Grantee Spotlight: A Q+A with StrongHER TogetHER
Grantee Spotlight: A Q+A with StrongHER TogetHER
The mission of the organization is stated plainly in the name: StrongHER TogetHER.
Started in 2017, StrongHER TogetHER teaches girls to stick together, despite their differences, and to use their collective power in the fight for equity. Girls from 28 local elementary and middle schools in the Durham area are invited to take part in the long-term, multi-year program.
Through mentoring and various initiatives focused on anti-racism, mental health, activism, literacy, and more, the girls are encouraged to find their own voices and always build each other up, not knock each other down.
In 2021 North Carolina Humanities awarded a Community Engagement Grant to StrongHER TogetHER to support their series of workshops entitled “Finding Your Road: a Storytelling Series”, focused on a better understanding of community cultures, inspiring creativity and raising awareness of women’s contributions to the humanities in Durham.
We connected with Stacy Donoghue, Co-Founder and Executive Director of StrongHER TogetHER, to learn more about the workshop series and why mentorship and their philosophy of girls supporting girls is important.
Why is mentorship and representation such a big part of your mission?
Stacey: Mentoring has always been an integral part of everything we do. We take a multilayered mentoring approach. We are fortunate to have juniors and seniors in high school as our youth representatives; we have adults and college students, some of whom were youth representatives who graduated and came back; and of course, we have girls mentoring peers in lower grades. All of that mentoring is constantly happening throughout our work, some of it organized, some of it organic. The girls have also heard from many inspirational community leaders over the years, which we also consider part of our mentorship mentality. Some of these leaders include the Governor’s Chief of Staff, WNBA coaches, restaurant owners, World Cup Soccer coaches, florists, Michelle Obama’s mentees, and many others.
How do girls get involved with StrongHER TogetHER?
Stacey: We are fortunate because the way our program is structured, the girls are with us for eight years, and eight years is a long time to accomplish a lot of things! We have relationships with Durham public school counselors, charter counselors, private school counselors, and others throughout the community. Every spring the counselors nominate a rising fifth grade child to be in our program. We ask counselors to nominate those children that will benefit most from our programming and from the consistency of our programming. The girls represent various backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic levels, and races. By and large, most of our kids get on a bus to school and then go home; there is no opportunity for extracurricular learning. Through our initiatives, we are aiming to help the girls have access and exposure to ideas and experiences outside of school and the home.
Can you tell us more about the workshop series?
Stacey: This workshop series was part of our Y.A.R.D. (Youth Anti Racism Discussions) initiative, which helps girls consider racism through the lens of history, current events, arts and culture, and self-experience. We held five workshops with amazing guest speakers to teach and inspire the girls to harness and share their voice. Each speaker gave us a window into their culture and perspective.
During our first workshop the girls met with Vicky Jeffries, who is the Tribal Administrator for the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. Vicky talked to us about Indigenous arts and culture. She taught us how to make tobacco ties and told us the significance of them. She also talked about the impact of words and gestures as it relates to Indigenous communities.
Javiera Caballero, a Durham city council woman, shared stories of her path to city government. She explained her role and gave the kids a sense for how city government works.
MK Alova of North Carolina Asian Americans Together told us about Asian American women in history and cultural beauty misnomers.
Ponsella Brown of North Carolina Central University talked to the girls about the origins of the blues genre. The girls played African drums, wrote their own blues songs, and reenacted songs of enslaved people.
Rodrigo Dorfman, Executive Producer, and Oscar Garcia, who was a subject of the film, talked with us about Fiesta Quinceanera. The documentary is set in Durham and features four subjects who are preparing for their quinceañeras. We have girls in our program that are 14, 15-years-old and have various connections to this cultural celebration. Some may partake in it, and some are not able to due to a number of factors. Many of the girls didn’t have an understanding of what the celebration was about before this workshop, so the documentary really helped all of us to wrap our heads around it. The documentary screening was followed by an open dialogue session and dancing, led by Oscar (whose skills are fierce!)
Every one of the five workshops was different, but at the end of the day, I think that it gave the girls an opportunity to just pause for a moment and spend some time in another culture and understand it more than they did when they walked in.
What is the best part about living and working in your community?
Stacey: We feel so fortunate to be where we are. We have found that programs like NC Humanities and communities like Durham really don’t pay as much attention to the size of an organization or the tenure of an organization, but rather, it is the message and mission that prompts support. That mentality is the reason we exist today. Because our mission resonates. Durham has wrapped us up from the start and we thank our community and programs like NC Humanities for helping us do our best work in supporting the best girls!
How can people support StrongHER TogetHER?
Stacey: You can donate online at https://stronghertogether.org/donate/ to help us with our general programming – things like paying our bus drivers, providing food, paying for supplies and admissions and so much more. We are also always seeking volunteers, including group leaders as well as a recently-vacated facilitator role for our YARD program. Come join us our team! We would love to meet you!
About North Carolina Humanities’ Grantee Spotlights: In celebration of our 50th anniversary, NC Humanities Grantee Spotlights shine a light on the incredible work of our grantee partners, offering details about their funded project, and feature a Q&A with a team member associated with the organization.
Photo Credits: StrongHER TogetHER