Spotlight: Girls Write Now
By Courtney McNamara
On average in New York City, only about half of high school students go on to attend college. However, in one unique program, college attendance is a little above this shocking number. At Girls Write Now 100% of participants go on to get a higher education. This shocking statistic is one of the reasons for the founding of this program, and Girls Write Now is out to prove that finding your voice in writing can not only result in a stellar portfolio of your own work, but it can also change your life.
Maya Nussabum, Founder and Executive Director of Girls Write now recognized the challenges that come young women face entering high school, especially those who grow up in an environment that does not necessarily encourage one to achieve their dreams. At a time when intellectual development is in such a fragile state, Maya realized that girls sometimes need a little guidance. She told me she wanted to nurture their natural talents and interests, while she referred to the “paralysis that comes when you try to write.” The environment at Girls Write Now (GWN) is meant to dismiss the idea that writing is a solitary experience; a communal element is often necessary to foster one’s best work, especially in young writers.
The model for GWN is based on the importance of mentor-mentee relationships. Most teenagers are at a loss for an accessible role model who truly wants to see them succeed. Once a week, the high school girls in the program meet with their mentor, some sort of writing professional who helps them develop pieces in various writing genres. These dedicated volunteers help the young women begin to assemble a portfolio of their work. GWN also holds monthly workshops with the larger group, and one of the highlights of the year is a reading series called CHAPTERS. This event held at different cultural venues in the city challenges the girls to orate their own work in front of a large audience. It has been featured in prestigious publications such as New York Magazine, and even includes appearances by published writers such as Kate Christenson. The girls are getting the chance to show off their talents to their friends and family earning 27 gold medals from the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards last year. In addition to this honor, each year GWN publishes an anthology of the girls’ best work. A chance to be published is certainly quite an accolade to add to a college application.
In terms of applying to college, GWN makes a huge effort to provide the guidance that sometimes the public high schools just cannot offer. One of the biggest events for the writing program is an annual fall college prep conference available to any girl in the city, not just the ones in the program. The program addresses many issues, but one of the highlights is a college essay workshop. Last year 200 people were on the waiting list, a clear example of the extreme demand for such a service. Alumni from the program are also present to speak about their success thanks to GWN, as well as other speakers who address concerns such as financial aid. For the girls who are in the program, this support is offered throughout the year. GWN even goes a step further providing the girls with a panel of pro-bono therapists who help the girls deal with the challenges in their personal lives, which is crucial for a high risk population of young women.
For writing professionals living in the NYC area, applications to be a mentor are available in the spring. Becoming a mentor requires a year-long commitment, and the mentors at GWN take their role very seriously. The program is also growing in very exciting ways, according to the dedicated founder. She informed us of the efforts GWN is making to expand, especially in terms of a larger digital component. Utilizing their funds to the fullest, they are attempting to share this community with everyone who wants to be involved. Maya told us they are on the cusp of making this happen with a pilot program launching soon. For the time being, those who are out of the area or simply cannot make the enormous commitment, donations are always graciously accepted to help GWN expand. Every donation makes a huge impact, and any funding is always utilized in the most effective way possible. Maya hopes to be able to export what they have learned to other communities of writers. With a mission to “provide guidance, support, and opportunities for at-risk and underserved girls”, Girls Write Now is a shining example of the timeless power of the written word.
Want to know more about Girls Write Now? Check out their website www.girlswritenow.org