An Ally for Youth When it Counts

Every summer since 1999, I have volunteered my services to a local youth media organization called VOX Teen Communications. My “day job” is as a news designer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s (AJC) editorial pages. I once believed that getting more youth voices on our opinion pages was a good way to grow a younger readership. However, after years of working with teens through VOX, I find myself less concerned with my employer’s circulation and more dedicated to giving young writers the best publishing experience I can.
In the summer of 2005, I had the opportunity to mentor a 16-year-old Somali girl named Ayan Hussein get a very difficult, personal story published in our paper. The experience tested the resolve of all involved and forced some lessons on us before it was over. These lessons included how to be an advocate for young writers, how to negotiate cultural differences, how to support a teen facing outside pressures and most of all, how to guide a young writer through a large bureaucratic process with her voice intact and her spirit empowered.
Ayan and I first met as part of the Raise Your Voice Summer Program sponsored by VOX Teen Communications ( Each summer, VOX teaches 16 teenage writers and journalists journalism fundamentals and community leadership. One of the most popular attractions of the program is the one-on-one mentorship with news-industry professionals. As mentors, our immediate goal is to help each teen get an article published in the AJC. We coach our teens to select a topic that the paper might want to publish, give advice on how to cover the topic, and help pitch the finished article to one of our paper’s section editors.
First impressions
The subject matter Ayan wished to write about was challenging. During our initial meeting, she told me she wanted her article to be a personalized introduction to the Somali practice of female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation, or FGM). In her words, “I wanted to educate myself on what happened to me when I was 7 years old through the research that I would be doing. The article would also benefit other victims of the ritual.”
Ayan took this opportunity very seriously. She explains, “[When I gave Pete my first draft], I was sure that he was going to judge me when he was done reading it. I was wrong. He said that it looked good and the only thing missing was the reliable resources and interviews from people in the community. [Female circumcision] has always been in my mind but never talked about because it is taboo. [Yet] I had stories of my personal struggle that I went through since coming to America…this was a chance to share my stories with [a wider audience].”
Soon Ayan was telling me how her family was scattered between the U.S. and Kenya; how her first years in the United States were lonely and difficult; how she lived with her father and younger sister in a tiny apartment; and how her educational ambitions were at odds with her family’s plans for her.
No one in her family had more than a fifth-grade education. Joining the VOX summer program made Ayan’s father fearful that such activities would westernize her beyond his recognition. Ayan explained that most young Somali women were expected to drop out of school and go to work, or marry young and start families.
I quickly realized that there was more at stake here than a writer getting something off her chest. I knew I would need a plan for how to support her without being a disrupting force on her relationships with her family, culture and community.
To that end, I decided that I would do my best to create options for her and leave as many choices as possible up to her. It was my hope that giving her options would increase her confidence and leadership as we progressed toward publication.
Choices, choices
I explained to Ayan that we had several choices where her article could be published. If she kept a detached voice, her article could run as an explanatory news story in our weekly international section called Atlanta & the World. This would require more research and reporting. The advantage of doing a detached, reported-news article would be to expand the scope of her writing from a first-person piece to one that would allow her to explore the context of her experience.
On the other hand, there were advantages to keeping her subjective voice too. By running her article as a first-person piece on our daily op-ed page, she would have more opportunity to reflect on her experience. We already had a daily op-ed venue for young writers called “New Attitudes” that was tried and true, but I felt that Ayan’s story deserved a bigger treatment.
The third option was creating a longer piece intended for the Sunday opinion section, @issue. Publishing a teen writer in the @issue section would be new territory for the AJC, and I warned Ayan that the experience of dealing with several layers of editors could be frustrating for her. In response, Ayan only asked which venue had the largest readership. Getting her message out was paramount. As our “primetime” space, the @issue section would be a gamble—we would get a larger readership, but also more scrutiny from the paper’s editors. More editors always means more changes, and I worried that we might change or even lose Ayan’s voice.
Over the next several days, I checked on Ayan as she progressed on her research. I made some suggestions on where to look for materials and asked if there was any way I could help. At times, her research was emotionally difficult. Ayan explains, “To my surprise, I realized [during my research] that there were three types of female circumcision. At one point I came across a picture taken after the procedure and I almost vomited—I could not hold back tears. I phoned Pete and I will never forget what he said. Instead of telling me to be strong or just move on and not to visit the website again, he said that I was a good writer and I have plenty of stories to work on—that female circumcision was not the only option we had.”
