Changing the world, one girl at a time

As much as we’d like to believe that we are given what we have earned, the truth is that we don’t live in a meritocracy. And we certainly don’t live in a world where everyone is given equal chances in the educational system. There are jaw-dropping, stomach turning differences between which schools get certain programs, funding, and teachers. Some of this has to do with money, some with location, but some of it can be attributed to good old fashion social roles and stereotypes.

Recalling the tree houses of childhood, the grown-up exclusive clubs are ever as menacing, but much more subtle. Take the world of math and science, for instance, written in the eyes of professors, teachers, and fellow students is that familiar knell, “No Girls Allowed.”

“When I was growing up, I got the message that girls were bad at math.” Dreaming of becoming a veterinarian was nice and cute when Rachel was a child. But as she came of age it was time face the facts: without the right math or the science classes, she couldn’t become a doctor. So that was that, Rachel moved on.

It was not until she graduated college and started volunteering with middle school girls that the problem became apparent for Rachel, 10 years later nothing had changed. Something had to be done. So Rachel founded a non-profit organization for elementary and middle school-aged girls called GirlStart to empower girls in math, science and technology.

“We take the trends that appeal to girls, and we show them the math and science and technology behind those trends,” says Rachel. GirlStart shows girls how to do everything from taking apart a computer, building a website, making music videos, to ooey-gooey sticky science.

That’s right, Rachel started her own company without a trust fund, a master’s degree, or an engineering degree! No one her family had started a company, it was created “on a shoes string” of passion, $500 in the bank, and a credit card.

And so, GirlStart began in the living room of Rachel’s apartment. She had spent almost a whole year living on rice and beans, struggling to make ends meet when she finally got the grant. The day had come, “I went to the post office. I opened my box, and I couldn’t believe it. I hopped in my car and turned on ABBA really loud. It felt like the biggest euphoric rush I had ever experienced.”

But the truth is, part of being an entrepreneur are these dark days just like those years Rachel was scraping by, and trying to find strength to sell her idea. “There are bombs and ups-and-downs along the way,” Rachel says, “but the payoff is so worth the challenges. The opportunity to see these girls and the difference this program is making in their lives is worth every hardship. And even the hardships are really opportunities in disguise. When you really, truly believe that you will be successful, you will be able to handle all the bumps in your path.”

As long as there are little girls in the world who are afraid of math class and who think that technology is for boys, there’s always a reason for GirlStart.

Turns out girls aren’t so bad at math, “We have girls who walk into GirlStart and do not know the difference between a computer chip and a potato chip. But they come into GirlStart, and they get into it. We have girls that have gone on to start their own companies. We have one girl who was only in eighth grade and she has her own Web design firm. We have girls who did not have a relationship with their dad because their dad’s a techie. Then they went to GirlStart and learned how to build a Web page. Now they can talk to their dad. We have girls who came to GirlStart and did not speak a word of English. And they learn how to speak English through GirlStart, because math is the universal language. We have girls who have gone on to be engineering majors and came back to mentor other girls.”

Even though girls live in a stressful bubble inundated with advertisements practically commanding them to be self conscious and isolated because that’s “just what it’s like to be a teenager,” there are places like GirlStart where they’re being themselves. They’re taking risks. They’re doing things they’ve never done before—just like Rachel.

If Rachel could tell you just one thing it would be:

  • Think about who you really want to be

and

  • Start working toward that goal today

That is all it takes. After all, starting small is starting somewhere; if you take one step a day you are still moving forward.

“We throw out so many obstacles for ourselves, but they’re really only perceived limitations. I see it with the girls that we serve at GirlStart every day, and there’s nothing that women can’t do. We need more women out there doing great things.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

GirlStart
Now that you’ve heard all about GirlStart, go check it out!

Volunteer Match
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Guide Star
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Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls
A non-profit, builds girls self-esteem through music creation and performance. Providing workshops and technical training, we create leadership opportunities, cultivate a supportive community of peers and mentors, and encourage social change and the development of life skills.