A few days ago, Domi seemed a little nervous. She was getting ready to start college classes, but found out she needed to submit additional information in order for her student financial aid to go through. It seemed like the paperwork, questions, and special requirements would never end. I finally joked with her yesterday, “You know, if you could just be American for a minute, I think this would all be a lot easier.” We both laughed and walked to the college business office, crossing our fingers for no more changes, errors, or forms.
Domi handed her ticket and paper to the woman behind the desk, who then began typing on her computer. A few seconds later, she pulled out a stamp.
“All right! You’re all set!” she said with a smile. “Come back next week to get your student ID and your U-Pass.”
There had been many confusing questions and instructions over the past few days, but this was something we all understood: Domi was finally a college girl.
When I met Domi in 2010, I could have never imagined that less than two years later we would be shopping for college supplies at Beck’s Books. I certainly didn’t know that less than two years later, her success would create the inspiration for GirlForward – the only organization in the United States dedicated to empowering refugee girls to reach their full potential and end cycles of poverty.
Today marks the one year anniversary of GirlForward. Last August, 10 girls – from Iraq, Burundi, Sudan, Burma and Bhutan – were gathered in Lincoln Park, enjoying the sunshine and admiring the Chicago skyline. They were girls I had known since earlier in the year, when I had worked with Emma, a friend and former colleague of mine, to start an after-school group for high school refugee girls. In just a few months, these girls – from different countries, cultures, religions, and high schools – had formed a community of friendship and support. Each week, we would meet in the basement of a church to talk about high school, the United States, relationships, and the future. We were a small group, but after just a few meetings, I knew we were meant to be something bigger.
That day in Lincoln Park, I asked the girls a question, something like: “How would you feel if our girls’ group was bigger, and each of you also had a mentor who came and helped you with school and finding jobs, and stuff?” Their answers ranged from, “Yeah!” to “Um, sure, okay.” And so it began.
And here we are now. One year later, and we have grown from 10 girls hanging out to 49 girls served through our Mentorship Program, Safe Spaces Project, and Camp GirlForward. Next month, we’ll be getting even bigger as we move into a permanent space on Devon Ave. in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood, allowing us to serve even more girls.
As Domi embarks upon the next phase of her journey – starting college, working toward a career – we’re getting ready to move into the next chapter of GirlForward. There will certainly be challenges along the way, but if the girls have taught us one thing, it’s that with resilience, hope, and optimism, anything is possible.
– Blair Brettschneider, Founder & Executive Director
Pssst. GirlForward fans. Want to get us a birthday present? Help us furnish and decorate our awesome new program space! Our space will be home to our GirlForward office, as well as after-school programs for adolescent girls. We want it to look and feel as cool as we are, so we need your help!
$30 – a chalkboard for tutoring, writing workshops, and general doodling
$100 – books and board games to help girls practice English and make friends
$300 – chairs and a table for tutoring sessions and workshops.
$500 – sofa for our girls’ leadership group meetings
$1000+ – adopt a complete corner of our new office for studying, playing, relaxing, or working.
To donate, please click here or mail a check to GirlForward, 1900 S. Clark St. #505, Chicago, IL 60616
For questions about donations (or anything at all!) please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.