It was still early in the process, and I reminded Ayan that we could go to Plan B if necessary. Ayan reflects, “As a result of Pete giving me options, I chose to stick with the topic. I realized that I didn’t have to continue [with the topic] but that I wanted to.”
Working with the editor
After a round of editing, I arranged a pitch meeting between Ayan and the @issue editor Richard Halicks. Pitch meetings are crucial to a teen writer’s ultimate experience in the VOX summer program. Pitch meetings allow both the teen writer and editor to get to know each other—even before the article is discussed. Doing so creates a partnership, rather than introducing another authority figure for the teen to deal with. It’s also a great time to discuss expectations.
Richard—a very nurturing editor—was enthusiastic about getting her article into his section. However, he wanted to know whether Ayan’s parents knew what she was writing. Although he would not ask for their permission, he wanted to make sure that Ayan understood the consequences of making them part of her story. Ayan replied that she had discussed her article with her father, who was cool to the idea, but did not forbid it.
With that, Richard and Ayan created their own working dynamic. Richard wanted more reporting on the practice of FGM, and sent Ayan for quotes from the Somali community. Ayan seemed to enjoy working with Richard. They haggled over word choices and traded ideas over how to begin and end the piece. You would have thought she was a regular staff reporter.
Over the next two weeks, my role would be to talk to each of them separately to make sure Ayan was meeting Richard’s expectations, and that Richard’s changes were not diluting Ayan’s voice. I further mediated by touching base with staff at VOX to deliver progress reports and ensure that Ayan was not overwhelmed.
A major roadblock
With all parties happy with the article, and with three days before publication, Richard took the piece to his editors. The intent of this meeting was to inform the editors what was going in the @issue section, and also to run interference on Ayan’s behalf if those editors had any concerns. Unfortunately, they had a big one.
The editors wanted some kind of signed note—either from a doctor or parent—verifying that Ayan had the FGM procedure. In the summer of 2005, the journalism scandals involving Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley were still fresh, and for some editors, having a “good feeling” about a writer wasn’t enough (especially a young freelancer we hadn’t worked with before).
Richard and I were crestfallen. We discussed ways to change Ayan’s piece so that we would not have to ask for such verification. For instance, we could pitch it as a news story, without the personal angle. Or give the story over to VOX, which would be happy to publish it as-is in their monthly newspaper. Whatever the answer, we would be going to press in three days regardless.
I contacted the VOX office for advice. Program director Meredith Tetloff said that she would explain the situation to Ayan, and stress that the choice was still hers. I was very thankful that VOX was there as a safety net. I knew that the concerns at VOX would be unclouded by the production concerns at my office.
A difficult choice
Ayan’s first reaction to the news was disbelief. She explains, “At first I thought that it was a joke. But then it sunk in slowly. I understood where they were coming from. The worst part was [asking] my father to write the letter and then sign it.”
Ayan became more determined to get her father’s signature and I could tell she was looking for encouragement from me. I reminded her that she had choices, that the article would be published and that people would be moved wherever they read it.
Later that evening, Ayan called me. She sounded like she had just run a race. I could hear raised voices in the background. The talk had been difficult, but productive. She later told me, “It took hours of talking to [my father]. He finally signed it. I believe that he did it because deep inside he agreed with what I was doing.” Though far from enthusiastic, her father had contributed his signature to a scrawled note saying that Ayan had indeed had the FGM procedure.
With that behind us, we were back on track. Ayan explains, “The next day, [I] spoke to Meredith at VOX about what had happened with my dad and she was comforting.” Meredith and I paid close attention to Ayan’s mood over the next week. She seemed exhausted, and as she says, “I almost changed my mind about the article but thank God I had a good support group at VOX.”
A few days later, Ayan’s article was published on the cover of our “primetime” @issue section and her mood was lifted considerably. In fact, the article led to many great things for Ayan as she entered her senior year of high school. Ayan says that although many in her community were angry about the article, others were now coming to her to share their experiences. She explains, “I have also had open conversations about this ritual with friends, something that I could not do before. I had friends, victims of the ritual who admire me for writing the article but [whose] parents hate me for publishing the piece. I also [received] letters from people who read the article and congratulated me for my bravery. All I care about was that my message was loud and clear to both victims and strangers of female circumcision.”
