Empowering Girls Through Mentorship and Self-Expression
Can you include a short personal bio? My name is Kirsten Giles, I’m an instructional designer, which means I write training manuals and training courses. I have been with WriteGirl for five years, starting out first as a mentor to one of our teen girls, and then transitioning to the role of Workshops Coordinator. I also run my own company which provides training products and services to several automotive companies like Toyota and Hyundai.
What problem are you solving? WriteGirl pairs professional women writers with teen girls in a creative writing mentorship. Although male writers outnumber female writers in most industries, we’re not necessarily trying to solve the problem of too few writers! I think we solve a bigger problem that many teen girls face: finding their unique voice in the world. Ask anyone who’s been a teenager and we all remember what it was like to have new feelings and new problems – all of them very difficult to put into words – and we all remember what a rocky road it was to “try on” new identities and figure out who we really were, what we believed in, and what we were passionate about. By mentoring girls to explore creativity in written expression, we allow them a safe space in which to discover their voice.
The other problem that WriteGirl solves is something we’re very proud of – 100% of our mentees go to college. Some of the girls who join our program have been told by parents, teachers and counselors that college is “not for them”, so we are tenacious in our efforts to change their mindset and to guide them in the college application and essay process.
What is the most valuable resource to you in the work you’re doing? Our volunteers. Every time we host an event, deliver a workshop, or perform a reading we have mentors in attendance: cheering the girls on, handing out materials, donating cupcakes, etc. They are also generous in connecting WriteGirl with their networks, whether it be restaurants who can make donations, or even more professional women writers who want to give something back.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer someone doing similar work? Remember who you’re doing it for. Once a month throughout the season we bring all the girls and mentors together for an intensive all-day workshop on one specific genre. Sometimes on the night before a workshop I’ll be up late, doing some last-minute random thing like stapling felt flags onto popsicle sticks for a songwriting activity, or cutting instructions into 1-inch strips of brightly colored paper to hand out to the girls when they arrive. These are the moments when I remind myself that it only takes one writing activity to inspire a girl to create a brilliant piece of writing — and we never know which activity will be the one!
Who has been the most influential person in your life as you are working to make a difference?When I was growing up, my mother was an instrumental music teacher. She would put a violin or a cello in anyone’s hands – whether they showed a natural ability or not. Some of the kids who came to her with learning or behavioral issues were completely changed by the experience of making music. I learned early on that you don’t always see creative talent – or passion – right away. You have to be patient and create an environment where it can emerge.
What is an experience you’ve had that has made you stay motivated in the work you’re doing? Every single workshop motivates me. We bring in guest speakers who always have a fresh perspective, and we let girls get up on “the soapbox” (an actual box that we set out for a short period of time during each workshop) to rant about what’s going on in their lives. I’ve worked with our volunteer curriculum team to create hundreds of writing activities, but I’m continually surprised by what the girls end up doing with the activity and what their writing voice sounds like. That inspires me.
How can people join you in what you’re doing?Visit WriteGirl.org to find out more about WriteGirl, buy one of our books, or attend a public event – and if you are a professional woman writer or a teen girl in Los Angeles, I encourage you to join the program – it will change your life.