the area. Glassell Park, Atwater Village, Eagle Rock, Montecito Heights, Highland Park and Cypress Park have very few community centers to serve this low-income, high-density region of LA. Less than a dozen community centers serve the 243,000 residents in this area, and only several offer academic and creative programs for teens.

The large schools in the region are unable to serve the individual needs of teen girls, such as offering specific college application and financial aid assistance, help with family or emotional challenges or even academic and literacy skill development. Guidance counselors, charged with facilitating the college application process, often are assigned hundreds of students, prohibiting access to higher education.

Many of the girls in our program are facing some of the most intense challenges a teen girl can face, such as pregnancy, incarceration, unstable home environments, clinical depression, suicide attempts and homelessness. WriteGirl provides a sanctuary and positive atmosphere that builds skills and confidence, sending girls into the world with the tools to succeed. WriteGirl fosters a powerful intercultural exchange among ethnically and economically diverse participants, allowing unique cross-generational relationships to develop between girls and women who would otherwise never meet.

Continuing WriteGirl’s longstanding policy of inclusion, all teen girls in Los Angeles County will be welcome to participate at workshops and events. The Write Place for Girls program will make a focused effort to enroll girls specifically from Northeast Los Angeles communities in a roughly five-mile radius of the Goodwill Enrichment Center. WriteGirl will have a greater opportunity to connect with parents and the surrounding community as this unique space offers many family-friendly amenities, including ample parking and a cafe, that will make parents feel welcome to wait while their girls participate in program activities.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

WriteGirl has developed relationships with dozens of partners, including the Goodwill Enrichment Center, the Los Angeles Times, Fox Studios, Writers Guild of America, and others that provide wide-ranging resources from venues to volunteers to financial support. We have worked with most of our partners for many years, and they have increased their support as we have grown. Our newest partner, the Goodwill Community Enrichment Center, represents much more than a new space, but a powerful collaboration for hundreds of youth and their families.

Goodwill is offering far-reaching support, including daily security, affordable onsite catering, meeting spaces, staff support and ample free parking for 400 vehicles. We haven’t even moved in yet and we are already collaborating with Goodwill by leading writing workshops at Goodwill sponsored youth events and bringing several WriteGirl events to the facility.

We have dreamed about creating a center for girls, and this Write Place for Girls center will allow us to fulfill that vision. The move will be more than just a physical one. It signifies an important next step in our organization’s development and exemplifies the kind of partnerships we hope to cultivate in the future. This move symbolizes what we’ve strived so hard to achieve and it illustrates the trajectory of our growth.

Three factors that are critical to success in all our partnerships: 1) Financial health in order to remain stable and support each other. 2) Similar values – for example, positivity and respect are key components in building community and successful programs. 3) Making decisions with an eye to the future, and having a shared vision for the health of Los Angeles. After all, 2050 is not that far away!

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Job-skills readiness

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

We have seen that girls are in dire need of a full slate of college preparation resources, job skills and leadership development to truly give them the tools, community, confidence and tenacious communication skills they need to thrive in college, the workplace and in life. WriteGirl offers college preparation and attainment programming, internships and career awareness programs, and a growing alumnae support network. In addition to receiving college preparation guidance, participants in The Write Place for Girls will have the opportunity to pursue internships and other career-focused programming offered by WriteGirl, learning job and leadership skills that will make them competitive in the workforce.

After 13 years of guiding girls to enroll in college and express themselves, we are beginning to see WriteGirl alumnae graduate from college with a passion for service and a desire to give back to their communities. Girls benefit from WriteGirl’s unique combination of creative writing skill development, confidence building, and encouragement to express themselves, and feel empowered to pursue higher education and careers in many fields, including those often underrepresented by women.

The WriteGirl chant is, “Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen!” We believe that the ability to express oneself is a fundamental cornerstone of leadership and can empower a young woman throughout her life. Because WriteGirl emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving, girls are prepared to pursue careers in technology, science, and socially-conscious fields.

Examples of how WriteGirl teens are succeeding and positively impacting the LA2050 metrics:

Melina is pursuing an MD degree at Morehouse School of Medicine. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t learn how to express myself all those years ago! My writing was even mentioned in my interview!”

Lovely, first in her family to go to college, is a graduate of Reed College where she attended on a full scholarship. She is currently a fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy, focusing on nuclear nonproliferation. “WriteGirl’s work goes beyond what you see on paper; it encourages young girls to expand their imagination as writers and as individuals.”

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure success of The Write Place for Girls program by 1) tracking program hours to deliver a minimum of 30 group programming hours and 90 hours of one-one-one mentoring per month; 2) enrolling an additional 50 neighborhood girls to add to our current 150 girls in the program’s first year; 3) conducting comprehensive pre- and post-season assessments with participants to track metrics such as confidence, writing ability and the relationship between WriteGirl activities/curriculum and school/career achievement, and 4) evaluating program success through surveys with stakeholders such as partners, parents, family members and teachers.

Surveys and metrics gathered will guide us in ensuring that we continue to meet the following key program objectives: Teach a robust set of writing and critical analysis skills. Ensure 100% of seniors graduate from high school and enroll in college. Help girls achieve meaningful employment and opportunities post-college.