In the published version of Ayan’s article, she writes, “I wish I had the power to prevent any other 7-year-old girl from getting circumcised. My privacy was invaded that afternoon, and it still haunts me to this day. Sharing my story is difficult, but it is an important step toward my healing.”
My work with Ayan continued after the success of her article. Over the next year, she emerged as a campus leader and a hero to local Somali women. NPR (partnered with Youth Radio) broadcast a first-person segment on her story. She became involved with international and refugee groups. And she continued to write for VOX. Last fall, I began helping her copy edit college and scholarship applications. Ten months later, she is a Gates Millennial Scholar bound for the University of Georgia with a shiny new laptop.
Lessons learned
Getting more youth writers involved in mainstream media outlets can be a challenge, but a very rewarding one. The VOX Raise Your Voice Summer Program is an excellent model in youth media/mainstream media partnership. Even with my long involvement with the program, my experience as Ayan’s mentor taught me to completely rethink the value of the publishing experience and how to improve upon it for teen’s benefit.
For instance, it is not enough to treat young writers with patience and “kid gloves.” Teens are up to any challenge if the right rapport is struck upfront. As with our productive pitch meeting, having teens meet with their editor(s) face-to-face creates a partnership.
Furnish teens with choices throughout the process. Put as many decisions in the teen’s hands as possible. Be clear on your expectations and what they can expect from you.
Be prepared to support teens in ways that are outside the sphere of typical journalism and editing. Also, be mindful of outside pressures affecting the teen. Tread very lightly when dealing with cultural and family connections.
Be an advocate for teens. Ask them how you can help. Run interference on their behalf when the bureaucracy threatens to swallow their voice. Give them a chance to challenge decisions. As with our productive pitch meeting, having teens meet with their editor(s) face-to-face creates a partnership.
Remember that bigger venues bring more scrutiny, more editors, more verification and more headaches. Leave yourself time to address the unexpected. And always have a Plan B at hand if it all goes south.
Along with that, tell the teen (and your superiors) what’s ahead. Despite our best efforts, this is unfortunately where Richard and I failed Ayan. Her biggest hurdle came at the very end of the process and was unduly stressful. It possibly could have been avoided had we involved our own editors earlier on.
And finally, encourage strong cooperation between the youth organization and the professional newsroom. The dual goals of teen-building and voice-raising demand it.
My experience with Ayan reminded me that youth media is a means to an end, but not the end itself. As valuable as the published artifact is, what makes the experience a lasting one for the teen is the ownership and realization of their ambitions. By providing choices, a mentor helps the teen chart their own path. Do this, and you’ll be amazed where they lead.
Pete Corson has been a news designer for the Editorial department of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 1998. He has volunteered with VOX Teen Communications since 1999, where he has helped coordinate the summer mentorship program. He is married and lives in Atlanta.

Real Girls Media

Real Girls Media (RGM) is a media network that provides a new way for women—young and older—to reach out, connect, and share their experiences in a vibrant web community that enables women to publish their stories.
RGM seeks to connect the real voices of women from often marginalized demographics through an online community. “DivineCaroline,” the first of several websites within the network currently has thousands of stories posted from women across the US and globe. The site officially launched in February of this year. RGM will soon offer multiple sites and resources serving different age groups—including young girls.
YMR caught up with Editor-in-Chief Monique Peterson, who travels between Brooklyn, NY and San Francisco, CA, to discuss RGM’s network in its initial stages and how the youth media field can learn from their first giant steps.

YMR: How did Real Girls Media (RGM) come about?
MP: Our CEO, Kate Thorp had a vision for a way to meet the needs of the largest and fastest growing demographic online: women. The core mission of RGM is to provide a platform for women to have their voices heard. Women have been grossly underserved in the marketplace and we lead complex lives.
We did massive research on women’s needs, the way women communicate, the way women spend money, the way women gather and share information, and ultimately, what women wish they could experience on the internet if given the opportunity. The first of our Web sites,, is dedicated to adult women. Two new sites are in the pipeline that will be dedicated to younger women and girls.
We have an interest in how women use the internet, communicate with one another, and have a vocal platform. Check out to read about our founders who are Web 1.0 veterans and quickly raising the bar for Web 2.0.
YMR: RGM connects young women to share their experiences and publish “like real pros.” How do you reach these goals? What methods do you use?
MP: Contributing a story to the Web site is simple. It takes a moment to register, and upon doing so, members get a private “Studio” where they can manage information about themselves, collect favorite authors or articles, publish stories, post comments, and keep track of forums they’re participating in.
To publish a story, you can click a “Contribute” button, which will open a story editor page. From there, you can add a title, write in a text box or copy and paste a document into the text box, select a picture, determine where you’d like the story to appear on the Web site, and then click a “Submit” button for publication.
From there, the stories get uploaded onto the site and the author is notified by email when the story is published. These steps are all made possible by our amazing engineering team. Our technology allows us to make major changes to our site every 2-3 weeks.
Women can publish their stories on DivineCaroline where their voices are as equally accessible as professional editorial writers. Like YMR, readers can post comments and responses—building community.
YMR: In what news ways are Real Girls Media helping young women (and teenage girls) reach out, find out, and express themselves?
MP: Our site allows anyone to publish stories, articles, fiction, poetry, or musings. Readers generally will be able to see their stories appear on the site within a day of submitting for publication. Any woman can write a review of a product, place, or service, and post them instantly on the site. It’s about getting your voice heard.
Everyone is welcome to comment on stories and participate in forums. Additionally, every registered member (registration is free) gets a personal profile page where she can save her favorite stories, tell readers about herself, and also collect her own published articles (with a feature called “My Publicist”) and send them out as a calling card to others who might be interested in seeing writing clips. We also have a Message Center that allows readers on the site to contact other members and drop them a note in a private mail box. And this is just the beginning.
YMR: Does RGM connect young teenage girls with women from DivineCaroline? How does RGM benefit teen girls and young women?
MP: DivineCaroline has several partners and organizations whose mission is symbiotic with ours. Many of the articles we have on the site promote awareness of mentoring opportunities. When we launch our sites for younger women and girls, we will have more cross connections and opportunities with women and organizations that can support mentoring and career opportunities, as well as role models.
The platform for the younger demographic will be similarly structured to DivineCaroline. Young girls will have contacts through various partnerships represented on the site. Since young people can contact other members through the network via comments on articles or personal messages, they will become an important part of the online community.
Reaching out to youth interested in careers in technology or journalism (having a voice on the web) takes participation. There are different ways to participate in the RGM environment—one way is to become a user. A lot of writers have become prolific authors on DivineCaroline—and now they have a platform to do it. Youth can participate to get a sense of what it takes and what its like to be a writer and be aware of media in this environment.
Youth media can help address these issues by becoming part of our online community, becoming familiar with programs that empower girls, and teaching young women how to use the web to express themselves.
By participating, young women can make inroads toward jobs in technology or journalism. By using DivineCaroline’s My Publicist feature, youth can send a portfolio of their published stories to editors or youth media professionals in order to get an internship or showcase their expertise through their writing.
It has been interesting to see what women are sending to be published in DivineCaroline. They are writing about abuse, mental illness, eating disorders—topics that have often been silent, rendered stigma and taboo. This is similar to young people, who document these experiences in writing, radio, music and video. A community is ready to receive this information—and provide an important platform for youth to benefit from.
YMR: What can RGM offer to youth media professionals as a best practice/lesson learned?
MP: With the dawn of a new era in technology and communication, we are seeing a major shift in the way people get, share and communicate information. Specifically, we are seeing newspaper and magazine circulations drop, more people relying on the Web for news and information, and a surge of social networking sites. Anyone interested in the history and future of communications would benefit by seeing how technology is playing a role in the way news, information, and entertainment is gathered and reported. The rise of blogs and subjective reporting raises new questions about ethics and objectivity in traditional journalism. In many ways we are seeing a democratization of information. There are positives and negatives with every paradigm shift, and I think it is important to be continually aware of how the medium affects the message.
We are providing a new way to bridge marginalized communities to share perspective and promote change. We have an ever increasing ability to have a collective and vibrant voice and dialogue. It will be interesting to see how this grows. As we are in a vastly different place now than we were five years ago, we will be in a radically different place five years from now. As media professionals, we must be constantly aware of how media represents messages and how we interpret those messages, how we process that information as individuals and as a society—and as youth media professionals. Everyone has a different goal in mind, which affects how that information is processed.
YMR: How can youth media professionals assist RGM, be involved, and what else can they gain from RGM?
MP: We envision many inroads and bridges for mentoring, partnerships, and sharing resources among many communities that join our network. I suggest that youth media professionals join us, contribute, and participate. What’s to gain? Community, having your voice heard, reaching a wide audience, strengthening your professional experience, and tapping into a growing network of amazing women—young and older.
