“Mostly we want the girls to understand they are independent and responsible for their own finances. We do not want them to feel intimidated by that,” said Shara Smith, Johnson Unit Teen/DPI coordinator. “We want them to get as much exposure as possible to businesswomen in the community.”
Female board members like Kathy Boatner, Janey Cooke, and Brenda Lawson felt stronger girls’ programming needed to be offered. They created a model for the girls’ business program with Charlie Sutton, Cleveland Club director. The goal of the program is to show the girls all they can accomplish in their lives.
Smith said the greatest encouragement offered to the girls are through local female business leaders.
“Ladies from the community can share their personal experience, tell them how to get from point A to point B and serve as a role model,” Smith said. “They can be a poster child, for lack of a better term. These accomplished ladies can show the girls what they can accomplish.”
Role models play a key role in the success of the growing business program. Girls are taught how to write checks, resumes and their personal budgets. Curriculum-based lessons teach the young members while women in business guide them.
“I feel like appropriate attention has not been paid to these girls. They do not always have role models in these [business/financial] positions,” Smith said. “... Oftentimes the father will be the one who handles the finances. Women have traditionally taken a back seat. We want to teach girls they can do this, as well.”
Members have actively engaged in the material, Smith said.
“As long as we keep the activities lively and keep them engaged, then they enjoy the classes. I do not feel like I am having to pull teeth,” Smith said.
Classes have met for both teenagers and preteens since August. There are usually 10 to 15 girls in attendance. Their ages range from 11-18.
Business skills are just as important as the personal finance lessons.
“Our goal for the program is to offer experiences such as case studies, field trips, brown bag lunches with role models, mentorship and job shadowing,” Smith said. “In addition to the business component, we want to teach girls how to be responsible for personal finance.”
Several female business leaders in the community have visited since August, including Debbie Melton and Dina Moran.
“Dina Moran is an industrial engineer at M&M Mars. I am not sure if they have ever considered the occupation before,” Smith said.
Changes can already be seen in the members attending lessons.
“We have one girl in particular who wanted to be a hairdresser and now she wants to own her own salon,” Smith said.
Every week Smith and her associates work against the girls’ preconceived notions and ideas. This is made possible through the continued dedication of their teachers and guest speakers. Smith said she looks forward to hearing more from community members.
“We have a need for more involvement from the community. ... We appreciate them volunteering to come and speak with the students. The girls enjoy hearing the ladies,” Smith said. “They seem to be quite taken by them.”