A confident voice rings out across The Biondi School Auditorium. “As a woman, I am strong. I don’t need anyone to pay my rent or my car bill. Someday, you girls won’t need to depend on anyone either,” says Ashley Young, a former resident of the Leake & Watts Residential Treatment Center. She has the rapt attention of the teen girls from The Biondi School. “Appreciate what you have here, because out in the real world, it’s hard. But I’m making it, and I’m proud of myself.”
Ashley was a resident and student at Leake & Watts fourteen years ago, and she says her experience with supportive, caring staff inspired her to pursue her dreams. She is now working to earn her nursing degree. This spring, she returned to the Biondi School to inspire other young women who are facing similar challenges, speaking to them at a Women Empowering Women event.
Women Empowering Women is designed to bring together young women at The Biondi School to strengthen their relationships with each other and with female staff and build their self-esteem. According to Emily Simeone, a social worker spearheading the program, it is important to help the young women form strong bonds particularly because females are under-represented (many special education programs have a disproportionate number of male students). “We want to create sisterhood,” says Ms. Simeone. “Some of the teens are facing similar challenges, and they can help each other through these experiences. At luncheons, we review inspiring readings and build traditions that bring us all together.”
Sandra Freeman, another social worker who has helped bring the program to life, agrees that they have been able to build a stronger community. “Our lovely staff have been able to build a new level of trust with the young ladies,” says Ms. Freeman. “Once they start to get to know each other at Women Empowering Women events, the girls respond much better to each other and the staff across the board.”
Women Empowering Women is not only about building sisterhood, but also about teaching the young women to believe in themselves, as Ashley Young encouraged them to do. “The girls’ participation is crucial,” says Ms. Simeone, who has arranged for many of the girls to contribute something to the programs through performances of poetry and song. The young women also had a chance to share their own favorite physical fitness activities at the Women Empowering Women Health Fair in early June. Aziza, one young woman who has shared her own story with the Women Empowering Women group through poetry, talked about a friendship with another young woman at Biondi. “She’s strong and independent,” she said of her friend. “I don’t have that yet, but that’s what I want. I want to pass all my Regents and get a college scholarship for the arts.” Aziza is inspired by her friend, and through the Women Empowering Women Program, many young women at Biondi are inspiring each other.