Paul Vandeventer, President and CEO
Last month, we featured the success story of one of our past projects: Girls and Gangs. This month, we are featuring WriteGirl, a project in their tenth year of fiscal sponsorship. We’ve asked them to talk with us about what they do, successes and challenges, and how Community Partners has been able to support them over the years.
Keren Taylor, Project Leader of WriteGirl, tells the story:
"Teen girls in at-risk neighborhoods in Los Angeles County face enormous challenges, including high unemployment rates, high gang and criminal activity, high drop-out rates and extremely limited availability of educational and mentoring programs.
In 2001, I founded WriteGirl to encourage teen girls’ creative development and confidence and to help them more fully invest in their own academic success. The ability to write well opens doors, so to give young women confidence in this skill set is extremely valuable. And as we all know, writing is not only an academic and professional skill, it’s also a window into the way we understand ourselves as individuals and express who we are to the world.
At its core, WriteGirl is a mentoring program, pairing at-risk teen girls with professional women writers for a year-long program of weekly one-on-one sessions, monthly workshops, college readiness activities, public readings and publications. Our goal is to promote creativity and self-expression within a community of women writers.
Since its inception, WriteGirl has evolved and grown significantly. Thirteen young women attended our first meeting. Today, the organization has 150 female volunteers and 300 student participants. We’ve also grown programmatically; often in ways that I did not expect. One of our biggest developments was the addition of our in-school program, which brings mentors into schools to lead weekly writing workshops. After running a pilot at an all-girls academy (an opportunity that came about because of a referral from a fellow Project Leader), we were able to expand that program to five schools. As we grow, however, we have stayed committed to facilitating strong mentor-mentee relationships. While it has meant more outreach, recruitment, and legwork, we have never allowed the mentor-mentee ratio to go above 1:5.
Our next big expansion is the development of a program for girls in probation camps. When this opportunity arose, it felt like a natural programmatic progression within our mission and vision. While our curriculum will be tailored, we will still be doing what we initially set out to do. I know the girls in these probation camps have the same need for skills and strong female role models, and we are excited to see how WriteGirl can meet those needs.
Along with growth and success, we’ve also faced challenges. When the economic downturn hit, we noticed a dramatic dip in the commitment of resources, pushing us to get more creative with our development strategy. One of our goals now is to increase the number of donors that renew their support each year. Over the last few years, we’ve seen the number of renewed donors hover around 50% and are hopeful that number will increase this year. Donors will renew when they feel a connection to an organization, so we have worked hard to build stronger connections through phone calls, email campaigns, regular events, and distribution of our anthologies and other materials.
The second development goal we continue to pursue is to diversifying our funding sources. While in our early years we were funded primarily through foundations, we have gradually built up government and individual donor funding. Our newest strategy is to run a three-year individual donor campaign. This is new territory for us and we’re just getting started... Stay tuned!
As we’ve dealt with resource development and other challenges, Community Partners has been a consistent source of broad support. Growing an organization over 10 years has brought a lot of new challenges and a lot of new questions! It’s been a great advantage to be able to go to Community Partners when those challenges and questions arise - whether small or large - rather than feeling stalled or defeated. Additionally, I have appreciated being able to focus on the programmatic aspects of WriteGirl. My staff and I are all significantly less passionate about accounting and numbers than we are about empowering our girls, improving our programs, and looking forward into the future."
If you’d like to learn more about the work of WriteGirl, please visit their website at www.WriteGirl.org.