Teaching Young Women to Lead and Serve

“Who’s your favorite Disney princess?” Not exactly the type of question I was expecting as I sat down at a long, crowded table in the conference room of the Women’s Foundation. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d sent off a detailed application for the “Girls Grant Project” not quite knowing what I’d be getting myself into. Advancing to the interview phase, I became certain of one thing: this was no ordinary leadership program.

The session was conducted by a panel of smart, confident and well-spoken young women, whose demeanors made it hard to believe they were only seniors in high school. Along with a handful of other applicants, I was forced to think on my feet, responding to these types of outside-the-box questions. No two girls were asked the same thing, and many of the panel’s inquiries seemed to have little to do with our qualifications or skills, as we’d been expecting. Leaving the Women’s Foundation, I had no idea if I’d make the cut.

Four long weeks later, a letter arrived confirming my acceptance onto the 2014-15 Girls Grant team. By then, I’d done some research on the program and discovered it was developed by members of the Women’s Foundation in 1999 as a way to mentor girls across the area who showed an interest and aptitude for leadership and philanthropy. Once selected for the team, girls can remain on the team until high school graduation, usually two or three years.

At a kick-off event, I was introduced to the 27 young ladies who would be my teammates. They came from schools all over the metropolitan area. I guess those silly interview questions had done their job, because I soon discovered every girl I spoke with radiated confidence, eloquence and ambition. I felt encouraged about the path the year would take, confident I was in good company.

Over the following months, we would grow closer, participating in leadership training and team-building activities.

However, our team’s most important function was choosing a recipient for a $15,000 grant that the Women’s Foundation awards annually, hence the name “Girls Grant Project”.

“The whole thing is really about growing philanthropists by teaching young women the culture of giving, showing them needs in the community, and empowering them to make a difference through grant making,” explains Wendy Doyle, president and CEO, and the head of the program.

The team only considers grant applicants whose agendas benefit women or include elements of girls’ leadership. Over a six-month period, we carefully evaluated the applications of eight different organizations, listened to agency presentations and attended site visits for top contenders.

“I think this is the most impactful thing we’ve done,” says team member Maya Hill, a junior at Pembroke.

The evaluation process was intensive and we learned about some very deserving organizations. We make our final recommendation to the Women’s Foundation Board this month and then this year’s grant recipient will be announced.

As my first year on the Girls Grant Project comes to a close, I realize there have been great opportunities for personal growth and the program’s goal of encouraging leadership and empowerment has certainly been realized.

“I think Girls Grant has helped me by teaching me when to take the lead and when to follow others,” says Katharine Swindells, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School. “It’s taught me how to work as a team and assert myself in a large group.”

This unique cycle of women supporting women is one of the features that initially drew me to the program, and it’s why I’m ecstatic to see us reaching even more young women. This March, Girls Grant Project received twice as many team member applications as last year. The new team will be announced in May and continue the strong tradition of philanthropy established by years of impressive girls.

Hannah Motley is a sophomore at Blue Valley North High School.