Living Classrooms Foundation
Salary: $13 per hour.
About the Program: G.E.M. (Girls Empowerment Mission) is an after-school and weekend enrichment program that serves approximately 40 low-income girls from a suburban Baltimore high school. Each group moves through the four-year program as a team, starting as freshmen. After-school activities include guest speakers; lessons and exercises about self-esteem, communication/social skills and career exploration; dining out; and attending performances. Retreats focus on team-building skills learned through taking ropes courses, camping and touring other cities.
Her Job: After spending a semester as a paid intern, O’Malley – who is earning a degree in nonprofit management – was hired as a part-time leader. She works about 15 to 20 hours a week and earns $200 a day for the monthly two-day retreats.
“In my internship, I was responsible for finding the girls summer opportunities: summer classes, summer camps. As a leader, another woman and I will be responsible for the juniors and seniors in the program. I will be the one who implements the curriculum, plans the after-school events, plans the retreats and is just there for the girls. They have our numbers, and they can get hold of us for whatever they need.”
Best Part: “The girls, definitely. … They’re amazing, and they’re sponges. They want to learn new things and they enjoy the program. … Each girl has their own story, and the fact that they have blossomed from their stories is really inspirational for me.”
Worst Part: “It’s a new program, and there are a lot of kinks to be worked out. There’s no blueprint. It’s a new learning experience, and it sometimes can be frustrating.”
The Need: “The program helps the girls understand that they have potential and that they can be whatever they want to be. For example, on a recent retreat we had some girls who thought they would never do something like a ropes course, that it was insane. But the girls banded together, and yelled ‘You can do it! You can do it!’ and stood on the other side waiting for them. And those girls went across that ropes course. They felt so empowered.”
Memorable Moment: “There was one girl, Dominique, who I got into a program from StayFree called Girls in the Director’s Chair, where the girls basically direct a film they’ve written. We applied together, and they called her and said she was accepted!
“They flew her out to L.A., and she met one of the stars of ‘That 70s Show,’ who appeared in the film. They had a contest to see which movie was rated most highly … and Dominique won! Now they’re sending her to New York for the premiere of her movie.”
Motivating Youth: “To get the girls in [other youth] programs is so difficult. It’s difficult to motivate them to fill out the applications and try, because they just don’t think it matters.
“One of the best ways to solve that problem is to really push. … I know people will say, ‘Well, what if they don’t want to do it?’ … I’m not really a fan of holding their hand the whole way, but I think they first need to learn that it’s OK to try.”