With a goal of providing supportive programs for middle and high school-age girls in San Luis Obispo County, the Women’s Legacy Fund on Thursday awarded $55,000 in grants to two organizations at its 14th annual luncheon.
The total amount was the largest awarded since the fund was founded in 2003 to benefit programs that help women.
“As you empower women and girls, you make them financially secure, you give them dreams, you give them hope,” said Libbie Agran, a Legacy Fund leader who is among those who continue to donate to the endowment held at the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County.
The awards this year were prompted by a 2015 report published by the fund, which found that chronic sadness is a growing problem among teenage girls. More than 40 percent of ninth- and 11th-grade girls said they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks that they stopped doing some of their usual activities, according to the report.
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With this information, the fund’s advisory committee decided for the first time to make larger and multiyear investments to better assist its nonprofit partners, Legacy Fund Chairperson Linda Reitner told the 650 attendees at the luncheon at the Madonna Expo Center in San Luis Obispo.
The Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County will receive $15,000 to put in place a one-year self esteem-building program for 100 high school and middle school girls in Paso Robles and southern San Luis Obispo County in collaboration with Soroptimist International of San Luis Obispo.
The Boys & Girls Club of North San Luis Obispo County will receive $40,000 over three years to strengthen and expand the current SMART Girls curriculum, coupled with on-site, one-on-one mentoring for all middle-school girl participants.
With the grant funding, CEO Kate Morgans said the nonprofit group plans to serve 30 girls ages 11 to 13 in the first year, and 75 girls by the third year, expanding the outreach to include 8- to 10-year-old girls.
“We hope to really bring about changes that will last for these young women through adulthood,” she said.
The event’s keynote speaker was Carissa Phelps, a Mexican-American author, attorney and advocate for sexually exploited runaway children and homeless youths. On Thursday, Phelps was celebrating the news that Gov. Jerry Brown had signed a bill decriminalizing prostitution of minors.
“This fight was all about recognizing that children who were purchased, bought and sold for sexual purposes were, in fact, victims,” said Phelps, who was sexually exploited as a runaway child living on the streets of Fresno. “It feels like a decadeslong journey, and it feels like winning.”
Phelps, who has a law degree and an MBA, founded Runaway Girl Inc. in 2012 to direct survivors of human trafficking to resources, businesses and local efforts that offer care in their communities.
Phelps talked about the importance of early childhood love and connection and how that made a difference in her life, even though she lost those things at a young age and was kidnapped as a 12-year-old in an area known for prostitution.
“Early childhood is important. Let me be living proof,” she said. “Let me tell you that I see so many girls who have been exploited who didn’t have this, and they don’t end up here. They don’t end up at Cuesta, they don’t end up graduating from high school. They don’t make it.
“You can change things,” Phelps added. “You can and you will if you get to know yourself first, if you bring all of yourself.”