Sheila Carrington says it’s ‘very heartening to see’
By Dwight Hobbes
Sheila Carrington believes in empowering youngsters. And she has been doing exactly that the past decade at Under the Radar Foundation and at Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.
Since 2007, Carrington has been at Under the Radar Foundation (UTRF), where she is a board member and volunteer. UTRF (www.undertheradar foundation.org) gives support of various kinds to Twin Cities and New Orleans nonprofit work, with a focus on arts education for youth.
Carrington has been a major force at the modest but nonetheless effective nonprofit in its annual fundraising. She recalls, “During our first four years, Under the Radar Foundation donated 12 tons of food to food shelves and granted over $125,000 to organizations serving the poor and providing arts education to youth in the Twin Cities and New Orleans, LA.
“We have given a lot of support to the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul. The young people are predominately Black. Many are homeless or highly mobile, and we support their art education and bring musicians such as Delfeayo Marsalis and Les McCann to the students for workshops.”
She adds, “This work is a personal passion and a significant part of how I view my contributions to support Black youth. I’m proud of my service to this organization, and actually, it was my work with Under the Radar that motivated me to apply for a fellowship at Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.”
Her application was successful. Two years ago, Carrington became a development fellow at Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and program coordinator for girlsBEST (girls Building Economic Success Together). Since 1992, girlsBEST funds projects and programs that educate and empower girls and young women.
GirlsBEST Fund grantees’ programming falls along five tracks: Academics, Entrepreneurial, Employment Development & Lucrative, Highly Skilled Careers, Public Education & Advocacy, or Sports & Arts. “The programs we fund really give hope to girls,” says Carrington. “The biggest thing the girls…need is the opportunity to understand that they have limitless potential.
“[The programs] help them have the confidence to know they can set goals. And that when they set goals, they can reach them. That’s a big gift the programs give them. It’s a tool they’ll use not just now as they’re growing up, but as adults.”
The money from girlsBEST Fund is going where it’s needed: Priority is given to underrepresented and underserved girls and communities across the state, including low-income girls, girls of color, and, often, girls from Greater Minnesota. Regardless of locale, girlsBEST Fund grantees demonstrate a strong focus on girls’ economic development, and girls are involved in all aspects of the program, including planning, implementation and evaluation.
Girls gearing up to actively pursue education, including setting their sights on college, is key. An invaluable component is that, as Carrington says, “They are avoiding risky behavior.” Including being boy crazy, historically a chronic problem in terms of derailing education.
A 2010 evaluation stated, “The teen pregnancy rate among girlsBEST participants was 8 per 1,000.” Carrington attests, “Our girlsBEST grantees knock down roadblocks to girls’ future economic success, like low wages and job discrimination, sexist academic and career tracking by schools, poor body image and self-esteem, teen pregnancy, lack of leadership and athletic opportunities, and violence against girls.”
One of the roadblocks that gets knocked down is the daunting prospect of how to afford college. Information helps level the playing field as girlsBEST Fund participants are shown that just because they don’t come from the backgrounds that privileged students at private schools enjoy, they don’t have to lose out.
They learn that financial aid, scholarships and grants are available to give them access to secondary institutions, and they learn the difference a degree makes in one’s life, opening up instead of just jobs the possibility of a career. “The girlsBEST Fund has shown time and again that when girls define their priorities and create change in their own lives, they expect more from themselves now and later, as adults.”
And, of course, the more you expect from yourself the more you will accomplish. Carrington enthusiastically points out, “When you talk to these girls about their futures, they talk so differently about themselves. They have all kinds of hopes and dreams, to be doctors, be lawyers, veterinarians. To own their own [businesses]. Be clerical leaders.”
A far cry from and vast improvement over roles many girls see modeled for them. Carrington speaks, for instance, of the difference girlsBEST Fund can make specifically for young African American females. “It’s important for all girls, but particularly important for Black girls to have the strongest skills possible, the best self-esteem possible. There’s a lot going on out in the community that can knock the legs out from under them.”
Starting, obviously, with the preponderance of teen pregnancies. There is also sexism that gets internalized. “There are a lot of negative images, especially for Black girls. In music, in the media. And they really need to understand that they are valuable [as] people. That they have a lot more to offer beyond [how are they are reflected] in the media.”
Summing up the satisfaction she gets from her work with girlsBEST Fund, Carrington says, “It’s really impressive and it’s very heartening to see that with support these girls can make the most of their lives.”
For more information on girlsBEST Fund, visit www.wfmn.org/grantmaking/girlsbest.shtml.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.