Seed of Hope
Giving girls the fuel to grow.
When Jacqueline Barnes had the idea to launch an entrepreneurship workshop for teen girls, she didn’t wait around for grant funding or the perfect location. She recruited her daughter, Gwendolyn L. Young, and they taught their first workshop in the basement of Barnes’ Westchester home.
“We initially launched Seed of Hope with this idea of teaching them about entrepreneurship—that getting a regular 9-to-5 job was not the only option available to them,” said Young, executive director. “But during that process, as we were teaching those classes, we realized there was so much inner turmoil that the girls were dealing with on a day-to-day basis. They were really trying to make it through today. We needed to go back to the drawing board and think, ‘What is it that they need?’”
Together, they developed a life skills and leadership development curriculum centered on what Young calls a value-based perspective. “We have them identify what’s important to them, the kind of life they want to create, and that sex, drugs, alcohol and health and nutrition factor into the decisions of what they want out of their life,” said Young. Participants learn about conflict management, self worth and identifying healthy relationships versus unhealthy ones.
CARVING OUT TIME
The opportunity to become Seed of Hope’s executive director didn’t come at a time you could call convenient. When Barnes approached Young about starting the organization in 2009, Young was already balancing a full-time job at a healthcare company in Downers Grove, going to school to earn her masters in organizational leadership and raising three teens with her husband.
“My initial thought was, ‘Oh no. I have a teenage girl at home and now you want me to teach a whole bunch of them at the same time?’” said Young. “[But] the more I began to think about it, I said, I actually have a responsibility to do this, because I’ve been that girl who struggled with all the issues they struggle with today, coming from a broken home to being in a blended family to living in an abusive environment.”
Young recalls her own experience with an abusive stepfather. “It really is very personal for me, because I remember that time in my life and not having a safe space where I could go to share those concerns,” she said. “In our workshops, you can bare your soul and know that you’re safe and you have people who will do something to help you.”
CHOICES FOR THE FUTURE
Seed of Hope is based in Oak Brook and does outreach work in suburban Cook County through partnerships with local schools, churches and organizations such as Mercy Home for Boys & Girls.
Now running her own business, a virtual administration consulting firm, in addition to Seed of Hope, Young is a shining example for the teens she and Barnes teach. “If they don’t learn how to navigate these situations now, they just grow up into adult women with the same issues,” she says. “The longer that festers, the more difficult it is to address and get rid of.”
Seed of Hope continues to host workshops and an annual summer conference for teen girls. “Mom and I teach all of the classes ourselves,” said Young. “We don’t ever want to have to turn a service organization away because we don’t have the bandwidth.” To reach more girls in the community, Young wants to recruit and train volunteer community leaders to teach their curriculum.
At the one-day conference, volunteers assist with everything from registration to serving lunch. With much of Seed of Hope’s financial support coming from individual donors, Young also seeks volunteers to assist with grant-writing, fundraising, sponsorship and social media.
Seed of Hope will hosts its OK2B Teen Girl Conference on July 16 in Lombard. For more information, visit www.sowaseedofhope.org.