In September 2012, Mercy Housing California received two grants from The Women’s and Girls’ Fund of the Kern Community Foundation and the Dignity Health Community Grants Program in Bakersfield to fund the Thriving in Life Wellness and Youth Leadership Program pilot. The program was designed to inspire 20 southeast Bakersfield young women, including some from Madison Place, a Mercy Housing California property, with academic goal setting, college information and exposure to women leaders and leadership training. Gloria Morales, resident services coordinator at Madison Place, who helps manage the program said it has, “lit a fire under the girls and they have realized they can actually be somebody.”
Along with meetings every other week, the girls were inspired when local women leaders came in to give presentations. Throughout the year, the girls learned about leadership and community engagement from Leticia Perez when she was 5th District Supervisor for Kern County; physical health and substance abuse prevention was explained by Adriana Salinas from Kern County Mental Health; and the higher education system was explained by Monica Diaz, an English professor at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB).
The presentation from Monica Diaz helped tremendously as the girls visited CSUB. Not only did they receive an extensive campus tour, but they were introduced to staff at CSUB that they would be interacting with as new freshmen. Being able to connect these young women to the right people in the community was extremely important.
“This was not just a quick 20 minute tour,” said Morales. “The girls were able to see everything and really get a feel for what it will be like to go to college.”
They also got involved in volunteer activities and completed two community service projects, including packaging food on Christmas Eve and delivering it to a local homeless center.
“This is a program where these young women are doing things they have never ever done before,” said Morales.
The Thriving in Life program has given these girls the opportunity to learn from women leaders in the Bakersfield community and motivated them to finish their homework, raise their GPAs to 3.0 or better and participate in sports such as swimming, track, basketball and soccer.
Another major benefit of the program was the job readiness portion where they discussed job searches, interview techniques, resume development and applying for jobs, participating in mock interviews and proper dress workshops. In the end, some of the girls found jobs during the program.
“This program influenced these young ladies who would not normally have been involved in sports, engaged in school and or have even thought of going to college,” said Morales. “All this was made possible through this program and the generous grants. It’s been amazing to see the transformation; it’s quite awesome.”
And the transformation will continue as Mercy Housing staff at Madison Place are looking forward to welcoming the next group of young women into the program for the 2013-2014 school year.
Watch this great video created by the Kern Community Foundation about this program:
Read more in the Summer 2013 Issue of Community Matters!