By Michael Romain
A few weeks ago, I talked with Gwendolyn Young, the executive director of Seed of Hope (SOH) Foundation, a comprehensive mentoring nonprofit that targets teenage girls in the Proviso Township community. She spoke about her organization’s mission, its services and its upcoming youth conference. Full disclosure: I sit on SOH Foundation’s board of directors, but I don’t think this has much bearing on how necessary and vital organizations such as SOH are in the local community. This is the first of many organizational profiles to come.
What is Seed of Hope Foundation and what do you do?
We are a resource in the local community for assisting teenage girls with all-around life skills. We offer workshops in communication, conflict resolution, relationships, emotional health and entrepreneurship. These are skills that will grow with them throughout their lives. In addition, each girl must implement concrete goals through action plans that we have them create during the workshops.
Our primary service area covers the entire Proviso Township, although we also take girls from surrounding communities. Our staple program is called Life 101: Building a Foundation. Girls go through this program for 10-12 weeks, during which they learn about the importance of effective communication, building healthy relationships, nutrition and making important life choices. Right now, we have 10 girls who participate consistently in the program, but throughout our history we’ve served over 50 girls in the community.
How did the idea for this organization come about?
It’s always been my mom’s vision to empower women. She always wanted to found a program geared toward young women. She got me involved very early on in the process. We started about three years ago. We came up with a curriculum that we thought addressed issues and topics that just weren’t being addressed in other forums. These are things that complement (without duplicating) what young women learn in school.
Initially, we began focusing on the entrepreneurial piece, but in order to get to that piece, we found that there were so many other things going on underneath the surface we had to address first. So that’s where the OK2B Factor came into play. We want young women to know that they are perfectly made and unique, so there’s no need for them to be anyone else. It’s okay to be you.
What in you and your mother’s personal lives led you to become such passionate advocates for young women?
My mom (Jacqueline Barnes) and I were both victims of domestic abuse, so that helps us to really identify what the girls go through. I’ve been that girl who had the alcoholic father, who lived in the blended home, who had a baby out of wedlock and didn’t fully understand relationships at one point in time. Those are my own personal challenges that I share with them. But I don’t stop there. I’ll be finishing my master’s degree in a few months, I’ve been married to the father of my kids for 17 years, and my mom and I have both worked in the corporate arena for over 20 years. So, my story is also one that illustrates that, with the right guidance and example, these girls don’t have to go through what I did. The same lessons I learned to get from where I was to where I am are ones that they can immediately apply to their lives without the excess baggage.VFP
Seed of Hope will be hosting its OK2B Factor Young Women’s Conference at the Best Western Hillside (4400 Frontage Road) on July 20, 2013. All-day registration begins at 8am. Workshops will cover a host of pressing issues such as self-esteem, depression and life-choices. For more information and/or to register you, your child or family member, click here.