The Not-So-Secret Life of the Montgomery County Teenager

Talk With a Teen Girl Today 004Adults like to reminisce about being teens.  We get all nostalgic about high school and social events and old classmates.  And then we shake ourselves out of our nostalgic day dreams and promise current teenagers that, as hard as those transformative years are, they’ll be adults soon enough. That promise of teen age survival was the beginning of a conversation earlier this week that was presented by Crittenton Services of Greater Washington, a Washington Area Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner.  Part of Crittenton’s “Talk With a Teen Girl Today” campaign, the dialogue featured young women from Montgomery County high schools who were discussing the results of a recent survey.

NBC4’s Pat Lawson Muse moderated the conversation and opened it up by telling the young panelists, “good news: you’ll survive your teens.”  It was a reassuring note to start on, but the more I listened to the young women speak, the more I got the impression that they wanted to do more than simply survive being teens; they seemed to view their high school years as an opportunity to build a solid foundation to become thriving adults.

About the Survey

The survey participants (all between the ages of 13 and 19) were given 15 topics and were asked to rate them as being a “very big problem,” “somewhat of a problem,” “not much of a problem,” and “not a problem at all.”  Here are the topics in the order of most problematic to least problematic based on the survey results:

1. Not being able to eat healthy at school
2. Fights among young people
3. Getting pregnant before graduating from high school
4. Not being listened to by adults at home
5. Being considered unattractive unless you look like a supermodel
6. Being thought of as a sexual object
7. Not being valued by adults
8. Teachers not caring about you
9. Getting Sexually Transmitted Infections or HIV
10. Not having anyone to care what happens to you
11. Being labeled or put down because of your race/ethnicity or color
12. Teen dating violence
12. Being frightened at school or on the street
12. Teachers or counselors thinking you are going to be a failure
13. Violence at home

The “Talk With a Teen Girl Today” panelists weren’t able to get to every topic, but they were able to enlighten the audience on some of the points.

On Eating Healthy at School

Some of the young women agreed that the food served in their school cafeteria is worse in quality than fast food restaurants.  They want more salad options at school, although they admitted that they didn’t often eat salad at home.  One teen said that she often eats breakfast and lunch at school, and if both of those meals are “bad,” she feels weak before the school day is over.

On Violence Among Young People

Physical altercations between girls was a major concern for all of the panelists.  They agreed that fighting was not a good way to work out problems, but some said they were lacking opportunities to resolve conflicts before they escalated to fights.  One person said fighting was a way to relieve stress, another said classmates often instigate fights.  They agreed that girls are more likely to fight one another than boys are.

When the moderator asked them about dating violence, the panelists identified it as a major concern and said they needed adults to be more open to explaining how to be a good partner in a relationship.  They told us that many parents don’t talk about relationship problems unless they’re asked, and some won’t answer questions because they don’t think that their daughters should be in relationships.

“Parents aren’t ready to accept that their little girl is dating,” one panelist said.

On Sex, STIs and HIV

One young woman advocated for abstinence, no matter how girls might want boys to feel about them.  “If you wanna be respected, no is the right answer,” she said.  “Boys are always gonna come at you… just say no.”

Another young woman said that, too often, the responsibility for making decisions related to contraception, protection and sex falls on the shoulders of girls.  “I believe it’s better to talk to both sides [about safe sex],” she said.  “Guys play a role in it, too!”

On Pregnancy and Sexuality

In Montgomery County between 2007 and 2010, the birthrate for girls was 40 per 1,000 for Latinas; 15 per 1,000 for African Americans; and 11 per 1,000 for whites.  One panelist worried that not enough young women have access to programs like Crittenton Services.  She believes that similar programs focused on support, enrichment and health would bring the teen pregnancy rate down.

The discussion on pregnancy led to one on sexuality, and the young women had some disheartening things to say about how they’re portrayed by the media, especially in songs and music videos.  “The music industry has a big impact on girls and their sexuality,” one panelist said.

She added: They treat women like sex objects – like we’re property.

The depth and breadth of this conversation are an indication that our community has a lot of work to do. It’s time for adults to learn what it’s like to be a teenager in 2012, and figure out how to support teens so that they can become successful leaders in the coming years.  According to Crittenton Services, we can all help by being “NICE” (Notice her. Interact. Connect. Every day.).

You can learn more about the Talk With a Teen Girl Today campaign by clicking here.

