We didn’t know if we could make a real difference, but we decided we should do everything in our power to try. To us that didn’t mean we would abandon what we had been doing since 1949, but it did mean we needed to look at things differently. At first we wondered what were the core areas in Worcester where there was meaningful activity in which we could participate. After some discussion, we decided to stand that question on its head. Rather than focus in an area where there was already meaningful activity, we chose to look at areas where there was NOT meaningful activity. We invited key not-for-profit leaders from the community to come and speak with us, and we asked them a simple question: of all the pressing social issues facing Worcester, what is the one that is receiving the least funding…the least attention? What single issue or group is most underserved? The answer was: young girls.
Nobody was doing much to help young girls. Young boys were receiving the lion’s share of funding, and after a certain age the funding became “youth” funding, serving both sexes.
What kind of help do young girls need, we asked? The experts suggested there were a number of key issues around self esteem, sexuality, gangs, teen pregnancy, barriers to opportunity, and others. And, there was very little research or funding going to girls for these issues.
As we talked more we began to zero in on a key issue. The experts explained that at about age 10, when most girls are going into 5th grade, they are often filled with energy, excitement, curiosity and promise. Four years later, coming out of 8th grade, they are often uncertain and vulnerable. What happens? Puberty, for one thing. Boys, for another. And, they develop an awareness of social expectations which (still) expect that girls will “do” less than boys.
We thought about it, and our Strategic Grants Initiative was born.
Rest assured that we continue our commitment to broad funding for Worcester-based institutions through Annual Support grants and Capital grants. While 22.5% of our annual funding is applied to our Investing in Girls Strategic Initiative, the remainder is available for both Annual and Capital grants.