Angela Patton, CEO of Girls for a Change and founder of Camp Diva, shares her success story and asks for help
In June of this year, on the way back to Richmond after being recognized as one of 10 women in the nation selected as a White House Champion of Change for Extracurricular Enrichment for Marginalized girls, Angela Patton, CEO of Girls for a Change, and Founder of GFAC’s Camp DIVA (Leadership Academy) reflected on the path she has taken over the past 13 years as an advocate and engineer of fundamental change for Black girls and other girls of color. Angela’s work preceded much of the research reflecting the status of Black girls in our country. That data now verifies that Black girls and other girls of color are still uniquely challenged by persistent opportunity gaps, structural barriers, and implicit biases. Her intuitive approach based on anecdotal input gave her a jumpstart in her work to “Introduce Black girls to the world, and Introduce the World to Black girls.” Data also confirms that girls of color are suspended from school at disproportionate rates and become more susceptible to falling behind. Black girls are overrepresented in the foster care, juvenile, and criminal justice systems, and are still underrepresented in many careers including STEM fields. Our girls remain invisible to the mainstream rendering their intellect, problem-solving, leadership capabilities and their potential unutilized.
Back in the days before her affiliation with Girls For A Change, Style Magazine recognized Angela’s work with girls by recognizing her in the 2010 cohort of Richmond’s top 40 under 40. Her work as the Founder of Camp DIVA was described as work with “girls at-promise vs. girls at risk”. Camp DIVA started in 2004 as a five-week summer retreat and after-school program that aimed to empower African American girls. The program offered classes on topics such as healthy relationships, etiquette, financial management, holistic health, sewing and jewelry making. It also featured meetings with Black business leaders, college tours, and training in entrepreneurship and community service. Girls discussed goals, received mentoring and asserted independence by representing the program in the community. All of the elements currently identified as “best practices” for engaging, retaining, and uplifting teen girls were in place at the earliest point of Patton’s work.
It was this intuitive and promising leadership, plus outcomes with Black girls, that attracted Girls For A Change, a national/international girl serving organization based in California, to Richmond. Anxious to extend their work to Black girls, Girls For A Change became aware of Camp DIVA’s outcomes. They reached out to Patton to establish their signature intervention program, Girl Action Teams, in Richmond, where Patton had experienced great success with the Camp DIVA program. GFAC also noted that the Camp DIVA approach could be incorporated into the Girl Action Team model quite easily. Girl Action Teams engage groups of 10-20 girls in identifying problems in their community and learning ways to solve those problems. Two women “coaches” support the girls as they work through their social change projects towards presenting action-oriented solutions to stakeholders and community leaders to “make change.” One of the earliest Girl Action Teams formed by Patton in collaboration with Girls For A Change identified a problem of importance to them…their lack of contact with their fathers. The team worked to identify a way that the girls could be with their fathers and could celebrate Fatherhood while celebrating their Daughterhood. They decided to organize a dance where fathers and daughters could come together for a night of celebration and be in community with other fathers and daughters who were ready to celebrate their relationship. The first Date with Dad dance was celebrated in 2006 with an attendance of 20. The accomplishment of the girls who implemented their social change project has led to ten successive dance events and has expanded from a night on the town to a week-long community celebration of daughters, fathers, and families in Richmond, Va. Date With Dad spawned another special event called “A Dance of Our Own”, which has allowed incarcerated fathers to enjoy an afternoon of dancing and celebration with their daughters.
Angela Patton has grown this garden of good works in cooperation with many, many partners. Her understanding of collaboration has been one of the foundations of her success. Richmond Public Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Communities in Schools of Richmond, the Richmond Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Sheriff Woody, Petersburg Sheriff’s Office under the leadership of Sheriff Crawford, The City of Richmond, Henrico Public Schools, and five universities have been at the heart of the advancement of Camp DIVA and Girls For a Change in the Richmond metro area. And, while these local partnerships have sustained the growth and development of Girls For a Change programming, a step up to the next level has only been provided via supporters outside of Richmond.
In 2011, the Richmond-based work of Girls for a Change came to the attention of the NoVo Foundation based in New York City, a national foundation for women and girls, established by a member of the Buffett family. The foundation’s mission is to foster a transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership. The focus of NoVo is “one of the most powerful and untapped forces on the planet: girls.” NoVo recognizes that “Their lives will determine our future.” GFAC has received a series of small grants from NoVo to expand and mature its work in the Richmond metro area. Then in 2013, NoVo invested $225,000 in the work of the organization to be spent over three years to build capacity, to refine the organization’s mission, and to produce even better outcomes than previous years’ programming. These funds allowed GFAC to partner with some local funders including Bon Secours Foundation, Allianz, Altria, and NextUP to provide programming in local schools and community locations. But, even as there was a great recognition of the value and importance of the work of Girls For A Change in Richmond, funding continued to significantly limit the capacity of the organization to reach more girls.
