Creating Meaningful Youth Mentorship during a Pandemic: Q&A with Kelsey Waros of Strong Women, Strong Girls Pittsburgh
Photo by Caroline Moore Photography
By Kristen Wishon
PRSA Pittsburgh Public Service Lead
When the Public Service Committee and I selected Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) Pittsburgh as one of our public service partnerships this year, I was excited to dig into SWSG’s mission to create enriching mentorship experiences that ultimately supports youth development for our community’s young women.
As a program that relies strongly on in-person connections, field trips, campus visits and other hands-on enrichment activities, the coronavirus pandemic has completely changed how SWSG conducts its mentorship programs.
I wanted to learn more about how SWSG is still serving young women during the pandemic, so I chatted with SWSG Program Manager Kelsey Waros.
With an impressive background in service, Kelsey develops the SWSG Girl Program, working closely with college women and mentors to deliver programming to 3rd to 5th grade girls. The Girl Program includes a network of universities that now serves 40 schools and community centers in greater Pittsburgh. In total, Kelsey helps to coordinate programs that serve more than 700 girls and 400 college women — you read that right!
Q: In a normal year, how would you describe SWSG programming for those that are unfamiliar?
Kelsey Waros: Our program is a three-tier mentorship model: The girls are mentored by our college women at our university chapters, and the college women themselves are matched with and mentored by professional women. For the Girl Program, each week, the college women mentors travel to their assigned community centers or elementary schools to deliver our high-quality curriculum for 90-minute sessions. This core programming is supplemented with enrichment experiences for the girls and mentors that include training, field trips and special guests. Recently, we launched our Role Models in Residence programming that brings professional women into the space to work with the elementary school girls through a specialized curriculum.
What has been the greatest challenge to programming since the pandemic began?
SWSG is a program created for in-person interaction and program delivery. So, our biggest challenge has been to determine how to create lasting and beneficial relationships between girls and their college mentors, even while apart. Our girls are in 3rd to 5th grade, so we want to make sure our programming is fun for girls at such a young age, and girls will want to sign up in fall, even if we can’t be there in person!
So much of SWSG’s programs relies on in-person mentoring and field trips. How would you describe virtual mentoring, and what creative solutions have you developed?
We’re working hard right now to make our programming accessible for all girls since we are unable to be there in person. We have shifted our curriculum to an online-friendly format, and plan to train our college women mentors in the fall on specific online tools, such as how to use platforms correctly, online safety and how to make a connection with our girls virtually. We are planning virtual field trips with our community partners, and for the girls who may not have access to computers — which is a big reality — we have delivered “SWSG program kits” to our sites. These kits include parent guides to our curriculum so that they may work with their girls on lessons, fun activity supplies girls can do at home, and a few fun giveaways so the girls can stay occupied at home!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve received within SWSG (and nonprofits in general) is to remember the “why.” We’re here to empower women and girls, and the population we serve needs to be at the center of everything we do. I think that with any position, you need to know why you’re there in order to bring the best version of yourself! Working in this organization has many layers, but it all comes down to our community and building strength in one another. Showing up for your community, participating and going that extra mile is what we’re all about.
How can someone get involved with SWSG? Are you seeking mentors?
We are always looking for people to join the SWSG family! No matter how you identify, we want you to be involved. If you’re looking to be involved with the Girl Program (elementary school girls being mentored by college women), feel free to contact me. We currently partner with Duquesne University, University of Pittsburgh, Point Park University, Carnegie Mellon University and Robert Morris University. If you’re looking to be mentored by a professional woman or become a professional mentor yourself, contact Marissa Escajeda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PRSA Pittsburgh is supporting SWSG Pittsburgh as it shifts an annual fundraiser — the Strong Awards — to a virtual event. We’ll see our hard work come to fruition this Friday, August 7th at 8 a.m. during the first-ever virtual Strong Awards. PRSA members receive a $20 discount to the event using code PRSA at checkout. Join us in supporting our region’s local nonprofits and our next generation of strong female leaders. We hope to see you there!
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