Young Women in Leadership

A Vibrant Future

The Young Women’s Leadership Program shines the light on possibilities for girls in Atlanta, Ga.

By Erin K. Casey

What are your dreams?
How can you achieve what you want?
Who do you hope to be?

When the sponsors of the Young Women’s Leadership Program asked eighth-grade girls in Atlanta, Ga., questions like these, their responses indicated a deep desire for a better life. “The girls were hungry for guidance, leadership and role models,” says the program’s coordinator Marilyn Jentzen. But, when you’re a girl growing up surrounded by hardship, it can be challenging to see greater potential for your life. Touched by that realization, Jentzen who is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Onesource™ Property Tax, recruited a team of volunteers and joined forces with the Georgia Diversity Council to help middle school girls discover the possibilities life holds for them. And after a bumpy start, the response to the Young Women’s Leadership Program has been tremendous.

“We started with a half-day symposium in May 2011,” Jentzen says. The program was planned for a Saturday and the turnout wasn’t what she expected. “Two girls showed up.”

Jentzen wasn’t dissuaded by the lack of attendance. She knew the girls were curious about what life could hold for them. So she tried again. Clearly, one challenge was communicating with and convincing parents to take their daughters to a Saturday event. “We needed a better plan, so we decided that the symposium should be held during the school day,” she says. “And we knew we would need to enlist the schools’ support.”

Working with the cooperation of the principles at Brown and John F. Kennedy Middle Schools the Young Women’s Leadership Program launched again with a kick-off symposium on October 14, 2011. This time, more than 185 young women attended. The event included a field trip to the Home Depot corporate headquarters and a power-packed lineup of speakers:

  • Tracye D. Bryant, Communications Manager for the American Red Cross Southern Region
  • Jill Dowless, a VP at CNN
  • Julie Goldberg, Director and National Leader for Deloitte
  • Stacii Jae Johnson from the Atlanta mayor’s office of special events
  • Trish Mueller, Sr. VP and CMO for Home Depot
  • Dr. Suzanne M. Onorato, Associate Dean of Students at Agnes Scott College
  • Dr. Deneta Sells of Intown Pediatrics
  • Tacita A. Mikel Skott, a partner at Wong Fleming, P.C.

Perhaps most telling of the girls’ interest in improving their lives, is the fact that by attending the symposium they committed to participating in a year-long program which includes monthly meetings and one-on-one mentoring. The monthly meetings focus on topics ranging from communication skills, business etiquette and work ethic, to exploring career options and financial planning. The interactive sessions encourage participation—something the girls seem to really enjoy.

“All of the girls speak highly about the programs sponsored by the Young Women’s Leadership Program and look forward to the next session,” says Robert Williams, Interim Principle at John F. Kennedy Middle School. “The sessions have given the girls multiple opportunities to see possible career and college options to pursue.  At each new session, we have observed the girls being more active participants in the audience, asking thought-provoking questions.”

Jentzen hopes that the answer to those questions will help these young women prepare for a strong vibrant future.