by Ava Puckett
“Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen” is the motto for WriteGirl, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged girls find their voice, and hone their creativity through writing. Since they began in 2001, WriteGirl has made waves from LA to the White House, where Michelle Obama honored them with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award - the highest national honor for such programs. The organization’s unique mentorship program is highly individualized, providing girls with one-on-one meetings and monthly writing workshops that explore poetry, creative non-fiction, songwriting, screenwriting, and more. During their twelve year history, 100 percent of the girls in their Core Mentoring program have gotten into college, many of them with full or partial scholarships. This is WriteGirl’s proudest accomplishment, despite the numerous plaques and medals that adorn their walls. As Keren Taylor, WriteGirl’s executive director, explains that there is nothing better than being able to “give a girl tools to be able to be positive and thrive and rise above whatever challenges she’s facing.”
Keren Taylor grew up in Vancouver, Canada, where she kept a list of the hundreds of books she read per year during her teenage years . After being recruited by her 9th grade teacher to help assess her high school’s summer reading list, they discovered how few women writers there were and even less books with female characters. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview, Keren explained, “That was the important moment for me in realizing the importance of women’s voices being heard by young people.”
It wasn’t until she was laid off from a corporate job that she found the time and inspiration to finally work on getting that voice heard. She always knew that she “wanted to do something that would be inspiring and something that would have meaning for others." So she began dipping into her savings to create her vision.
With Keren’s ambitious mindset, and previous experience with nonprofits (she helped start a literacy program for young girls while living in New York), she had no problem getting WriteGirl on its feet in LA. WriteGirl’s hands on approach to the often overlooked issue of literacy among teenagers is just another reason why this nonprofit is so successful, “[We] have a fun way to lure teens into writing is what makes us unique.”
Los Angeles has long struggled with high school dropout rates, usually hovering around 35 percent. WriteGirl has made it their mission to help young girls “get creative, get through high school, and get to college.” In 2004, WriteGirl launched the In-Schools Program, which currently serves four Los Angeles schools in Lawndale, Azusa, South Los Angeles, and Santa Clarita. Many of these students are foster youths, on probation, pregnant, or already mothers. Young girls in their situations rarely get the education and encouragement they need to stick it out through high school, let alone get into college, but with WriteGirl’s help they are able to develop self-confidence, critical thinking skills, and creativity that will provide them with endless opportunities. Many of these girls experience an ah-hah moment through WriteGirl’s program. In her CNN interview, Karen described these moments as, "eye-opening experiences that really give them a lot more hope about their future."
Along with being awarded the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award from the First Lady, WriteGirl has received 58 book awards for their anthologies, including "YOU ARE HERE: The WriteGirl Journey" and "Bold Ink." Just this past month, Keren Taylor was named a CNN Hero for her incredible story. This year, 350 girls from 60 different areas in Los Angeles will be participating in WriteGirl’s mentoring program – the most they have ever had. Keren and the rest of the WriteGirl team are confident that all 350 girls will make it to college and they’ve got the track record to prove that they can do it.
Original post from Made Woman Magazine