South suburban focus
Lessons for life
Friday, December 21, 2007
The Junior Chapter of the NHBW
Girls learn responsibility, leadership and financial acumen
Stacey Dillard knows that inside every girl is a pearl just waiting to be cultivated. That’s why the 34-year-old Joliet woman has made it her life mission to mentor and bring out the best in young girls.
Dillard, vice president of programs for the Joliet Chapter of National Hook-Up of Black Women Inc. (NHBW), coordinates the Joliet Junior Hook-Up, a program for black girls ages 11-17.
"It is our job to mold these girls into strong individuals that will be strong forces in themselves, their families and in the community," Dillard says.
The program teaches the girls based on the acronym PEARL—Poise, Etiquette, Achievement (both financially and educationally), Responsibility and Leadership. Every meeting begins with a roundtable where the girls can talk about anything confidentially, making it a safe place to get information and advice.
Meeting topics themselves vary from month to month but always focus on the girls, their future and the principles of PEARL.
"At our last meeting, we had the girls each put together a poster with all of the things that they want. Then we talked about what they will need to do to be able to get those things, what obstacles stand in their way?"
Dillard is using the project to emphasize the importance of school and why college must be in their plans. Because education is top priority, girls struggling in school get tutoring from retired teachers in the NHBW. "We’ve had girls go from flunking to A’s and B’s," she says.
To teach financial responsibility, a First Midwest Bank representative will help the girls open their first bank account and explain what credit scores mean and why they are so important.
Etiquette is also high on the list. The girls recently took a field trip to an upscale restaurant with an etiquette coach who will critique them at an upcoming meeting and instruct them on everything from table setting to table manners.
Another meeting will address domestic violence. Dillard has a police spokesperson scheduled to talk to the girls about not falling victim to violence. They then will take a field trip to a kick boxing class in Shorewood.
Dillard has a long history of mentoring girls. She co-founded a mentoring program for girls living in Joliet housing authority buildings, helps with a girls summer retreat offered through NHBW and has a 7-year-old daughter who helps her keep what she is doing in perspective.
Dillard says she believes girls coming from rough circumstances need mentors, not pity. She gives the girls a lot but demands they take responsibility for their own future and not hide behind their circumstances.
"When I was mentoring the girls in the projects, they would often tell me they couldn’t see getting out. Their families all came from the projects, generation after generation lived there. But, I’d tell them ... ‘that doesn’t mean you have to ... no matter how hard you think you have it, it can get better. I know because I did it.’ "
Dillard flourished despite a rocky childhood with an alcoholic stepfather and a pregnancy at 15.
"I can relate to these girls. That is why I mentor," she says. "It gives me a chance to tell these girls just how important school is ... how important abstinence is. This is personal for me."
Dillard parented her son, graduated high school in her junior year, earned a bachelor of science degree in Computer Information Systems and went on to work for IBM, has built a stable family for her children and is now the business manager for a Lockport company.
"I always tell the girls don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve."
Jean Dunning covers the South and Southwest suburbs of Chicago for Chicago Parent. If you have story ideas or would like to be a part of the South/Southwest Parent Source e-mail list, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.