May 17, 2011
‘Writing can make you a success’
NDA grads shine light for Boston girls
Hingham — May 17, 2011. On a recent Tuesday, Hyacynth Dixon of Dorchester, a senior at Snowden International High School in Boston, learned that she won an essay contest called Ignite Change, sponsored by GLOW Boston. Her essay, about her thoughts on effecting change in her poverty-stricken community, won her a $1,000 educational scholarship. She wants to use that scholarship toward college in the fall. More important, she also gains a mentor to help her move forward.
If you’ve never heard of GLOW Boston, though, don’t feel bad. Its active leadership core of five women formed just six months ago. Three of them, Anne Catherine (AC) Gaughen, Courtney Wahle, and Emily Copeman, come from Hingham. They are all in their mid to late 20s. GLOW stands for Girls’ Leadership, Organized Women. The Ignite Change essay contest is GLOW’s first major initiative.
“We wanted to identify people who can and want to write,” Gaughen said. “Writing gives you voice to articulate yourself and stand up for yourself. Writing can make you a success at any career.”
The GLOW team sent information about the contest to all Boston Public Schools, and specially targeted schools identified as at risk. Leah Moschella, GLOW’s founder, put her five years experience in education counseling and program coordination with high-risk youth in Boston to work to identify schools where understaffing and budget cuts have gutted programs. Young women in these schools also lack role models or systems that could nourish and inform ambition. Many are in foster care. Many have parents in prison or rehab. Moschella also talked directly to teachers to learn which students were the best candidates.
So when Gaughen met up with Copeman in Boston late last year, she talked about GLOW and the proposed essay contest. Copeman was instantly sold on the idea. “From our time in the drama department at Notre Dame Academy,” Copeman said, referring to herself, Gaughen, and Wahle, “we knew what it was like to have big visions and nothing much to work with, and that was Hingham, not inner city Boston.”
Gaughen added, “NDA was the first place where I got the idea of how powerful women can be when they help each other. At NDA, I had the first real sense of sisterhood, and juniors mentored freshmen, so I knew what that could do.”
Copeman brought in Wahle and the fifth member of GLOW’s leadership team, musician, dancer, and songwriter Jenna Paone. “Jenna brings creativity,” Copeman said. “She was always a big dreamer, and that hasn’t changed.” Copeman said she adds her fundraising and public relations experience. Wahle brings a combination of education and non-profit experience. And Gaughen, who will have her first young adult novel published soon, brought in other local writers who volunteered to judge the contest.
The group of finalists included two immigrant young women, one teen mother, one young woman living in a shelter, another who had previously lived in a shelter, and one who had dropped out of high school and recently obtained her diploma.
Gaughen and Moschella originally thought to award $1,000 to the writer of the best essay. “But I said, why not more?” Copeman said.
She and the team embarked on a whirlwind fundraising marathon. “We scrambled for two months,” Copeman said. “It was something of an effort to make people want to give to such a new thing.” Donations came from the Boston Public Library, the John F. Kennedy Library, and 45 local businesses in Boston, Dorchester, and Hingham, and took the form of either cash or goods for the silent auction and fundraising party the team hosted in January. Photographer Eric Levin of Elevin Studios, Boston, hosted the party, which numbered about 130 people. Among the Hingham donors were: Pamela Copeman, who contributed an interior design consultation and 10 pieces of original paintings to the silent auction; Janet Johnson, who contributed numerous party decorations; Maggie’s Dog House, which contributed a doggie gift basket to the silent auction; and sara&cara, a new catering company, which contributed flowers and food for the party.
One of the donations that especially pleased Copeman came from Redbones BBQ of Somerville. “They donated hot food for 100 people, just because they liked the message,” Copeman said. “They had no other connection to us. That meant the message of what we were doing stood on its own. We thought after that that we really could do this.”
The effort paid off. Between cash donations and the silent auction, the team raised $10,000, so in addition to the $1,000 scholarship to Dixon, GLOW also awarded $750 scholarships to two runners up, and the remaining five finalists received $500 each. “But the money is only a small piece of the reward,” Copeman said. “They will be paired with one of the panelists who judged the contest to develop their writing. That’s all free.”
Moschella added that, “All girls will receive education and career counseling from professional, licensed women, which includes completing an education plan of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Many of these girls have never put this into writing or are unaware of the countless opportunities available to them. Our model is to ‘meet the student where she’s at,’ meaning we will look individually at what might prevent them from success and connect them to community resources necessary for support. We anticipate helping the girls with college applications, filing for financial aid, and the general mentorship of successful adult women role models.”
Copeman said that the GLOW leadership team will meet in May to discuss how to move forward. They will plan how to develop their organization, determine which other organizations to reach out to help them mentor these girls, and continue their fundraising. She said that their age makes it easier to connect with their principal target age of 15- to 18-year-old girls, but for resources she also wants to, “…bridge the age gap up.”
For all the coming challenges, Moschella said, “In our first year, we engaged exactly the young women for whom we created this opportunity.” She added, though, that she also received a lot of defeatist comments, such as “I can’t win, so why enter?”
The combination of success and the sense of progress to be made has given the GLOW team fresh determination. “This is all the more reason to do our work,” Copeman said. “The root of GLOW is to nurture confidence and leadership and mitigate a defeatist attitude.”
You can read excerpts from some of the essays that finaled in the Ignite Change contest at www.bostonglow.org. The panel of authors judged essays on creativity, clarity, impact, and how effectively their ideas might create community change.