Monique Peterson is the Editor-in-Chief of DivineCaroline at Real Girls Media. She has written and edited books on film, television, animation, pop culture, art, sports, health, medicine, cooking, crafts, architecture, celebrity, science, sexuality, education, parenting, gardening, and history. Monique has been a lecturer at universities including Stanford and has been a broadcast journalist for Napa Valley’s KVON radio station.

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Girls Write Now: A Showcase of Intergenerational Learning

At first glance, The Library of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York looks like it sounds—old, austere, and a bit secret. It sits tucked away on New York City’s “literary row,” stomping grounds of The New Yorker magazine, Harper’s magazine, and the Algonquin Hotel during their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. The stately exterior opens up into a graceful chamber of warmth, wood and learning. It does not look like it would be the setting for a vibrant display of intergenerational learning. Talented, fearless teen writers—whose thoughts are too often tucked away like volumes on the library’s shelves—and adult, professional women working in publishing, education, media and the arts would come together to share co-written stories. But, on the evening of January 24, 2007, the Library challenged more than one misconception by hosting the Second Annual Girls Write Now (GWN) Winter Pair Reading.
“We haven’t had this kind of energy here in a long time,” said Janet Wells Greene Ph.D, Director of The Library. “I love it…Part of our mission [here at The Library] is to promote an understanding of urban work, and we think this is a great opportunity to honor the craft of writing and the occupation of writer.” She concludes, “This event [was] an opportunity to see reinvention of apprenticeship in action.” Maya Nussbaum, Executive Director of Girls Write Now comments, “[The reading is] a wonderful opportunity to see the Girls Write Now community in action…The spirit of our mission is perfectly encapsulated in the collaborative pieces written and read aloud by our mentor-mentee pairs.”
Girls Write Now
Founded in 1998, Girls Write Now (GWN) is a New York City-based non-profit committed to helping New York City high school girls discover their voice and have the courage and confidence to share it with the community. Through one-on-one mentoring, workshops, readings, and events, Girls Write Now provides a safe and supportive environment where girls can expand their natural talents develop independent voices and build confidence in making healthy choices in school, career, and life. In today’s society, young women are often silenced by all consuming images and messages in the media that stereotype and objectify women. Women are a target group of consumerism, thus, most marketing strategically promotes women as objects to “appear” or “attract” rather than to act, build alliances with each other, or support and develop their talents and interests.
Research in adolescent development consistently shows that relationships with caring adults other than parents can make young girls significantly less likely to engage in drug use, underage drinking and sex, and more likely to succeed in school, peer, and family relationships. Mentors benefit from involvement with the program as well. Adult mentors report that their experience in the program increased their self-esteem, as well as their sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Additionally, studies indicate that mentoring improves morale at work and relationships colleagues, friends and family.
GWN matches at-risk high school girls who have a love of writing with professional women writers. The goal: to help these girls develop their unique voices, their writing skills, and the confidence to tell their stories, as well as the ability to make healthy life choices. GWN is the only youth program that combines a rigorous, but fun creative writing curriculum and girls-only programming within the context of mentoring that benefits mentees and mentors alike.
Mentors & Mentees
The Winter Pair Reading was designed to celebrate the collaborative creative work of GWN mentors and their teen-age mentees. GWN mentors and mentees presented only collaborative works for the event, specifically single pieces written by a mentor-mentee pair, or two complementary pieces written separately by the mentor and mentee but read together. Many of the night’s poems, stories and essays were born in GWN workshops, which are followed by take-home exercises for pairs to do together.
Ebony McNeill, a Brooklyn teen attending an adolescent employment and educational program and her mentor, freelance editor Karen Schader developed their collaborative poems from a writing exercise in which they walked together through a neighborhood, observing it with all of their senses except sight. This exercise allowed both women, despite their differences in age and experience, to work as equals. By observing their surroundings with different senses, they view the world in new ways—a great leadership perspective.
Other mentor-mentee collaborative topics ranged from the sweet stuff of teenage dreams to memories of growing up and everything in between. Emceed by Penny Wrenn, Talent Director of GWN, the night kicked off with a pair of earthy and heart-wrenching poems about chances in love not taken by Anna Witiuk, a junior at New York City’s Beacon High School and her mentor, teacher, author, and literary agent Caron K. Stengel. This is Anna and Caron’s second year working together in GWN. Their pride in working together is easy to see during their performance and shows the power of linking women across generations.
