Louisville Girls Leadership
Organization Promotes Empowerment, Personal Development
Over two decades ago, there were virtually zero opportunities for teenage girls in Louisville to participate in meaningful enrichment or personal development. Louisville Girls Leadership (LGL) was formed to fill that void.
At the beginning of each school year, LGL welcomes 40 sophomore students from area high schools, with the goal of serving girls from as many schools as possible. This year’s class marks the most diverse group yet, with girls representing 28 schools and 23 zip codes. Over one-third of this year’s participants identify as black or African-American, and nearly another third are mixed, Middle Eastern, Asian, Asian-American, Hispanic or Latino.
Last year brought big changes for LGL including a new program coordinator, as well as the addition and expansion of various events and offerings.
“Last summer I joined the LGL staff and began to learn what it meant to work for an organization wholly dedicated to their mission, ‘By girls, for girls,’” says new program coordinator Laura Patterson.
A group of program alumnae who are current juniors and seniors in high school serve on the organization’s steering committee, and are responsible for designing and implementing the year’s programming for the new group of participants.
“Each experience put on by LGL is carefully designed by high school students to challenge their peers to rise up as leaders,” Patterson says. “Our steering committee is the force behind each program.”
Heba Qaissi, a senior at Walden School who lives in Jeffersontown, is one of the steering committee co-chairs this year. She applied to be a participant in the program two years ago after a friend encouraged her to apply, and she’s been hooked ever since.
“Going into the program, I didn’t really know what it was about, just that it included girls and empowerment, which sounded pretty cool,” Qaissi says. “It has been a really powerful and eye-opening experience, learning about issues and how we as girls can be leaders. We learn how to really get involved in our communities and use our passions to create a better world.”
After graduating from the program, Qaissi joined the steering committee as a junior so she could help implement some of her own ideas and share them with a group of like-minded girls. She was inspired during her time as a participant, and wanted the opportunity to have an impact on the younger generation.
Lindsey Latts, a junior at Kentucky Country Day School who also serves on the steering committee, joined LGL and stayed involved for similar reasons. The program had been on her radar for years leading up to her actual participation, as her mom served on the program’s board in its early days. She is proud to carry on the family legacy and help the program to evolve.
Both Qaissi and Latts agree that one of their favorite aspects of LGL is the opportunity to have meaningful connections with other girls from all parts of Louisville in an inclusive, empowering environment.
“Going to such a small school, I’ve felt isolated from all of the other schools throughout the greater Louisville area,” Latts says. “In the past year and a half, I have met so many girls from all over the city, and I am constantly exposed to different ideas and perspectives when we are discussing important issues.”
Qaissi adds that she appreciated the opportunity to grow her network.
“Through LGL I found people with similar underlying passions, but different ways to approach those passions,” she says. “It’s amazing how our creativity and ideas come together to form the events and projects we want to do in the world together.”
The program has even helped Qaissi shape what she wants her post-graduation life to look like as a pre-med college student in the fall.
“I want to continue being involved in a nonprofit that helps with leadership and empowerment for young girls, either as a day job or as a volunteer,” she says. “This experience has really shaped who I am, and LGL has taught me about service and knowing how to give back, especially if you are able to do so.”
This year’s steering committee chose four main topics around which to design leadership programming. The first, Women in Power, will challenge the girls to find what it means to step into their power and unlock their potential as leaders. College and Career Readiness will allow the girls to discover available opportunities to design a future that inspires them. Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression will help the girls unlearn their bias so they can lead with more care, courage and integrity. Finally, the girls will focus on Health and Well-Being, learning strategies to take care of their mental, physical and sexual health as young people and leaders.
The learning objectives are addressed through monthly sessions that allow the girls to connect with one another, as well as host powerful women in the community as speakers and facilitators. An overnight event is held at the beginning of each program year to help the girls break the ice with one another in a fun, relaxed way.
In addition to the monthly sessions, the students also host major events for youth across the city. February saw the second annual Galentine’s Dance, a community-wide event to engage girls and provide a safe, empowering space for students to celebrate their friendships with one another. On April 11, the steering committee will lead their first-ever STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) day for girls. This day-long event will allow girls and women to demonstrate and practice STEM skills to inspire and support area students interested in STEM fields.
“LGL is definitely a hidden gem in the community,” Qaissi says. “You’ll meet the best people of your life and form connections you’d never thought you’d have as a participant. The motto says it all – ‘By girls, for girls.’ We’re doing this to help benefit all girls in society, so they will know how to tap into their full potential.”
The organization’s signature fundraising event, Onward!, is coming up on Friday, March 13, and provides a chance for community members to get to know the program and its participants better. The event will be held at Copper & Kings distillery from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and will feature presentations from the girls highlighting the challenges and opportunities young women encounter in today’s society.
Attendees are invited to participate in a night of networking, empowerment and fundraising, all in the name of supporting girls in Louisville. Last year’s event had over 200 attendees, and this year promises to be even bigger.
“Onward! 2019 was a phenomenal evening in every aspect,” event co-chair Melissa Raley says. “We saw LGL girls courageously and eloquently share their dreams on stage, and step into their power to improve our community. It’s a beautiful thing to know that every person around you is a feminist and a supporter of the future of girls in our city. The feeling in the room was electric.”
The event includes hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Tickets are $35 online and $40 at the door, and can be purchased at onward20.eventbrite.com.
“Our 2020 event is going to be even more meaningful since we’ll be celebrating the centennial of women winning the right to vote,” says Raley, noting that white women received the right to vote in 1920, but all women could not fully exercise the right to vote until decades later. “If you believe in the power of women and girls, this is an evening you don’t want to miss.”
Louisville Girls Leadership is located at 735 Lampton Street, Suite 302 in Louisville. For more info call 502-243-7497 and visit louisvillegirlsleadership.org.