What did you think of the teens’ biggest concerns?  Were you surprised by any of the survey results?  If you’re a teen, what’s your biggest concern?  Let us know in the comments below!

The Role of Black Feminism in Empowerment

As we move from African American History Month to Women’s History Month, I wanted to share an interview with author and activist Dr. Alexis P. Gumbs, who is using black feminist thought and history in a variety of empowerment workshops for women and girls around the country.  The video is about half-an-hour, but it’s worth watching as Dr. Gumbs shares some interesting perspectives on history and the black feminist movement.  Particularly compelling are her thoughts on what some African American women would do with their lives if they had more access to resources that would change their economic situations.  Do you agree with Dr. Gumbs?  Share your reactions in the comments below!

Watch Empowering Force of Feminist Teaching on PBS. See more from Black Issues Forum.

Washington Area Women’s Foundation Weekly

In this week’s roundup of our top stories: Your vote could help one of our grantees win $50,000 in a national contest.  The deadline for applications for the Catalogue for Philanthropy is nearly here. The impact of literacy on a woman’s earnings.  Plus, free financial services across the community.

Leaders from two of The Women’s Foundation’s Grantee Partners are finalists for the Diane von Furstenberg People’s Voice Award.  Andrea Powell of FAIR Girls works to prevent the exploitation of girls worldwide through empowerment and education.  Layli Miller-Muro of Tahirih Justice Center works to protect immigrant women and girls seeking justice in the U.S. from gender-based violence.  To learn more about these outstanding nominees – and to vote for them! – please click here.

Applications for the 2012-13 Catalogue for Philanthropy: Greater Washington are due by midnight on Monday! The Catalogue has helped raise more than $15 million for featured nonprofits since 2003.  Click here for application details.

“Appropriate literacy levels are crucial for both men and women seeking education and employment opportunities,” reports IWPR, a Women’s Foundation Grantee Partner. “But low literacy skills disproportionally hurt women’s chances of earning a sustaining wage.”  In a separate report, IWPR noted a trend of women returning to the labor force in January.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Annual Tax & Financial Services Fair is scheduled for February 25th at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

And the DC Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign (organized by some of our Grantee Partners) continues to offer free tax preparation services to eligible residents.

The Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP is having a Financial Freedom Seminar for young adults this Saturday from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm at Cora Kelly Elementary School. Topics include accessing loans, IRAs, money market accounts and college savings plans.  Click here for details.

Bank on DC is launching an online financial education platform that will help users “improve their financial acumen and … make informed financial decisions in their daily lives.” My StartingPoint will also motivate users with a Rewards Center.

Earlier this week, DC Mayor Vincent Gray gave the annual State of the District address.  Topics included the financial health of the city, education and crime.  Click here to read the speech.

New Office for Washington Area Women's Foundation

Moving 2012 005As I walked through our now vacant space one last time at 1411 K Street, it made me stop and think about what that space meant to our organization over the last seven years, and what our move to a new space means for us at this moment in our history. Without all of our furniture, cabinets, staff, and – for lack of a better word – stuff in it, the space at 1411 K Street suddenly felt huge, when just a few days before we could barely maneuver around the packing crates piled high. As I closed the door on our old office and walked the two blocks to our new one at 1331 H Street, I could understand what the founders of this organization must have felt when they opened the very first Washington Area Women’s Foundation office: new possibilities, a sense of excitement and optimism, and a big step forward.

As we continue to orient ourselves in our new office layout, it’s clear what this move means to us as an organization. There’s the practical: our old office had become very cramped and frankly uncomfortable, while our new space is bright, airy and has room for us to grow. But there’s also the philosophical and aspirational: our move into this building feels like the right thing at the right time. The new space gives us a new perspective and a fresh start at the same time as we are rolling out our new strategic plan and vision for the future. It represents how far we have come as an organization, who we are now, and what we hope to be.

So as we unpack our last crates this week, I truly believe that this move will only enhance our ability to focus clear-eyed and with determination on the critical issues facing women and girls in our region.

I look forward to welcoming you at our new offices in the coming months. If you’re in our neighborhood, please feel free to stop by!

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Toasting our new office
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Board members Rachel Kronowitz & Cathy Isaacson
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Our new reception area

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Washington Area Women's Foundation Weekly

In this week’s top stories: A new survey examines the lives of African American women.  The long-term benefits of a high-quality early education. An in-depth look at why DC residents leave high school before graduating.  Plus, one city in our area is named one of the best-paying cities for women.

