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Will Empowered Women Please Step Up?

October 20th, 2014 Written by | Comments Off on Will Empowered Women Please Step Up?

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Photo courtesy of Step Up’s Facebook page

In 2013 model Miranda Kerr attended a Venus ‘Step Up and Step Out’ event in NYC.  In an interview with PEOPLE she said the partnership “felt natural [because] … I’m all about encouraging women to be confident and embrace their individuality.”

The force behind the event was Step Up Women’s Network, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles with offices in Chicago and New York.  In the words of Elisa, a teen with Step Up, “To me ‘stepping up’ means ‘taking a stand, being successful and accomplishing what you believe you can do’.”

In 1998 thirty women gathered to discuss how they could help in the fight against breast cancer, and from their meetings a nonprofit was created.  “It became clear from the dialogue that whether or not the disease had directly affected us each, we all felt the need to take a more proactive role in our community, our wellness, our professional lives and our personal dedication to making a difference,” founder Kaye Popofsky Kramer notes on the website.  Sixteen years later the mission has evolved and Step Up has expanded into a national organization, garnered support from celebrities such as Jessica Alba and Larry King, and appeared in media outlets including the Chicago Tribune and The Wall Street Journal.

“Our mission really is to make sure girls are confident, college-bound, and career focused,” say Robin Beck, program manager at the New York office.  “We do that by inspiring women to inspire girls.”

The girls of Step Up are urban high school students who live at or below the federal poverty level and often come from difficult family situations.  Introduced to the program through extracurricular programs at partner schools, they are provided with a variety of enrichment programs such as career-readiness workshops, and corporate field trips that expose them to career options and let them interact with professional women, and mentoring programs that give them a chance to work with women from a variety of backgrounds.

The mentoring program is the highlight of Step Up, and career women are encouraged to get involved.  “Our professional women…they’re there for role modeling, mentoring, to help teen girls see the opportunities that are available to them in a variety of different careers,” Chicago director Cassandra Gaddo tells ABC7.

The program’s influence is apparent, at least according to Julissa Gonzalez in an interview with ABC7.  “I was this shy little girl who never actually experienced talking to a lot of people, and now that I’m in Step Up, I am so proud.”

So how does one get involved?

“Contact robin@suwn.org,” Beck says with a laugh.  “I suggest they contact me directly or through our website.”

“We are a membership organization,” adds Libby Shillito, New York’s event programs manager.  “To mentor or attend the events we do require you be a member.  It demonstrates to the girls that they are wholeheartedly committed to our mission with time, talent, and treasure.”

The membership fee and information about the different levels of membership can be found on the Step Up website.

Tags: Children · Education · Girls · National · Organization Spotlight · Women

A Community Away From Home

October 20th, 2014 Written by | Comments Off on A Community Away From Home

In 2010 the US Census named New York City as the American city with the largest Asian population, numbering 1.1 million.  Approximately 49.6% of this number lives in Queens, where over 22% of the total population is Asian or of Asian descent.  Here the largest Asian ethnic group is Chinese, with over 100,000 people, so it’s only natural that various organizations have sprung up from within this community.

One such organization is the Chinese Christian Herald Crusades, commonly shortened to CCHC.  It was founded in 1982 by Reverend Pak Cheung Lo to serve the Chinese community of New York City, providing a variety of services including free legal consultation for immigrants, music classes, SAT prep, free ESL classes, after-school programs, senior programs, and more.  Despite its roots it is not an overtly religious organization and religion is largely limited to church services, completely separate from the rest of the organization.

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CCHC’s building on Horace Harding Expressway

Many of the volunteers here are students who haven’t been in the US very long, teenagers and young adults who speak in rapid bursts of Mandarin and spend their breaks in an empty classroom doing homework.

“I look for excuses to hang out here even when there’s nothing for me to do,” one boy says.  “It can be very lonely in my rented rooms and I don’t have many friends.”

“He likes us because we help him with math and science,” a girl laughs.  “But he helps us with English so it’s fair.”

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Adult students wait for a free ESL class to start

Other volunteers are largely comprised of adults who have a personal connection CCHC’s programs – the parent of a special needs child in the organization’s special day care, a parent who’s used the afterschool and tutoring center for their children, someone with their own parent who’s benefited from CCHC’s senior center, someone who’s been given free legal consultation on matters of immigration, or simply a member of Reverend Lo’s church.

Although the organization is very obviously targeted at the Chinese community, anyone is more than welcome to help.  Volunteer forms come in both English and Chinese, and certain services – such as Photoshop skills – are always in demand.

Tags: Charity · Children · Chinese · Culture & Ethnicity · Education · Local · Organization Spotlight

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