Ebony, Mona, and each of the other 28 girls enrolled in GWN meet with their writing mentors weekly for one school year to develop their skills and understanding of the writing process. Pairs are made by a “matchmaking committee” consisting of board members and veteran mentors who consider geography, genre interest, and the unscientific but no less meaningful “x-factor” (or chemistry) between a mentor and mentee (members are alerted to the presence of the matchmakers, encouraged to share their preferences, but warned there are no guarantees the matchmakers will grant them).
This simple, but unique approach has worked to build a strong community of writers to nurture one another and their creative freedom. “The relationship between girls and their mentors is symbiotic,” said Nussbaum, “As pairs work together, they become apprentices of each other, learning the art and craft of writing through life experience.” The workshops provide fertile ground for learning as the community of mentors and mentees collaborate under GWN’s guiding principle of writing as a communal enterprise — to be created and shared.
Intergenerational Learning through Mentoring
The intergenerational learning fostered by this approach is built on multiple layers of commitment that mentees and mentors make to each other — and to GWN — each season. The first of these layers is between each pairing and the organization itself. Carefully screened candidates undergo a rigorous application process, which includes detailed applications, writing samples, and reference checks. GWN seeks mentors who have impressive academic and writing resumes, as well as a demonstrated commitment to teaching, tutoring, or mentoring girls, and the drive to contribute to the organization’s growth. Mentees must demonstrate a commitment to growing as writers, regardless of their skill level upon entering the program. Upon acceptance into the program, each new member signs a series of forms confirming her commitment.
The second layer is a commitment between the mentors and the idea of teaching and learning through the mentoring process. Each mentor undergoes an intensive full-day training conducted by the Girls Write Now program board in conjunction with experts from Columbia University, NYU, Community Word, Girls Scouts of America, Planned Parenthood NYC, and Urban Word, among other community institutions. This training serves as an introduction to adolescent development, diversity issues, mentoring tools, editing and revision for teens, and writing workshop facilitation.
The mentor-mentee pairs seal the third and final commitment shortly after they are matched at the start of the season’s first workshop. Each mentor-mentee pair signs a mutual agreement explicitly outlining the responsibilities of their writing partnership and through it, their commitment to learning as a team. Mentees learn the nuts and bolts of writing, while their mentors are reintroduced to the magic and art of creative writing, free of the limitations often imposed by professional writing. Mentors are often surprised to find within their pair writing sessions a spark to ignite their own creative passion, and — through knowledge obtained by working with a teen girl — the tools to approach their work in new ways.
Weekly pair writing sessions are punctuated and informed by monthly, genre-based full-group workshops, featuring whole-group, pair, and small-group activities. The workshops are carefully balanced between spirited fun and curriculum rigor. Each workshop begins with an icebreaker to warm members to each other as well as to the idea of writing for four hours on a Saturday afternoon. One recent prompt was “My character for the day is [insert lovely, fun, or energetic color + food you like the sound of].” No one wants to miss reinventing herself as “Rainbow Meatball” or the chance to be introduced to “Royal Blue Hot Dog.”
At the close of each workshop, we engage in “Warm Fuzzies,” which are constructive, anonymous comments shared by all mentors and mentees around the circle. “Warm Fuzzies” begin with a prompt, such as the following from the fiction workshop: “If you could fly off with any character from today, who would it be and where would you go?” The anonymous nature of this exercise help to remove the mentor/mentee labels we initially assign, allowing for true reflection and intergenerational learning. It also fosters an environment wherein the relationships between mentors, mentees and the entire community transcend racial, ethnic, and religious boundaries in a city where many young people rarely leave their neighborhood.
In response to the fiction workshop prompt, one participant said: “I’d take off with black strawberry, the girl whose eyes change color. I would go to the park and watch people with her. I bet her eyes would show me great things.” Another member, prompted at GWN workshop to “name one thing in the world you would like to see change and how you would help make it happen,” put it this way: “I want people to stop being so skeptical and to not give up on their dreams just because their dreams are taking too long to get realized. How am I going to change this? By not giving up on mine.”
These statements echo GWN’s greatest achievement: mentors and mentees learning from one another as peers. Girl-only programming, with an intergenerational approach to mentoring, creates a space for communal voice, collaboration, and social, gendered change.
Michele Thomas lives in Brooklyn, NY and works as a K-8 writer and editor in children’s educational publishing. She is also a mentor and Communications Director of Girls Write Now.

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