The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at a new survey on the lives of African American women. “Results of a survey paint a complex portrait of black women who feel confident but vulnerable, who have high self-esteem and see physical beauty as important, who find career success more vital to them than marriage.”

Early education for low-income students has long-term benefits, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.  The study found that adults who received a high-quality early education were still reaping the benefits 30 years later.

— WAMU is examining the high school drop out crisis in DC.  In the first installment in a series of reports, two women reflect on why four generations of their family members have not completed high school.

— Washington, DC is number three on a list of the top 20 best-paying cities for women.  According to, women’s mean earnings in DC in 2010 were $64,779.  However, that’s just 75% of what men’s earnings were.

Washington Area Women's Foundation's Resolutions for 2012

Nicky Goren Headshot2 SmallThe New Year is one of my favorite times of year.  It’s full of promise and potential — two things we value so much here at Washington Area Women’s Foundation.  Our belief in the promise and potential of every woman and girl in the DC region is what has fueled our work in the past, and what will drive it forward in the future.

I’m especially excited about the promise that 2012 holds.  Last year, we created a new strategic plan for The Women’s Foundation and now we begin the work of implementing it.  Our plans for 2012 include:

  • building on our successful previous grantmaking initiatives to reach more women in our community;
  • mapping out a grantmaking strategy focused on girls and launching this new initiative by the end of the year;
  • using funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to begin work on a ground-breaking national study that will examine the impact of investing in women and girls;
  • building a base for advocacy work to improve economic security for women and girls;
  • launching a new campaign that will raise funds to begin implementing the strategic plan and deepen our impact in the community; and
  • engaging more people from across our community in giving and supporting this work.

Those are just a few of our plans for 2012, and I’ll be sharing many more with you in the coming months.  I hope that you’ll take a look at them and be inspired to join us as we work to transform the lives of women and girls.  Your commitment is critical to women and girls having the opportunity to reach their full promise and potential.

Some of our Grantee Partners have shared their New Year’s resolutions with us.  Click here to read what they’ve got planned for 2012 and to share your own resolutions!

SOTU Reflections: Giving All Women & Girls a "Fair Shot"

SOTU_Pres Obama 2012I, like many in the region, sat down to watch the President’s State of the Union speech last night.  It’s an annual event that always engenders much anticipation (at least among the media pundits, political junkies, and those living in and around our nation’s capital), and this year was no exception.  Many called it “the” campaign speech, kicking off the 2012 election cycle.  Just a day before the speech, the White House said that the President would “outline his vision for an America where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, where everyone does their fair share, and where everyone is held accountable for what they do.”  Economic fairness was lauded as this year’s theme.

As I listened to the speech, I thought about the work that we do at The Women’s Foundation and the intersection between the federal policies discussed and the reality that women and girls in our region face, and I was once again struck by the huge disconnect that we continue to see.

The theme of the speech—economic fairness—sounds quite simple and logical.  The President spoke about how his grandparents contributed to a post-World War II “story of success that every American had a chance to share – the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.”  He called this “the defining issue of our time,” saying, “No challenge is more urgent.  No debate is more important.  We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by.  Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”  Who can argue with that?  Hard to disagree with the logic, so why can’t we get there?

Ask anyone who is out in the community, working in the trenches, and they will tell you that it’s not easy. The issues facing our nation and our local community are incredibly complex and they didn’t just pop up overnight, which means that the solutions are not simple, one-dimensional responses, and the problems won’t be solved with a blink of the eye.

Take the President’s commitment to train people with skills that will lead directly to jobs and his call to cut through “the maze of confusing training programs.”  Sounds like a no-brainer — of course we should train people with skills that lead to jobs; but just this past week we were once again reminded why something that may seem intuitive isn’t.  WAMU aired a report investigating D.C.’s job training programs and detailed the disconnect between some of the programs that are receiving funding, the skill sets required for the jobs people were being trained for, and ultimately, the availability of these jobs.  The example cited was the 4,000 people trained to earn a Commercial Drivers License and the 90 people who were ultimately hired by metro, the region’s largest CDL employer. How can there be such a disconnect?

Additionally, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, released a resource map offering a snapshot of the city’s investment in workforce development over the course of one fiscal year.  The map details more than 30 programs and services across a dozen city agencies. It’s hard to imagine how someone could possibly navigate the system in the best of times, say nothing about the worst of times.