WriteGirl’s innovative approach to literacy education leads to specific outcomes, such as increased confidence, self-expression, writing skills and critical thinking ability. In our 13-year history, we have maintained a 100% success rate of guiding girls to not only graduate from high school, but also enroll in college—a remarkable statistic in contrast to the 66% graduation rate of the LA Unified School District. Many are granted scholarships, including nationally renowned Posse Foundation scholarships, and many are the first in their families to go to college. Another visible result of the success is evidenced in our WriteGirl anthologies, which have won over 65 national and international awards.

WriteGirl teens are accomplishing great things. One was selected to be a youth delegate for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2014, and another received a Scholastic Art & Writing Award. In June 2014, a WriteGirl teen was selected as the first LA Youth Poet Laureate, and four other WriteGirl teens were named finalists.

Success can also be measured by the achievements of WriteGirl alumnae, who continue to succeed long past college graduation, earning prestigious internships and admittance to graduate programs. WriteGirl alums are graduating college with a passion for service and a desire to lead in their communities, seeking work in the nonprofit sector and with vital global initiatives such as nuclear security or equity for women workers.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Teen girls in Los Angeles County face enormous challenges, such as high unemployment rates, high gang and criminal activity and extremely limited availability of educational and/or mentoring programs. WriteGirl recruits girls from high-density, low-income neighborhoods, where many schools enroll up to 4,000 students. These large schools are unable to serve the individual needs of teen girls, or offer specific college application and financial aid assistance, help with family or emotional challenges or even academic and literacy skill development. Guidance counselors are often assigned hundreds of students, prohibiting access to higher education.

It is clear that there is a dire need for college guidance and support. Participants in The Write Place for Girls afterschool program will have access to WriteGirl’s in-depth college programming, giving girls the individualized college guidance they are not receiving at their home schools. WriteGirl assists girls and their families with navigating the entire college application process, including scholarships and financial aid. This unusually intensive coaching gives girls and their families the full support they need to successfully gain access to higher education for their daughters.

At a recent college workshop, one girl told us, “Saturday’s College workshop was a great opportunity for the rising seniors to see how much support we have in WriteGirl. We discussed financial aid, how to choose a college, writing the application essay, what to look for in a college, how to research a college, and had an opportunity to express our fears and expectations for college. There was also time to discuss specific concerns with mentors. It was really comforting to see that there were other girls in the same position of unpreparedness and concern about financial aid. Although many of us were somewhat frightened by the cost of college, we all seemed to leave the workshop with broadened opinions about financial aid, overall applications, college locations, and seeking a school that fit us well. It was incredibly helpful to get advice on researching a college instead of choosing randomly.”

  1. Why a gathering place for girls? This is what one girl said, “Because of WriteGirl, I now know that a teen girl has a lot more to say than what the media portrays.” The Write Place for Girls will help girls develop and raise their voices, giving them them the confidence and self-esteem to make bold choices for their futures.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have a track record of success. We have amazing partners. We have outstanding dedicated volunteers. We have a skilled team of qualified staff members. Our board provides insightful guidance and direction. And now, after 12 years, we have a dream partnership with the Goodwill Community Enrichment Center and an opportunity to collaborate to build a vital community program - the Write Place for Girls.

We have always been cautious in taking on new programs or expanding our services. Even though we are approached on a daily basis by organizations and individuals across the country and around the world who would like to have WriteGirl programs in their communities, we remain loyal to Los Angeles and dedicated to helping grow future community leaders and engaged citizens who will help make Los Angeles a vibrant and meaningful place to live in 2050.

Now is the time to deepen our impact in Los Angeles, and through our new partnership with Goodwill, we know the WriteGirl Write Place for Girls will thrive for many years to come. Success depends upon adequate resources, and this grant will give us the support we need to put this program on solid ground.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

  1. Recruiting, training and managing the additional number of volunteers needed to support the Write Place for Girls presents a challenge, but we have been pursuing various solutions to address this. In terms of recruitment, WriteGirl is partnering several new organizations this summer to enlist new volunteers through participation in large-scale community events, such as the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, and the 2014 KCON Korean Festival, while continuing to recruit volunteers from prominent companies and organizations including the the Writers Guild of America, the Los Angeles Times, Disney, Paramount, Time Warner, Fox, HBO and Roll International, among many others. Volunteers complete a rigorous training program and dedicate a total of more than 1,500 hours each month to support WriteGirl programs. Communication with such a large volunteer corps assisting WriteGirl in many different capacities can present a challenge, but WriteGirl has recently invested in new technology, software and databases that will help facilitate effective communication with our valued volunteers.

  2. Ensuring that we maintain innovative and fresh programming even as we significantly increase the number of programming hours we will deliver presents a challenge, but we have a strong workshop curriculum team in place to keep girls enthusiastically participating and engaged. The curriculum development team is comprised of teachers, marketing professionals, corporate executives, in addition to expert writers, who all bring a wide variety of skills and perspectives to the table. WriteGirl programming adheres to a well defined set of proprietary guidelines ensuring that we deliver high quality educational programming that is also fun and surprising. We sometimes refer to WriteGirl as “literacy in disguise.” Girls feel like they are participating in exciting, positive events with other girls and writers, but we know the academic rigor that is built into every event, inspiring girls to learn and grow academically, personally and professionally.

This is the kind of challenge that we love to tackle. Bring it!

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research