Since 2006, Strong Women, Strong Girls has been providing mentors for female students in grades 3-5, teaching them self-confidence and empowering them to succeed. Essential Pittsburgh’s Katie Blackley spoke with Sabrina Saunders, SWSG’s Executive Director, about the group’s impact in the Pittsburgh area over the last decade.
SWSG targets schools where 50% of their female students receive free or reduced lunch plans. Girls who join the group are provided with a college-aged mentor.
Initially started in Boston, SWSG was drawn to Pittsburgh based on its large number of college campuses.
“Our model is based on the college students being available in the region,” Saunders said. “We have a unique college population here in Pittsburgh, a significant college population.”
The goal of the group is to preserve the girls’ self-esteem. According to Saunders, girls see their self-esteems peak at age 9. If a positive self-image isn’t maintained, confidence could plummet and women will not see it recover until age 35.
“If we don’t have programs like Strong Women, Strong Girls focusing on raising self-esteem and ambition for girls, we do see things like girls trying risky behaviors,” she said. “They’re more susceptible to things like drop outs, pregnancies, and we clearly don’t want to see that happen.”
The group has seen a large growth in its 10 years in operation. When it began, only 35 girls were a part of the program. Now, SWSG connects with over 600 girls, and has a staff of 180 mentors from 6 different colleges.
As they move forward, Saunders hopes that SWSG can continue to expand, while maintaining the same quality of care.
“We want to move the needle, as it relates to self-esteem and ambition in girls,” she said. “Right now, there are not enough women in CEO positions, in government, in many fields; there are still not enough young women and girls going into STEM fields.”
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