SOCIAL IMPACTS: Investing in Girl Power through Girls Empowerment Network
In celebration of our 20th anniversary year, Impact Austin is highlighting Community Partnerships. From 112 grants totaling $8.26 million to 91 local nonprofits, here is one story of two grants investing in girl power.
From Ami Kane, MPA, CRFE
Deputy Director of Girls Empowerment Network
and Impact Austin member since 2014
In June 2013, I was a brand new nonprofit fundraiser experiencing the most pivotal moment of my career to that point. I was with Girls Empowerment Network’s CEO, Julia Cuba Lewis, and she was about to step on the stage at the Paramount Theatre to make the final pitch to Impact Austin’s membership to help fund our new service for girls referred to us through the juvenile justice system. I was in awe of all I experienced that evening; I hadn’t yet been a part of a group of so many community-driven female philanthropists in one space. After Julia’s pitch (which she knocked out of the ballpark!) we waited at a nearby restaurant for the call that would tell us the vote results. When Julia’s phone rang and I heard her excited thank-yous, my eyes filled with tears of joy knowing that this catalytic grant would propel our work with girls to the next level, just as Impact Austin's 2009 grant had done.
Reflecting on Impact Austin's support for Girls Empowerment Network
I look back to that day in 2013, and winning the second Impact Austin grant, as pivotal for both the organization and for myself as a fundraiser. I had recently received a promotion from the program department at Girls Empowerment Network into a new Development Director position. While I was nervous to try my hand at fundraising, my passion for the mission was so strong that I pushed myself to learn and stretch my skill sets. When I wrote the proposal that advanced to a site visit and eventually a transformational grant award, I felt very much like we had the powerful support and encouragement of every member of this collective giving group. By granting us what was the largest fundraising win I’d been a part of to that point, I heard two messages that fueled me for years after: “we see the good work this organization is doing and we want more girls to receive this support” and also, “we believe in you and Austin’s girls.” To say I felt inspired is an understatement.
Girls Empowerment Network is lucky to be among Impact Austin’s two-time grant recipients. Those grants went toward our flagship programming for girls in schools, helping them discover they are powerful people. In 2009, the grant expanded our “clubGEN” program into Williamson County and Manor ISD. In 2013, Impact Austin members made it possible to grow “The 180 Program” throughout Central Texas. Both of these programs are still alive today under a different name, and together they represent our flagship programming across the state of Texas. As we grew and professionalized as an organization, we streamlined them under the unified Girl Connect program name, where clubGEN became Girl Connect recruitment groups (open to any girl) and The 180 Program became Girl Connect referral groups (girls identified as especially in need of support and services and referred by a school or other entity).
Growing our impact for girls across Texas while building a broad base of support
I have had a front row seat to witness directly how the women of Impact Austin were the catalysts that helped us kick off a growth and expansion trajectory we are still leading. These early program expansion grants gave us a runway of funding to begin impacting girls all over Central Texas: in Round Rock, Georgetown, Kyle, Buda, San Marcos, Bastrop, and Manor, just to name a few. Once we piloted that work with Impact Austin funds, we were able to show school partners, parents, and community leaders in these regions our value for their girls, and local funders stepped up to continue to sustain these services to this day. We earned a strong reputation among girls in these communities who were excited to attend group in their neighborhoods rather than traveling to programs in the city center.
Impact Austin’s investments in organizations like ours have a cascading effect far beyond the original grant. As Impact Austin helped empower us to better serve all of Central Texas, we became more solidly positioned to seek larger funding sources from entities like Travis County, Applied Materials Foundation, and the City of Austin. These additional resources support initiatives like better evaluation and data management practices so that we’re now able to track that we successfully increase girls’ self-efficacy levels through Girl Connect programming. These results cycled back into our fundraising practices and directly resulted in our being able to demonstrate impact and refine our messaging and theory of change, which in turn inspires new donors.
Beginning in 2015 and really ramping up in 2018, we took this work statewide and were able to establish a remote staff presence first in Houston and now also in Dallas, which grew our Girl Connect program to reach 2,000 girls statewide as of today. These girls are engaged in weekly services in their neighborhoods, led by Girl Experts in our program department, who live and work in these communities. We are now sophisticated enough that we have funding in place from such entities as the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, United Way of Greater Houston, the Rising Blazers program out of the University of North Texas, and Austin Public Health. We have shown for three continuous years that when girls exit Girl Connect, their baseline self-efficacy levels are statistically significantly higher than when they started group.
Developing self-efficacy: a powerful tool against the current youth mental health crisis
Our impact with girls matters for so many reasons, but chief among them is that self-efficacy is a protective factor for youth mental health. This has always mattered but it’s especially relevant and important in 2023. Sadly, data released by the CDC shows that adolescent mental health related ER visits have gone up 31% during COVID-19. Girls accounted for almost all of that increase (Yard, 2021). Even newer data shows that female students, in addition to experiencing disproportionate levels of poor mental health, are experiencing increased suicide-related behaviors. For example, in 2021, 12% of female students attempted suicide during the past year compared to 5% of their male peers (CDC, 2022). Thankfully, research has shown that higher perceived self-efficacy is associated with lower incidence of developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after trauma, a high level of self-efficacy correlated negatively with PTSD, and researchers posit that a high level of self-efficacy is protective when coping with trauma overall (Benight et al., 2015; Benight & Bandura, 2004; Flatten et al., 2008; Gallagher et al., 2020; Makara-Studzińska et al., 2019).
Simply put: Increased self-efficacy for girls leads to greater effort, persistence, and resilience as participants face challenges in their lives. Our programs are supportive, uplifting, and celebratory communities where participants feel comfortable and confident being their authentic selves. Impact Austin has been an inextricable part of Girls Empowerment Network’s ability to create self-efficacy in adolescent girls in Texas, and we’re so grateful.
On a personal note, Impact Austin’s positive effects have extended beyond my professional role with the Girls Empowerment Network to shape me as a philanthropist.
While I had been volunteering with Girls Giving Grants since 2010, I was able to join officially as an Impact Austin member under a community partner scholarship in 2014. I’ve been so excited to be a member of this collective! I served on a GRC myself that first year and since then I’ve enjoyed getting more involved with many parts of the organization, from the Advancement to DEIB Committees, from g3 to co-leading the Education GRC this upcoming grant cycle. The relationships I’ve built with my fellow Impact Austin members have enriched my personal life and supported my professional journey in a way that feels strikingly similar to how girls in Girl Connect become bonded.
Impact Austin's grants to Girls Empowerment Network comprise just one story of community partnership. When I take into account the 91 nonprofit partnerships that Impact Austin has forged, I can envision the change-making that’s occurred over 20 years. My heart bursts with pride as a member of this organization AND a member of the Austin community. Here’s to building on this 20 year legacy in 2023 and beyond!
About Girls Empowerment Network
Since 1996, Girls Empowerment Network has been helping girls discover they are powerful. Through school-based programs, camps, events, workshops and conferences, Girls Empowerment Network ignites the power in girls ages 8–18 by teaching them skills to thrive and believe in their ability to be unstoppable. Visit www.girlsempowermentnetwork.org for more information and ways to get involved.