This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.
Monterey County, California, is a remarkable place. Great beauty. Great resources. We have Pebble Beach, Big Sur, Salinas and Salinas Valley (Steinbeck Country), and Monterey Bay. We also have a large immigrant population, here largely to help harvest the vegetables that land on your dinner table, no matter your city or state. We have another large population serving our $4 billion tourist economy.
What looks so grand on the outside, might be full of challenges on the inside. There is great need, and there are vulnerable populations.
But where to start?
The Community Foundation for Monterey County (CFMC), through its Women’s Fund, determined that a prime indicator on the fundamental stability and future of our community is the status of women. When women have economic security, pathways to opportunity, and access to services our county will thrive.
And if we focus energy and resources on high school girls, their transition to educated, secure adults would create dividends for us all.
And so began Girls’ Health in Girls’ Hands (GHGH).
GHGH started modestly. Eight girls, all Latinas, from Greenfield High School, a small town in the center of ag country, agreed to survey their classmates on subjects ranging from personal identity (awareness of body type; outlook; social norms) to reproductive health. At a Women’s Fund breakfast, four of them delivered their findings in front of 200 women. It was both remarkable and a call to action.
The CFMC (led by Julie Drezner, VP for Grants and Programs) developed a countywide vision for GHGH, reached out to third-party funders, and put together a six-agency collaborative to focus on the health, well-being, and future of girls. They took their cues from the experts: the girls themselves.
GHGH now has its own coordinator, and reached over a thousand girls in 2013. The collaborative, made up of agencies who have programs for girls but who had never worked together, meets quarterly. More than $1 million has been raised to secure three-years of programming. Three girl-led “summits” have been held. Girls come from all over the county, many of them brought by school buses.
GHGH’s most recent initiative is “Post-A-Smile,” a campaign across all Monterey County high schools to combat bullying and suicide by boosting self-esteem.
Girls from the GHGH Leadership Network conceptualized the campaign and mobilized other girls across the county to implement it at their own schools. Students write anonymous, positive messages and post them at their school campuses in designated areas, then use social media to share the messages from the individual schools.
And what of those eight girls from Greenfield? At a recent event they were asked how they perceived their future prior to GHGH. They said they couldn’t imagine life beyond high school and staying in their home town. As it turns out, seven went on to college. And they have stayed in touch with GHGH, mentoring the new leaders who are emerging.
In our field we often speak of the power of philanthropy. For GHGH, the power is allowing girls to reach their full potential.