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The History of the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania

March 1, 2006, the concept of the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania (Girls Coalition) starts to come to life with the “Making the Connection for Women and Girls” Breakfast at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). This event was cosponsored by Strong Women, Strong Girls, The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs at CMU, and convened agencies and individuals committed to serving and empowering women and girls, and provided an opportunity to build connections, share opportunities and resources, and work together to identify current gaps in services.

Lindsay Hyde, Founder of Strong Women and Strong Girls compiled a comprehensive report following the event. Most significant was the fact that 94% of participants said it would be useful to have ongoing networking events, a comprehensive directory of programs for girls, and a need for a more formalized local network.

On September 21, 2006, the FISA Foundation convened leaders from ten local girl-serving agencies to discuss the need for a network, assess local interest in building a coalition, and discussed action steps. The “Making the Connections” report was reviewed and the group suggested other opportunities, including sharing research and best practices, collaborating on low cost staff development opportunities, and collectively advocating for the needs of girls. This group was originally referred to as a planning committee and eventually became the Girls Coalition Steering Committee.

Early in 2007, a survey gathered basic agency information, service offerings, and interest in developing the Girls Coalition. The survey indicated that the most urgent demand was networking opportunities. Plans soon got underway to plan the first of the social and educational networking opportunities that have become a hallmark of the Girls Coalition. Significant attendance and interest generated by the first event prompted the Steering Committee to formalize a mission, vision and values, and initial governance structure.

In 2008 the coalition fully materialized, with Kristy Trautmann, FISA Foundation, Judy Cohen, Jewish Women’s Foundation, and Toni Felice, Adagio Health as co-chairs of the Coalition. Adagio Health was also the first fiscal sponsor, followed by Gwen’s Girls. Four standing subcommittees were also established and monthly meetings were hosted at various agency locations. The Girls Coalition received its first operating grant from the FISA Foundation, which allowed for the hiring of a part-time administrative coordinator, the launch of a membership drive, and the launch of the monthly e-newsletter.

In 2009, the first Annual Girls Coalition Conference was held. The event was a major success with several local sponsors and more than 200 professionals working with girls in the region. To capitalize on the early success of the small organization and build a vision for the future, the Girls Coalition was further defined as working to serve all girls, but in particular address and include the needs of underserved girls, and to engage the membership in the planning and implementation of efforts around gender equity and economic empowerment.

In March 2010, the second annual conference “From Imagination to Realization: Equity and Empowerment of Girls” was held. The event was again well attended with many participants saying they would like to become involved in membership activities.

After operating the organization through the efforts of the steering committee, with one part-time administrator, the decision was made in April to hire a part-time Program Director, and to make changes in the governance and committee structure so that others could more directly participate and so that new leadership could be developed.

Since June 2010, the organization has grown the level of community activity exponentially through the expanded role of the program director, dedication of the steering committee, and hiring of a second part-time program assistant in November 2011. For the first several years of the organization, the model was to have a quiet presence throughout the year, focusing all major outreach, fundraising, and engagement efforts on the annual conference. The model has evolved to create a much higher profile throughout the year, with the annual conference acting as a complement to all activities and event with expanded reach.

Of significant note is that the Girls Coalition has been able to grow the activity, engagement of the community, value to members, and reputation outside of Pennsylvania on a very small budget. This is in part made possible through our fiscal sponsorship model, eliminating the need for outside accounting services, additional professional services, and the legal and administrative expenses of a 501(c)3. The steering committee periodically revisits this model.

Key activities include:

  • Monthly Meet & Greet series for members and interested community members. These events average 20 attendees and have been held at various locations throughout the city. These are typically held at least six times a year.
  • Documentary film screenings with regional experts and national leaders, including such important films as:
    • What’s Your Point, Honey
    • Tapestries of Hope
    • The Homestretch
    • The Mask You Live In
  • Developing a strategic partnership with PROGRESS at CMU in 2011 and 2012 to support the training of local organizations to deliver the Speak Up negotiation curriculum to area girls. Nearly 30 organizations participated in this partnership, which included two trainings, curriculum materials, observation opportunities, and ongoing technical support.
  • Developing a strategic partnership with Hardy Girls, Healthy Women (HGHW) in 2012 and 2013 to deliver their curriculum to girls in SWPA.       This partnership included training ten Girls Coalition member organizations, Chatham students, and Girls Scouts of Western PA staff. The partnership kicked off with a session by HGHW founder Lyn Mikel Brown, and involved eight cooperative learning sessions, and two full-day trainings, as well as access to online webinars, technical assistance, and listserv.
  • Community Cinema partnership. In concert with the Women and Girls Lead Initiative, the Girls Coalition joined together with WQED Pittsburgh to implement several seasons of Community Cinema. This involved the cohosting of screenings throughout the city, some brining as many as 200 attendees. This was the first time WQED was able to host these events outside of their studios and to engage with a more diverse audience. The Girls Coalition brought partners, locations, speakers, and generated new audiences for this important resource.
  • Day of the Girl Pittsburgh. With local partners iTwixie and Women and Girls Foundation, the Girls Coalition hosted the first Day of the Girl Pittsburgh celebration on October 11, 2012, as part of International day of the Girl. Day of the Girl is celebrated every year in Pittsburgh under the Day of the Girl Pittsburgh name.
  • Be Inspired 2013—In February 2013, the Girls Coalition brought to Pittsburgh two amazing young advocates who were part of the SPARK efforts to encourage Seventeen Magazine to be more transparent about their use of Photoshop and to include un-Photoshopped images in the publication.       They spoke to girls, families, and providers about their experience and then introduced a panel of local girls who have engaged in successful advocacy projects. This was an incredibly successful event and catalyzed a conversation around supporting girls as advocates, and developing opportunities for them to take action to change the things they don’t like about the world they live in. Be Inspired built on this success, hosting two more amazing events in 2014 and 2015.
  • Annual Conference—The Girls Coalition held five successful annual one-day conferences (2009-13) aimed at individuals and organizations that serve, support, or advocate for girls and young women. The conference leveraged regional expertise and fostered strategic collaboration across partners. Later conferences also utilized a partner-host strategy that allowed for the containment of costs and the creation of an entirely different climate, as well as the integration of girls voices to help elevate their needs, perspectives, and abilities as agents for change.
  • Mini-Conferences—TBA