As we think about the worst of times and the state of our economy, the President rightly devoted a great deal of his speech to jobs.  And while he called for equal pay for women, the majority of the jobs-related portions of the speech focused on nontraditional jobs where women continue to be underrepresented and face numerous barriers to obtaining and retaining these jobs.  Isn’t it time that we give equal weight and value to ensuring women are paid equal wages for equal work?  Doesn’t that fundamentally fall into the economic fairness category?  Are we ok with telling our girls to work hard and get a good education only to be paid 77 cents on the dollar?

Calling on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18 is a commendable goal set forth by the President.  There is no doubt about the importance of graduating high school and pursuing post-secondary education and training.  Our research demonstrates the drastic earnings differential based on educational attainment. Women in this region who do not have a high school diploma earn just over $18,000 per year compared to women with a graduate or professional degree who earn over $70,000.

But it’s not quite as cut and dry as simply saying that we’ll require everyone to graduate. Are we prepared to tackle the myriad of issues that cause youth, particularly girls, to drop out of school?  Generational poverty, family unemployment, violence, and teen pregnancy are just a few of the laundry list of issues that are at the crux of drop-out rates.

So how do we get there? Last night, the President reminded us that “no one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.”  Well, there is no better time than now for our community to pull together to ensure that the Washington region is a model community where economically vulnerable women and girls have the resources to thrive.  Now is the time to work together toward innovative, multi-dimensional solutions that put women and girls on a path to prosperity.  Let’s break the disconnect.  Where would you start?

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

Photo credit:

When the Clock is Ticking, Support Networks Become Lifelines for Working Parents

clock timeAs I look at the calendar and realize that it’s nearly the end of January, I am once again asking myself an all too familiar question: Where has the time gone?  How is it possible that I’m four weeks into 2012 and have yet to really accomplish much on my to-do list?  The answer — time.

This year, my husband, my daughters and I created a set of family new year’s resolutions.  Each of us spent some time thinking about it and then, popcorn style, we shared our ideas.  Interestingly, they all had a similar theme — time.  Whether it was spending more time with the family dog (our adorable but somewhat rambunctious chocolate labradoodle Misha) or spending more time as a family exploring and experiencing the Washington region, almost all of our family resolutions involved time.

For the most part I think that I “manage” my time fairly well, and I somehow seem to balance the myriad of demands for my time (although it’s often not pretty and my daughters would probably argue to the contrary).  But I do so only because I am supported by the most amazing community of friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues.  I am surrounded by a support system that allows me to pack 48-hours worth of everything into a 24-hour day, and for those times when I can’t, I have the resources to call upon others to help.

Take the past couple of days for example.  I’ve been under the weather battling a January cold — at home, my girls and my husband stepped up helping with dinner, making school lunches, and generally not arguing when asked to help out.  At work, I availed myself of paid sick time and stayed home for a couple of days to recover, while several co-workers emailed to inquire if there were any tasks that they could take off my plate.

But what if that wasn’t my reality? What if I was one of the more than 200,000 women and girls living in poverty in the Washington metropolitan region?  What if I was one of the more than 118,000 households headed by a single woman, and I didn’t have a support network to call upon?  What would happen if I lost my job because I was too sick to go to work?  What would happen if my time truly weren’t my own?

Recent research from Ascend attempted to answer some of these questions by lifting up the voices of some of the most vulnerable families across the country, asking them critical questions about their views of economic security, children, and the future.  In citing the challenges of raising children, both married and single parents agreed that these challenges are much more difficult for single parents, citing everything from financial concerns to the difficulty of not having a partner as a sounding board, to time management.  When asked about these challenges, one single mom said, “My time. Pretty much the use of my time.  You know there is so much you can do in a day and you are by yourself.”

So while I gaze at my to-do list and wonder where I’ll find the time to get through it, I am humbled by the knowledge that I will get through this list because I am not alone. I am surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who will all help me check off my tasks until there is nothing left… well, almost nothing.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat is the vice president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

New Year's Resolutions for Women and Girls

This month, we invited our Grantee Partners to share some of their New Year’s resolutions with us.  Their passion and commitment to transforming the lives of women and girls and improving our community are evident in the aspirational goals they’ve set for themselves this year.

Read on to find out what some of our grantees will be doing for our region in 2012 and tell us in the comments below what you envision for women and girls this year.  Washington Area Women’s Foundation will be sharing our own list of resolutions later this month in a special e-mail message from Foundation President Nicky Goren.  Make sure you learn what we’re planning for 2012 by signing up to get monthly e-mails today!

