I’ve always been a big believer in something I like to call “womentorship”- providing mentorship for my sister women, either formally or informally. I recently found a great opportunity to provide a hand up to a young woman.
A few months ago, I met a young woman named Chantal Maloney when we worked together on a project to send bicycles to Africa. We got to talking about an organization she and a friend had started called The Princess Shop, in which they recycle old graduation dresses to girls who can’t afford to purchase them. By putting the word out on Facebook, Chantal and her friend were able to gather dresses, shoes, bags, and accessories, and got some local businesses to provide hairdressing and makeup. They were ultimately able to dress 39 graduating seniors, and a professional photographer volunteered to take photos and give each of them a beautiful enlargement.
Many of the program recipients are recovering addicts or unwed mothers who have little or no parental involvement. They are pulling their lives together to graduate and have no one there to cheer them on. The self-esteem these recipients gain from knowing someone cares enough to treat them as a valuable human being and a beautiful girl is immeasurable.
Seeing the initiative that Chantal and her friend had shown at such a young age, I was moved to help them. She described how they needed more product, some infrastructure for their fledgling organization, and of course, cash. A number of my friends volunteered to assist her: an accountant aided her with the application for a charitable number, a consultant is helping her put a strategic plan in place, and another friend is going to chair her newly formed board. Finally, I set up a fundraiser for her in my home.
I invited 18 women with whom I routinely exchange Christmas gifts, and informed them that in lieu of gifts, I would be making a donation to the Princess Shop. I encouraged them to do the same for me. They spread the word to some of their own friends, and we wound up with around 60 ladies contributing to the Princess Shop. In addition to the many gently-used items, they also bought designer shoes still in boxes and brand new dresses. Chantal was thrilled with the haul for her shop, as well as the new exposure she received for her cause. Many attendees also came forward to offer assistance by mentoring young women, doing spa services on grad day, or making introductions to influential people.
After enjoying cocktails and Indian food, Chantal shared some heart-warming stories about the girls, and the good we were collectively creating. It caused everyone to stop and ponder not only our own good fortune, but how wonderful it is to put it to good use by helping our fellow women. As people left, they received a tree ornament as a parting gift. Some received a fairy, as we explained that everyone there was a “fairy godmother” helping to create a princess. Others received a princess, or a butterfly to signify the transformation they were helping to create.
Mentorship is an important element of step three: Self-Assurance. We all need people who validate us, who believe in us, who support us. A mentor will reinforce our aspirations and encourage us along the way, helping us to avoid potholes in the road. And the relationship is reciprocal. For the mentee, there is the external validation of the internal compass; for the mentor, this kind of service is good for the soul.
For me, helping Chantal didn’t just make me feel good about helping people – it made me feel proud to be a woman. Women need mentorship, and every successful woman will say she had a mentor. Just think how many more women we’d help elevate if we all took it upon ourselves to mentor a young woman!