Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Worthy Organization, Followed By What Should Have Been My Graduate School Admission Essay

The following is a post sponsored by Yahoo! Every time someone clicks here to make Yahoo! their homepage, they're showing their support for Girls For A Change.

I was selected for this opportunity by Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

I learned about Girls For A Change from this opportunity with the Clever Girls Collective, and after studying their mission, I visited their website to learn more. Girls For A Change describes itself on their website as "a national organization that empowers girls to create social change. We invite young women to design, lead, fund and implement social change projects that tackle issues girls face in their own neighborhoods." Under the subheading "Our Mission," the organization's activities are described as follows:

GFC empowers girls for personal and social transformation. The program inspires girls to have the voice, ability and problem solving capacity to speak up, be decision makers, create visionary change and realize their full potential.

This language employs, as do most mission statements, powerful yet nonspecific words. My work in nonprofits and my coursework in Nonprofit Management has led me to scrutinize such language. Any organization can claim an important, attractive mission, and point out the ties between that mission, their local, community-based activities, and a broad, far-reaching goal that contributes to the general saving of the world. The implementation of mission-related activities is what really matters, in my opinion. And that is why I would like to call your attention to the following language from the Girls For A Change website that describes their specific activities:
Today, in cities across the country, Girl Action Teams of approximately 10 girls and two volunteer women Coaches meet to identify an issue or problem that they want to impact. The Coaches then teach the girls essential project planning and execution skills to aid them in designing ang implementing their social change project. [...] Every year, thousands of girls learn how to tackle community problems such as gang violence, low self esteem, and environmental degradation.

What I would like to point out is the way in which the specific activities of Girls For A Change address multiple community needs, not only in the content and broad range of the projects performed by the Girl Action Teams, but also by providing training to girls in effective leadership and management of these projects. Too often are well-intentioned projects inefficiently and ineffectively implemented, and such training not only avoids this problem in the short term, but helps to ensure cumulative benefits in the long term, as with that training, these young women can continue to work toward positive change in years to come. Positive change that takes place once is just that. It only happens once. It does not ensure sustainable outcomes.

The young women themselves benefit personally by gaining skills that they can carry with them throughout the remainder of their school years and into their adult lives and careers. What a great program!

This sounds much more effective and organized than my own youthful endeavors as an activist.

When I was in elementary school, I constantly tried to start clubs of which I was the President. I started my first club, the Cricket Club, when I was seven or so. I distinctly remember how I came up with that name. Riding in my parents' car, we passed a building with a sign that I saw a sign advertising a Cricket Club, and I liked the sound of that. My parents tried to explain to me that the club advertised by that particular sign was a group of people getting together to play a game called cricket, which was "like baseball" and therefore totally uninteresting to me, since watching baseball was against our House Rules. This wise advice fell on deaf ears. I liked that name and would not be moved.

I am not sure what the purpose of Cricket Club started as, other than a thing for which I must serve as President. I think it had something to do with all of my friends gathering under a metal playground structure that resembled something you'd see at Storm King. I think it also had something to do with magic rocks. These were any pebbles selected from the myriad colorful pebbles that covered the ground of our playground, which were especially colorful or beautiful and therefore magic. I have one specific memory of a magic rock that looked like a hot dog bun, and was supposed to make food magically appear if you knew how to use it properly. None of us did.

Sometimes these magic rocks turned out to be dried up wads of somebody's spat-out gum. That was always a disappointment.

The Cricket Club eventually disbanded after all of my friends, sick of the President's hyper-bossiness, quit. At some point before that happened, however, our purpose shifted from magic rocks to social change, which I called Saving The World. A pretty ambitious goal for a second grader.

About a year later, with my best friend Ruthie, I started the Save The World Committee. The title of this one was a bit more to the point. We didn't last long, however. Our parents made us disband when my father overheard us list, among our goals for saving the world, "telling the President to make it so a girl can marry a girl and a boy can marry a boy if they want to." My parents in particular felt it was an inappropriate cause for an eight-year-old and a nine-year-old. My parents weren't homophobic, so I never have been certain of the motives behind this seemingly out of character move. I think it was because, although Ruthie and I didn't know this, our cause had to do with sex, and it wasn't long before we would, had we continued on that track, found out that people didn't just get married because they were really good friends, so why couldn't someone marry their best friend if they want to?

What shortly followed was the formation of the World Committee. All of the girls in my neighborhood and a couple of friends from school were members. I was the President, of course. I do not remember who was Vice President or Secretary, but I do know who was Treasurer, because of what happened to the club's entire general fund and eventually led to the organization's demise.

The members of the World Committee were savvier than the members of either the Cricket Club or the Save the World Committee. We knew that saving the world was a long process, and a small group of fourth and fifth graders had to start small. So our first order of business was to create a strategic plan, and we decided that the first project we'd undertake was going to be planting a tree. The benefit to the community would be improved air quality for the local population, as well as the environmental benefits of wildlife habitat and the cultural benefit of a tree's scenic beauty.

Lacking in our strategic plan was what type of tree we would plant and exactly where we would plant it. We did not determine from which nursery we would purchase the plant, nor did we ask a specific nursery for sponsorship. One of us must have visited a nursery with her parents, however, because at an early meeting, it was entered into the minutes that the average cost of a young tree was about thirty dollars. Thirty dollars became our goal.

We had a plan to raise thirty dollars, a plan that would engage the community. We went door to door. We did not solicit donations, and in fact, when our neighbors simply handed us a five dollar bill, we were astonished. Ours was a fee for service model. We offered to rake leaves and walk dogs in exchange for whatever our neighbors felt they could pay.

All went well, aside from one of our clients inexplicably ignoring our phone calls and visits without having paid us $10 for walking her dog. We even exceeded our thirty dollar goal. By now, it was winter, so we used the excess for some Christmastime local charity and held on to the thirty dollars, waiting for spring to buy and plant the tree.

But it was not to be. One day that winter, the Treasurer called me with unhappy news. It was a Friday night and her family had ordered pizza delivery. When the pizza arrived, her parents realized that they did not have enough cash to pay the delivery boy. Despite the Treasurer's protests, her mother took seventeen dollars out of the World Committee treasury. She replaced the money with a post-it note I.O.U.

A few months later, the entire family moved to Belgium. The Treasurer's mother never returned the seventeen dollars to the World Committee. We never quite recovered from this setback, and shortly after, we disbanded. It may also have slightly had something to do with the President being too bossy.

With that, I had my first lesson in the disappointment and disillusion that can accompany working for social change, in or out of the nonprofit sector. Yet today I am a student in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government Nonprofit Management program, so I didn't give up, and it's because of effective, inspiring examples such as Girls For A Change. Remember, you must use the link provided at the opening of this post to be counted, and you must do so by July 1. Time is running out, so spread the word!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! Girls for a change sounds like an amazing organization, one I wish I had had access to as a kid as well. It's really awesome that you supported marriage equality at such a young age!

t.s. debrosse said...

I loved reading about all of your Presidencies and attempts to save the world! Your graduate degree is so you. :)

Sarah said...

Thanks, Aly and T.S.!

Marie Brötchen said...

ok, vergiss Thelma und Louise, du bist President und ich bin Churchill - und gemeinsam retten wir die Welt!!! :)) Bagel, für dich würde ich soooofooort einen Verlag gründen und deine so wunderbar formulierten Erinnerungen der Welt schenken, du bist grandios.