IWPR’s 2012 Resolutions

  • During this election year, get people talking about the issues that affect women, such as jobs and the economy, the gender wage gap and workplace discrimination, STEM education, Social Security and retirement, work/family balance, and maternal and child health.
  • Celebrate our 25th anniversary by marking the progress that women have made while highlighting areas where policy changes could make a huge difference in advancing women, families, and communities.
  • Illustrate the current status of women displaced by Hurricane Katrina through an upcoming report that also identifies their specific needs.
  • Improve success rates for student parents by sharing best practices and forging strong partnerships with administrators, practitioners, advocates, and policymakers within the worlds of higher education, youth development, and early care and education.
  • Give young women opportunities to gain career experience while expanding their knowledge of research and policy issues through our internship and fellowship programs.

Goodwill of Greater Washington’s 2012 Resolutions

  • In 2012, Goodwill of Greater Washington resolves to train, equip and place nearly 200 people into local jobs that support the local economy. We anticipate that these 200 jobs will come through the continued expansion of Goodwill’s retail stores, as well as the placement efforts from our intensive job training programs;
  • Goodwill of Greater Washington also resolves to continue providing 600+ jobs to local residents through our retail stores, janitorial contracts, and administrative and support divisions, many of which are filled by people who face significant disabilities or other barriers to employment.

NOVACO’s 2012 Resolutions

At a client Life Skills meeting at NOVACO in January, several clients set goals and made resolutions.  They included:

  • believing in themselves so that they could achieve their goals;
  • being better parents; and
  • setting small goals and telling themselves that they could accomplish those goals.

One mother, Kay, reflected on how much she’s achieved so far.  She earned her high school diploma through night classes, learned to drive and got her driver’s license, and worked with lawyers to get a work permit.  She also improved her parenting skills while she worked full-time at a restaurant and was offered a management position after just one year.  She volunteered her free time as a pen pal and greeter for the USO.

DCVLP’s 2012 Resolution

The DC Volunteer Lawyers Project resolution is that every victim of domestic violence in DC seeking a civil protection order who wants representation by an attorney will have one this year.

SMYAL’s Women’s Leadership Institute’s 2012 Resolutions

  • Provide a much-needed free space for young women to gather and form community.
  • Using that space, build our community of women and strengthen our bonds through discussion and shared service.
  • Promote further discussion about maintaining healthy relationships, recognizing unhealthy relationships, and combating domestic violence.
  • Develop connections to extend our diverse community deeper into the DC metro area and beyond.
  • Seek out community partners and collaborate on at least four service projects.
  • Connect more young women to mentorship opportunities with local volunteers.
  • Long-term resolution: Create a community of confident, empowered women through opportunities for leadership development and civic engagement.

FAIR Girls’ 2012 Resolutions

We, FAIR Girls, resolve to work as hard as we can to make sure that by the end of 2012…

  • 200 teen girl survivors of exploitation have received compassionate care, including counseling, emergency housing, assistance in finding legal and medical support, resume building and job placement, educational attainment support, and a sense of family and community at FAIR Girls.
  • 1000 teen girls and boys in high schools and youth shelters have participated in our Tell Your Friends workshop and have learned how to keep themselves safe from sexual exploitation and trafficking.
  • 1000 law enforcement officers, teachers, and social workers are better able to identify and assist victims of trafficking having attending a FAIR Girls training.
  • A law, inspired by Daisy, will have passed in Washington, D.C. ensuring that all missing teenage girls are considered “critical missing” and have access to FAIR Girls and our partners’ services when they are found.
  • 2000 hours of art therapy and economic empowerment workshops will have helped inspire and restore more than 125 girls.

Thank you to the Grantee Partners who shared their resolutions with us!  You can share your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to register for our e-newsletter to learn more about The Women’s Foundation’s plans for 2012.

The Women's Foundation Supporters Volunteer on the MLK Day of Service

MLK Memorial PhotoEarlier this month, Women’s Foundation President Nicky Goren issued a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day call to action on this blog. Nearly 100 volunteers responded and joined The Women’s Foundation at A Wider Circle.  A Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation, A Wider Circle provides basic need items to local families.  The furniture, clothing, home goods and food items are donated and volunteers helped sort and prepare items for families in need.

“It was a very special morning,” said Barb Strom Thompson, a volunteer and board member of The Women’s Foundation.  “[It] generated a few tears of gratitude for the opportunity to share the morning with so many like-minded people.”

Take a look at this photo album for a few of the highlights: