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W.Pa. girls participate in GirlGov program

| Monday, Aug. 31, 2015, 11:51 a.m.

South Fayette High School students Kristen Davis, Sarah Deutsch and Hope Hardman; Chartiers Valley's Payton Ferris, Olivia Fortune and Kaylee Gross; and Carlynton's Molly Kozy spent four days in Harrisburg in June learning about civics, women's history and social justice.

They were among 100 other high school girls from throughout Western Pennsylvania participating in GirlGov, a yearlong program of the Women and Girls Foundation created by teens for teens and designed to provide local girls with activities in advocacy campaigns, philanthropy and leadership.

As part of their trip to Pennsylvania's capital, the teens formed a mock congress and awarded $10,000 in grants to local organizations serving women and girls. They also explored nonprofit and government career options, discussed issues affecting women and girls with key decision-makers, met and heard from women working in and with government, and shadowed a state legislator for a day.

The program is made possible through grant support from the Heinz Endowments, FISA Foundation, Grable Foundation, PNC Bank, Buncher Foundation, Margaret Ritchie R. Battle Family Charitable Fund and UPMC.

The Women and Girls Foundation, headquartered at Station Square in Pittsburgh, was incorporated in 2002 as a nonprofit with founding board members Susan Chersky, Hilda Pang Fu, Cecile Springer, Marlene Gary Hogan, Bette Hughes, Cathy Raphael, Judy Ruszkowski and Patricia Ulbrich, president.

In 2004, the foundation celebrated its first 100 donors; hired its first executive director, Heather Arnet; and began making grants to the community. Since then, WGF has granted more than $1 million to organizations to seed systemic change for women and girls.

The foundation began programming for girls in 2005 and initially served 24 Allegheny County teens. The girls made international headlines with a “Girlcott” of Abercrombie & Fitch for selling T-shirts perceived as sexist to teenagers.

The store agreed to pull the shirts from their stores, issued an apology and invited the foundation's “Girls as Grantmakers” to meet with company executives at their corporate headquarters to discuss how the company could demonstrate increased social responsibility and respect for girls in the future.

To date, GirlGov has trained nearly 500 young women from Western Pennsylvania to be the state's next generation of leaders. Past graduate Sarah Pesi wrote “Sarah's Bill” to institute a restraining order law in Pennsylvania, one of only 12 states that did not offer such protection. Gov. Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 681 into law in 2014.

“This year's trip to Harrisburg was especially exciting because the girls were with their legislators as they were poised to vote on the state budget,” Arnet said.

“The girls had a lot of questions — from proposed cuts to education to equal pay and minimum wage. The girls had opinions on all of these issues and more, as they are a very informed and passionate group.”

The foundation's vision is for women and girls in Pennsylvania to have equal access, opportunity and influence in all aspects of their public and private lives and to develop female leaders for tomorrow. To learn more or to donate, visit wgfpa.org.

Charlotte Smith is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media and can be reached at 724-693-9441 or charlotte59@comcast.net.

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