In 2014, when the first drumbeats for openly declaring, demanding, and affirming the importance of identifying solutions to disadvantages that Black girls in the United States face, Patton and several girls from Girls For A Change were at the epicenter of the action. They participated in the “Black Girl Movement: A National Conference,” a three-day public gathering at Columbia University in New York City. Richmonders were active participants in setting the agenda for activists to connect the country’s multiple movements, build goals and strategies and continue to lead the way to elevate and empower Black girls and women.
Carolyn W. Robinson, MBA, a Financial Advisor with MetLife Premier Client Group serves as a Board Member and the Treasurer of Girls For A Change. She has been connected to Camp DIVA/GFAC for ten years, first as a volunteer, and now as treasurer of the organization because she “believes in the mission of GFAC and the passion of Angela Patton.” Carolyn says, “GFAC is a change agent. We are changing the path, in a positive way, for our girls! One of the reasons that motivates me to serve is that we solve problems, not just treat the symptoms. We are breaking and ending generational curses! One thing to keep in mind is that it’s not just about one girl – it’s about her future children. This organization is setting the stage for future generations to flourish! But to continue this important work, we need more local funding!” Robinson notes that she sees GFAC’s daily struggles to implement an effective program. She is excited about the Board’s decision to reach out to Richmond for financial assistance, especially since GFAC’s work is happening in real time and making a difference in Richmond each day.
In 2015, with the support of NoVo, Girls For A Change engaged in a strategic planning process that brought a laser focus to its work. GFAC’s Board intentionally committed to working with Black girls and other girls of color. The program focus was streamlined, to build on the success of Girl Action Teams, and Camp DIVA was rebranded to focus on the potential of the experience to build and develop leaders. The Board also envisioned an approach to communities that would allow Girl Action Teams to be widely replicated locally, regionally, across Virginia and beyond. GFAC’s City Strategy embodies each element of the steps taken to grow Camp DIVA and GFAC locally. The codification of the “City Strategy” offers GFAC, its partners, funders, and friends a clear vision of the best of GFAC’s work, and provides an excellent roadmap to identify what funding, human resources, and community support will be needed to expand and move forward with the program.
As Angela pulls into the Staples Mill train station, she reviews the last of the notes she has prepared during the ride for a meeting with potential funders. Her notes say…
Over the years GFAC has built a national brand whose programs include social change projects and events, and leadership development. GFAC has achieved meaningful and lasting impact in the lives of Black girls and other girls of color in Richmond, Va.
Our population and focus are unique. We see a huge group of Black women, who will likely never have the mobility (by choice) to reach beyond their circumstances, being left behind. GFAC is structured to address this problem. Cross-cultural experiences, like those which Girl Action Teams provide, are designed to bring the world closer to our girls and create opportunities that are outgrowths of a more capable and connected city-wide community. These opportunities have been proven to give our girls a boost, and diminish our waste of resources. GFAC views our work as a direct economic investment in our city and feels passionate about our approach to preparing Black girls for the World. We also believe this work will yield results immediately and for decades to come. Our understanding of the role informed, empowered, and centered women can play in elevating themselves, their families, and their communities is at the heart of our work. We are also clear that our preparation of our girls is of no consequence if they are continuously hampered by lack of access to mainstream pursuits like leadership, entrepreneurship, problem-solving, and the ability to apply their intellect to influence fundamental systemic change. This understanding bolsters our commitment to unlocking opportunities for girls of color specifically, black girls.
Girls who have participated in GFAC programs exhibit the cultural pride that provides them the tools to encounter, challenge and overcome the structural barriers they may face due to identity-based structural oppression. Our model addresses social change, and leadership development prepares girls for college life and the workplace that gives them an advantage.
GFAC has achieved these impressive outcomes by designing responsive and relevant programming; and effectively building strong relationships with community leaders, family members, and local businesses, engaging them all in the well-being and development of girls and young women in their communities.
With successes like these, GFAC has taken a leadership role in the emerging movement for girls and young women of color in RVA. But frankly, to maintain the attention of funders like NOVO we need your help and financial support to fund the investments required for girls and young women of color to thrive.
Investing in Black Girls! is a local funding effort that creates change…at home. GFAC supports grassroots programming in RVA advocates at the local-level for policy and culture change initiatives that are girl-led, girl-driven. We address systemic and institutional challenges faced by Black girls and other young women of color locally and across the country. GFAC enters 2017 with new leadership, new ideas, and a new direction. We are an organization that operates under transparent organizational and financial processes that focus on accountability. That said, it is without hesitation that we recommend Girls For A Change as an organization to support.”
Angela’s post recognition blush gives way to a practical side of local non-profit leadership, making a case for local support. Here’s hoping that GFAC’s outreach to hometown supporters will yield a response to an age old question…Can anything good come out of Richmond?
GFAC says, Well…YES!