“Empowering Girls Through Connection.”
Stacey Donoghue and Dr. Veshana Ramiah created StrongHER TogetHER in 2016 when a first-grader’s mean-spirited birthday card, a sisterhood’s response to a local hate crime and a growing social uprising prompted them to think more deeply about the collective power of girls and women.
Change was afoot. That much was clear. And the bold, divisive voices were unsettling and growing louder. Veshana and Stacey wondered…If girls and women already find themselves tangled in negative, unsupportive relationship stereotypes, how will the static of the moment make it better?
And moreover, how can equity become a reality in the face of a society that is placing increasing value on dissension and division?
When the mission of StrongHER TogetHER took shape, Stacey and Veshana knew this was a way they could make a difference.
Teaching girls to stick together, despite their differences, was a powerful tool in the fight for equity.
Teaching the girls this over a span of years allowed StrongHER TogetHER an organic path rich with experiences and opportunities to ignite possibilities, open minds and elevate outcomes. All while helping the girls internalize the notion of their collective power.
Today StrongHER TogetHER is in 28 elementary and middle schools. Girls in the program represent various backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic levels and races.
Through mentoring, service learning, and just plain fun, the girls are realizing they are more the same than different.
And through supplemental programs that focus on anti racism, activism, positive mental health and literacy, the girls are finding their voices in support of one another, the world and themselves.
Here's How We Do It:
We make a concerted effort to brings girls together from all over our community. Girls are nominated by school counselors as rising fifth graders and remain in their small group for the next eight years, until high school graduation.
Although many of our girls move and change schools for various reasons, the StrongHER TogetHER group is not impacted by this as we look to provide a steady, safe place for the girls, no matter where they are.
Today StrongHER TogetHER girls come from 28 elementary and middle schools in the area and youth representatives are from nine high schools. As we teach girls the importance of sticking together, no matter how different they are, we believe the first step is broad community outreach.
The StrongHER TogetHER girls engage in service learning projects throughout the year. Anything from making Valentines cards for hospitalized kids, playing games with displaced families or hosting victims of hurricanes…the girls are learning more about their community and the many ways they can make a difference.
Girls are learning what it means to be supported and supportive because of the multiple levels of mentoring that are incorporated into StrongHER TogetHER.
Community leaders are always eager to share their expertise and their stories with the StrongHER TogetHER girls. They represent any number of fields – surgeons, florists, civic and government staff, attorneys, yoga instructors, science teachers, coaches…and lots more.
Many local college students offer hands-on opportunities for the girls to get an upclose look at higher learning in-progress. Anything from technology to sports to the arts. StrongHER TogetHER is also supported by our Youth Representative Team, a group of junior and senior high school students who are passionate about our mission and excited to work with the girls throughout the year.
Our group leadership team are the ever-present coaches, ready to listen, guide and cheer for the girls through the inevitable hills and valleys of growing up.
Women from the community, college campuses and our own program provide a mentoring template for the StrongHER TogetHER girls. We encourage the girls to employ these same mentoring skills in their own relationships, whether it is via our big/little sister program or small moments they encounter everyday.
Youth Anti-Racism Discussions (Y.A.R.D.)
Y.A.R.D. (Youth Anti Racism Discussions) is an ongoing series whose purpose is to consider racism through the lens of (1) history, (2) current events, (3) arts and culture and (4) self experience. In that a StrongHER TogetHER girl is a part of our program for eight years, one of the many ways we make good use of this time is by helping the girls understand one another better.
Whether a girl in our program is Black, LatinX, Asian American, Indian American, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, LGBTQ+ or anyone in between, our intent is to share the biases, prejudices and experiences each of these communities face. In doing that, we believe anti racism will become integral to their lives as they grow to be young women who will lead the charge for advocacy.
Loving Inner Voice (L.I.V.)
L.I.V. (Loving Inner Voice) is StrongHER TogetHER’s positive mental health series, initiated as a direct result of feedback we received from girls in our program. LIV is designed to promote confidence, pride and motivation by helping girls be their own biggest cheerleaders.
We do this by teaching the girls to replace negative self-talk with internal voices that give grace, steer them away from external doubt-infused voices and keep them focused on who and all they are. LIV activities might include anything from journal-based exercises to poetry workshops on self-curation to an afternoon of yoga.
All to provide the girls with a solid foundation for a lifetime of self awareness, self- care and most of all, self-love.
Durham Book Club is a community-wide StrongHER TogetHER initiative that unites students through the power of reading. Initiated during the 2020 pandemic summer in response to a season of isolation, the book club has evolved to include over 600 students who have received a total of nearly 3000 books! We have met with authors who are New York Times Best Sellers, Coretta Scott King Award winners, authors whose work has inspired movies, TIME magazine featured authors and
SO. MUCH. MORE!
StrongHER TogetHER girls may be different from one another, but ALL of them love to have fun! Whether we’re serving the community, learning from our mentors or even feeling a little nervous about a first-time experience, the girls always mix things up with lots of laughs and plenty of moments to treasure for years to come.