WriteGirl Gives the “Write” Answers
Q&A with Keren Taylor,
Founder and Executive Director of WriteGirl
Q: When did WriteGirl
start and what was its genesis?
a songwriter, poet, and freelance writer, I appreciate the
power and versatility of the craft of language. While living
in New York City, I helped establish a creative writing and
mentoring organization for girls and I saw first-hand what
a tremendous impact it had on both the girls and the women
involved - giving them self-confidence, new skills, new friends,
and expanding their dreams and goals. When I moved to Los Angeles
a few years ago, I wanted to continue to combine my love of
writing with my community work. I put a notice out by email
to various writers groups, gathered an initial leadership group
of about 10 women, and launched WriteGirl in December 2001.
It helped that I had just been made a casualty of the dot-com
crash - suddenly I had time and peace to think about going
in a whole new direction. Starting a nonprofit was not only
appealing in terms of making a contribution to the community,
but it challenged me to apply all my business and creative
skills. I'm always up for a good challenge.
Q: How did you
decide on the program elements (i.e., weekly one-on-one mentoring,
monthly workshops, publishing books, etc.)?
Taylor: The program is designed to
encourage self-expression and communication in several ways:
weekly one-on-one sessions with a mentor, monthly writing workshops
for all members (more than 100 women and girls in one room!),
and the sharing of work at public readings and in our annual
publication. We've created a safe, supportive environment that
cultivates strong communication skills. Curriculum is developed
by our own experts and we work hard to keep the program lively,
engaging, and relevant to the lives of our members, as well
as aligned with academic standards and goals. Over a nine-month
period, roughly corresponding to the school year, I see girls
and women really come out of themselves, take chances, try
new things, and explore their ideas to the max.
Q: How do the girls
find you and vice-versa?
Taylor: We ask English teachers at
high-density public high schools and middle schools in central
Los Angeles to help us identify girls who would most benefit
from the program. We look for both low and high achievers,
since both groups of girls need individualized attention, and
we bring together girls from diverse cultures, neighborhoods,
family units, and social backgrounds. Now that we are a bit
more established, many girls find WriteGirl through word-of-mouth,
our website, newspaper articles, or at book fairs and public
readings throughout the city.
do your mentors and volunteers come from?
Taylor: We recruit from all over Los
Angeles, searching for professional women writers as well as
women with strong communication skills who use writing in their
careers. Our volunteers include screenwriters and television
writers, novelists, poets, songwriters, editors, marketing
and public relations executives, teachers, journalists, and
attorneys, all of whom mentor our teen members or support the
organization in other ways.
Q: What kind of
application process is required of your mentors and volunteers?
Taylor: All volunteers are required
to submit a written application that describes their work experience,
writing background, and previous volunteering or mentoring
experience, along with two writing samples. We conduct personal
reference checks as well as criminal background checks, and
WriteGirl has a mandatory comprehensive training for all volunteers
(as well as ongoing training) to fully prepare them for their
roles as mentors or support volunteers.
Q: How has the
program evolved since its inception?
Taylor: WriteGirl has grown tremendously.
We now have 50 high school girls and more than 100 women actively
participating each season. Our alumni membership totals several
hundred, and our list of supporters is even larger. But numbers
only tell part of the story. The fact that we have a 100%
success rate in getting girls to graduate from high school
and then enroll in college speaks volumes about the impact
of the program on our girls. While the program has changed
very little since the beginning, we have added skilled board
and staff members who have greatly enhanced the management
of all aspects of WriteGirl's activities. We've also trained
a number of our adult members as team leaders (or “committee
heads”) to help manage important aspects of the program.
Q: What do you
find are the program's biggest challenges?
Taylor: Our two greatest challenges
right now are securing long-term, multi-year financial support
and expanding board membership. WriteGirl produces more than
20 major events annually as well as a 200-page anthology. That
requires a great deal of professional staffing and management
oversight. We're working on expanding our program and event
staff so that we can focus our board and key staff members
on finding resources and financial support for WriteGirl's
future. Once those efforts are on track, we can start working
on our growth plan so we can expand to serve more girls in
Q: What is most
rewarding to you about the program?
Taylor: It's amazing to see a girl
enter WriteGirl as shy and withdrawn, or perhaps outgoing but
a bit awkward, and see her in only a few months make an amazing
transformation into a self-assured, well-spoken young woman.
I have an email folder where I keep letters from mentees -
unsolicited letters where they spontaneously share things they've
learned or gained from WriteGirl. They're like an espresso
shot for me - I check them out when I need a lift. The outpouring
from parents is just as great. It's also very satisfying to
see the women in the program grow more confident, expand their
creative genres, make new friends, and even find writing and
business partners to help them in their own careers. We're
building a community for them as well, and that's rewarding
Q: What do you
feel are the biggest needs of the organization?
Taylor: Long-term financial support
and expansion of management staff and board membership, so
we can stay on track, continue to build a strong structure,
Q: What are your hopes
for WriteGirl's future?
Taylor: We know that anywhere there
are women writers, there are girls who need them. We look forward
to expanding WriteGirl into other neighborhoods in Los Angeles,
and eventually other cities. And as our alumni membership grows,
we can't wait to hear (and share) their stories of achievement
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