By Angela Nicole Parker
Founded in 1996 by four women who wanted to offer girls in their community the opportunity to dream big, Girls Today Women Tomorrow (GTWT) has been a guiding light for hundreds of young girls, ages 11-21, who want to be leaders and change agents for their generation.
Based on four pillars: education, leadership, wellness and service, the organization utilizes mentors to facilitate a variety of workshops that include college prep, wellness workshops, cooking classes and chat nights. Mentors and volunteers have also come together to offer participants outdoor team building experiences that include rope-courses and camping trips in Joshua Tree.
“Girls Today Women Tomorrow empowers girls to create their own opportunities for life success by contributing to their community as young leaders, guided by mentors dedicated to expanding their horizons,” said Denise Villamil, chair of the Board of Directors of GTWT. “[For that to happen], it is important that we ensure that our young girls have safe and open spaces where they can come to us for comfort and with questions they might have … and know they are supported and respected.”
As an alumni of the program, Villamil knows firsthand the difference the program makes in the lives of young girls.
“It is very rewarding to see how so many girls who have gone off to college, return not only as volunteers for the program but as service providers in our community,” Villamil said. “Many of our girls come back to social service careers and work with youth and families.
“As for myself, that has been my personal trajectory, where I now work with a nonprofit in the same community that I have participated with GTWT working with families. I have a daughter and I want to be an example to her and ensure GTWT is a program accessible to her.”
In fact, “Girl Power” is at the heart of everything Girls Today Women Tomorrow does. The organization specifically works with inner-city girls from low-income communities in the Eastside of Los Angeles to build up their leadership skills and ensure that they let their voices be heard on the various issues that affect their present and future.
“It is our goal to be the preeminent organization that prepares inner-city girls for achievement and leadership,” Villamil said. “We have been around for over 22 years in a community with limited gender-specific programming. There are currently no other programs like ours in the community of Boyle Heights.”
With the establishment of the program in Boyle Heights, GTWT has cultivated and grown its relationships with neighboring organizations and continues to partner and collaborate with community members on various projects. The GTWT Community Empowerment Center currently serves as a place for youth, community members and families to develop the skills they need to build a strong community.
“We are most proud of the servitude and commitment that the girls in our program have to each other and the program,” Villamil said. “We have had girls come back after college and continue to volunteer. We have alumni on the board and staff who were youth participants.”
Although the center is located in Boyle Heights, they have girls who come from other neighboring communities and the organization is actively seeking funding to expand the scale and the scope of their work.
“As a gender-specific program, we would like to implement the same pillars and programming in other schools, expanding and giving opportunities to girls that cannot access our site in Boyle Heights,” Villamil said. “With the funding, we are able to work with schools and educators around the city to implement the same model and have a school-based program.”
Villamil is proud of the well-rounded girls that the program produces.
“We provide girls with the best and most fulfilling opportunities, but we encourage that the girls give back to the community, whether it be helping at the local retirement home or helping clean up their neighborhood,” Villamil said. “The girls who come through this program expand their knowledge and learn about what their future could look like, if they are willing to work hard enough for it.”
Chair of the Board of Directors: Denise Villamil
501c3 Number: 68-0606918
Organizational budget: $150,000
Years in operation/Founded in: Program founded in 1996; became 501(c)3 in 2005
This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers.