(Photo provided)

The Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club (EVLRC) will finish Women’s History month by launching a multimedia website with messages to “empower girls” in the age of toxic social media messages. 

EVLRC will launch the website “because so much of the stuff that girls are seeing is happening on social media. A lot of fights and arguments, a lot of body shaming … it’s happening in cyberspace,” said Evanstonian Rebeca Mendoza, who has worked as a grant officer at Rotary International for nine years. She’s taking the lead on this year’s local service project and wants to put positive, research-based messages “in a space where girls could visit anytime.”

The website will go live March 31st, the same day EVLRC will host an “Empowered Women” celebration at Koi Fine Asian Cuisine & Lounge for 50 local women.

‘Empowering girls’ starts with research

Rotary International is a worldwide organization, as its name suggests, and each year it elects a new president equipped with new initiatives. Shekhar Mehta of India is the 2021-2022 president of Rotary International. One of his presidential initiatives is to improve the future of girls, whether it be girls without access to menstrual hygiene, sanitation or literacy.

Evanston is the world headquarters for Rotary International, and ERL is one of three local clubs. Each presidential initiative is shared with all members internationally, but individual chapters retain full autonomy to make their service project suit the members’ interests. 

When deciding what to put on this webpage, Mendoza and her team conducted one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Mendoza said that she doesn’t want to make any assumptions about what girls need and decided this would be an excellent opportunity to hear from girls what they need to feel empowered. Mendoza has conducted focus groups with prominent youth-centered Evanston organizations, including a civics fair at ETHS and Family Focus. 

“Adults often make assumptions based on our experiences growing up. … Unless we ask [our children] direct questions, we’re creating solutions for things that we know nothing of. … Hearing from girls directly is what we need to be doing.”

Mendoza has worked for almost all the youth development organizations in the city. She started with the McGaw YMCA, moved to Y.O.U. and then worked in District 65 in early childhood before landing at Rotary. 

“So I have a soft spot in my heart for youth development and women empowerment,” she said.

Rotary partners with a high-school nonprofit owner to lead research

EVLRC has also appointed Cherie Animashaun –  a high-school junior at Niles West, published author, and nonprofit founder of the “girls”-centered HER Rising Initiative – as an Empower Girls Ambassador. 

As an ambassador, Animashaun has a voice in how the campaign should be run and advocates on behalf of girls in Evanston at Rotary Club board meetings. She also has designed some social media graphics.

Mendoza DM’ed Animashaun on her nonprofit social media site last year, asking if she wanted to work with Rotary to plan an event for March for International Women’s Day.

“And of course, I said yes,” Animashaun said. “Since January, we’ve been meeting and brainstorming different ways that Rotary could best empower girls in Evanston and how we could do it in a way that’s COVID friendly.”

In her research, Animashaun says she asks women what they would tell their younger selves or younger girls to become empowered. She asks younger girls what they need to be empowered. 

“But then the coolest part about it is we’re going to take what the younger girls say, and turn it into a real service project,” Animashaun said.

She told the RoundTable that Rotary is flexible with grants and donating, so she knows Rotary will back any efforts they pursue, inspired by the research the team finds talking to girls. 

According to Mendoza, some preliminary research revealed that many youths felt they needed a basic allowance to get them started on larger jobs or entrepreneurial ventures. 

“I’m just super excited that if a girl says, ‘Oh, I want this kind of event’ that we can actually get it moving.” 

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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