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Empowering young girls

Teenshop empowers girls to define their futures - and maybe change the world

Courtesy of Teenshop Inc.
Members of the South Jersey chapter of Teenshop Inc. pose for a photo during the organization’s 10th anniversary gala.

A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing college preparatory, mentoring, and life skills programs for girls is making a significant impact in the area.

Teenshop Inc. empowers young girls to define their futures and possibly change the world. It has chapters in South Jersey and the rest of the state – as well as Philadelphia and Los Angeles – and prides itself on a record of 100% college acceptance among its participants.

Elleanor Jean Hendley, who spent 25 years as an education reporter and producer at a Philadelphia TV station, founded Teenshop in 1985 as an extension of her commitment to empowering girls of color and providing them with positive representation. Many of its members are African American, but the program is open to all girls.

“You have to see it to believe that you can achieve it,” Hendley noted. “When young people see positive representations of themselves in diverse careers, it helps remove any barriers of doubt about their ability to achieve their goals.”

The expansion of Teenshop, she says, was made possible by individuals committed to empowering girls in their communities. Its success stories include alumnus Jasmine Daniels, who was crowned Miss Pennsylvania USA last year and is third runner-up in the Miss USA Pageant.

Drawing on her background in broadcast journalism, Hendley emphasizes the role of media in shaping young people’s aspirations, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

“It’s incumbent upon professionals to ensure positive representations and balance in the stories they report,” she noted.

Mentorship is a cornerstone of Teenshop’s programs. Each chapter is directed by a five-member female volunteer team of career and retired professionals that often includes Teenshop alumnae, all working hands on with girls.

According to Marilyn Jamal, regional director of the South Jersey branch in Gloucester Township, the organization’s mission to provide a safe environment where girls from diverse backgrounds can come together, set goals, and serve their community.

The program offers bi-monthly workshops that address growth; development; and social issues, among other topics. Executive Director Angela Wright-Yelverton highlighted the program’s focus on empowering girls age 13 to 18, particularly those attending local high schools where they are often in the minority.

Teenshop emphasizes self-esteem, self-confidence and resilience in workshops carefully planned to address those needs, with help from a Teenshop manual. Parents are also crucial to the program, according to Wright-Yelverton, by planning meetings, trips and other activities.

Teenshop also wants girls to become leaders and change agents, something they can accomplish through workshops, activities and community service projects. Wright-Yelverton said it’s also important to expose Black girls in the program to successful African American women and provide opportunities for them to engage with individuals who look like them.

As Teenshop’s executive director, Wright-Yelverton’s role is to guide the South Jersey chapter in programming, scheduling service projects and making connections in the community. She works closely with Teenshop’s regional director and communicates with its national leadership.

Anaitza Brown, an alumna of South Jersey Teenshop who has a sister now in the group, was a member from eighth grade until the end of high school. Initially hesitant to join, she found herself increasingly engaged with its workshops and activities and was involved in community service, educational workshops and the program’s annual Women’s History Month luncheon.

Teenshop parent Jen Morris has a 13-year-old involved in the program.

“My hope and expectation are for her to continue to gain confidence in herself as a young, Black teen,” she said of daughter Jaye.

Rabu Gary, who also has a daughter in Teenshop, stressed the importance of parental involvement in the program.

“Parents should be heavily involved,” he said.

For more information about Teenshop Inc., its programs and how to support its mission, visit the website at www.teenshop.org.

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