A new program sponsored by Norwalk’s Department of Social Services held its first information meeting on April 14, promoting the mental health and personal development of young women.
From 6 to 7 p.m., young women residing or attending school in Norwalk gathered to learn about and register for LADY, Leadership and Advocacy for the Direction of Young Women, at the Social Services Center at 11929 Alondra Blvd.
The new program will serve as a “big sister-little sister sorority” for women ages 15 to 23. Her main focus is women empowerment, equality and mentorship.
LADY will potentially be funded by the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls through their Women’s Recovery Response. On March 15, they awarded $5 million in funds to various organizations serving women and girls who have been affected by the ongoing pandemic.
At Thursday’s meeting, a series of icebreakers and PowerPoint presentations followed by question-and-answer sessions were hosted by founders Jessica Bargas-Jimenez and Denise Lopez, who both work in the Department of Human Services.
The founders have worked for the City of Norwalk for over 20 years combined; Bargas-Jimenez is an office assistant for the Center and Lopez works as a social worker.
They said that by working in the social services department, they had a first-hand view of the toll COVID-19 has taken on women not just in Norwalk but around the world.
“We want to focus on mental, emotional and physical health, relationships, school, work, etc.,” Bargas-Jimenez said. “Our main focus is personal development as we are not the same women we were last year or the year before, we are still growing and evolving, and overcoming the obstacles that make us who we are.”
“We hope this program will inspire other young women to apply the things they learn in this program to their daily lives and one day help another struggling woman as we aspire to do here,” Lopez added.
The program will have an upper and lower division where high school girls [ages 15-18] will be in one, and girls who have already graduated or passed high school [ages 18+] will be in the other.
“We want to have two bigger groups so the girls can get along better,” Bargas-Jimenez said. “Girls in high school might not be able to relate to girls in college and beyond, and vice versa.”
Each girl will be paired with a designated mentor based on [similar] interests, career paths, etc. in which they will experience a series of workshops, outdoor excursions, one-on-one meetings and more.
The founders say the program will strive to keep participants’ identification confidential to ensure confidentiality, as some young women may not be comfortable with exposure; LADY will serve to be a safe space for its members.
In addition to potential funding for the program, Bargas-Jimenez and Lopez said that before they officially begin the program and make it a publicly known resource, they must receive approval and award money from the Norwalk City Council. .
Lopez said they are nonetheless grateful for the city’s cooperation, support and involvement in developing their program, as the mayor and his wife continue to champion its launch.
“Norwalk has so much heart that when we see a problem, we fix it and try to make it better,” Lopez said. “The board is so invested in helping our program that they said even if we weren’t approved for this grant they would find a way to fund it and that says a lot.”
LADY strives to officially begin in late spring and serve as an ongoing program. They are also looking for more inspired women to serve as mentors.
Those interested in joining or learning more about the program should contact the Norwalk Social Service Center by email, [email protected]or by contacting their office at (562) 929 – 5544.