Relay Race: Advancing Young Women to the Finish Line
The 2018 women's 4-by-400 relay race in the NCAA Championships was considered one of the greatest comebacks of all time. It looked like Perdue was winning, and just seconds before, USC took the lead. Relay races are not just about the one talented athlete; the strong teams work together in a unified front, strategically building on their individual strengths.
At times I have felt like I have been a runner in a relay race. And at times, I have felt like I was the baton that a group of women had passed along in their intentional effort to connect, correct, and build my capacity. They have worked strategically and brought me to the finish line.
You see, I come from a family of six girls. They are all very strong women holding their own as they have navigated their educational pursuits, careers, and ministries, all while raising wholesome children who have flourished as young adults. I was the fifth in this line, and growing up, I recall squishing myself in the living room sofa (because we all had to pile up in one comfy place) as I listened to their romantic adventures, their work struggles, or their take on the family "chisme" (gossip). As the years have passed, while the sofa and living room has changed, we still find comfort in lounging on one of our homes' inviting couches whenever we get together. Their resilience, laughter, joy, and purpose are internalized in the fiber of who I am. They might not have known, but they have carried me through.
I also think back at the teachers that inspired, corrected, and encouraged me along the way. I recall sitting in an English honors class in a public high school in South Broward, FL, that begged for some serious educational reform. I recall feeling somewhat awkward in a classroom of what I esteemed as brilliant and very adept kids. I felt like I had to work harder than all the kids who seemed to have written papers in 5 minutes while I struggled for hours. This teacher carried me through patiently, kindly, and firmly holding me accountable, ensuring I excelled.
Similarly, while I was at Trinity Evangelical University, my advisor, Dr. Elizabeth Skjoldal, stopped me several times in the hallway, encouraging me to pursue graduate studies. And as I finished my Masters, she connected me to faculty from the doctoral program in Psychology at Wheaton College. She didn't just believe in me; she went out of her way to make a connection.
While I completed my internship program for the Doctoral Program, I was welcomed at Meier Clinics. Nancy Brown, the President, encouraged the development and growth of Family Bridges, first a program and now a non-for-profit.
And as I developed the programs within Family Bridges, I have been showered with support from mentors and advisors now serving in our board, such as Debbi Speck and Dr. Susy Francis Best, and from our stellar visionary leaders in our executive team: Maria Buchanan, Omaira Gonzalez, Sarah Pichardo, Damaris Bran, and Barbara Linek.
I stand today in a place that has been ushered in by the many women who have cheerleaded me on, made social connections I lacked, who coached me while I wrestled with difficult decisions, whom I have drawn inspiration and encouragement from, and who supported my dreams by rolling up their sleeves and working to make things happen.
Now the question is, how can I give back? Who can I advocate and help advance?
Who can you cheerlead onward?
A few years ago, we started the Wise Up Girls program to intentionally work with young women as they sought to make wise decisions about the relationships in their lives and their aspirations. It is an upstream solution instead of a downstream intervention.
Helping young women understand healthy attachments, being aware of the danger signs indicative of an abusive relationship, and helping them establish healthy boundaries would save so many from much heartache and distress.
When young women put toxic relationships first, it puts them at a greater risk for trauma, deters them from their life goals, and increases the chances that they end up in difficult situations.
On the other hand, when young women put themselves first by completing a vocational degree and gaining employment before entering into parenting, they are most likely to avoid a life of poverty. By working on themselves first, they increase their economic prospects and the opportunities to get ahead.
Over the years, the Wise Up Girls program has evolved. We first started by providing scholarships to young women to encourage their educational goals. We've now added a second element, matching them with executive coaches that help them reach their goals, make social and professional connections, and provide a space for them to be vulnerable and encourage them as they share the struggles they face.
We can carry the upcoming generation forward in the same way that others have carried us. What will you do this year to run the relay race forward?