On February 25 Step Up hosted its annual “I Dream To…” Mentoring Conference, presented by the AOL Charitable Foundation, to inspire 10th grade girls to dream big.
Step Up propels girls from under-resourced communities to fulfill their potential by empowering them to become confident, college-bound, career-focused, and ready to join the next generation of professional women. Step Up is supported by the AOL Charitable Foundation, which is focused on improving the lives of women, girls and underserved youth through fostering leadership and empowerment, improving economic opportunity, access to education and technology and cultivating creativity.
I first heard of Step Up twelve years ago when I moved to Los Angeles from London. I became a member and immediately was hooked. Step Up not only connected me with a bunch of incredible women, but it gave me the opportunity to support programs for teen girls. That experience was priceless and has shaped the work I have done ever since.
In the U.S., 1.2 million teens drop out of school every year – that’s about 7,000 per day who may feel that they don’t have the support they need to graduate. Step Up believes ending the high school dropout crisis depends on mentorship, and the organization aims to inspire teen girls through after-school and mentorship programs. The results speak for themselves – 98% of all Step Up seniors graduated high school in 2015 compared to a national average of 73%. After just one year of Step Up after-school programs, teens are more confident and place a higher value on getting a college degree. Furthermore, research shows that high school sophomores who expect to go to college are more likely to actually go, and complete, college.
When Step Up reached out to ask if I’d be open to speaking at the “I Dream To…” conference and leading a workshop I didn’t hesitate. It was an honor to be asked. The conference was hosted in the luxurious Capital Group offices in Downtown Los Angeles. The day was designed to encourage Step Up teens, with the help of mentors, to explore personal dreams, passions and goals, and to discover tools to transform those passions and purpose into reality.
Step Up paired the girls attending the conference with mentors for the day who work in fields the teens aspire to be a part of in the future. Phoenix Gonzalez, Step Up Los Angeles Board Member and Co-Founder of dotstudioPRO was one of the mentors who took part. In this post Phoenix shares the prep the mentors undertook to make the day a success, including selfie videos which were used to open the conference, setting the tone for inspiration to shine through that day.
For my presentation, I shared my school days, how I almost didn’t make it to university and the ups and downs of my career journey so far with the tenth graders and their mentors. I explained how while you may think your career will follow a set trajectory, in reality it can feel like you are stalling more often than accelerating, or even going backwards. I talked about how important it is to continue to believe in yourself, no matter what, even if it feels like school or work just isn’t working out as you planned. It’s human nature to believe in yourself when you start to get signs that things are working out, when you get that A grade, or get into college, or land an interview, or score a promotion. But, you need to believe in yourself just as hard if you’re failing a class, or if college seems like it’s out of reach, or if you just can’t seem to find a job. That’s when you really need to have your own back.
As part of the conference I led the girls and their mentors through a workshop, starting with a career dreams exercise. Everyone was encouraged to jot down their dreams, big or small, and then share those with each other. This is something I do, especially when I’m feeling stuck. The next exercise tackled fears, obstacles and how to move forward. We all face fears, it doesn’t matter how old we are. In fact, I’m pretty certain the older we get the more anxious we become about not wanting to make a mistake. I encouraged the girls and their mentors to write down some of the fears they felt may impede their career dreams. Then, as a team with their mentors, they discussed and wrote down some of the ways they could tackle those fears.
Even though I’d been invited to lead a workshop at “I Dream To…” I learned so much from the day. I was blown away by how the girls were thinking about their futures and how open and honest they were during our exercise. Acknowledging your fears in your own mind is pretty daunting, but actually sharing them with someone else seems pretty scary to me. It was a reminder, that none of us, regardless of our age, have everything figured out. But, if we recognize that, embrace that, keep trying, make connections, ask for help along the way, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep on aiming high you never know just how far you can go.
To join Step Up check out suwn.org
Post by Octavia Goredema @OctaviaGoredema