CHICAGO — In November 2012, Cheyenne Harmon, then 16, joined Ladies of Virtue at Cambridge School in Kenwood, a nonprofit mentorship and leadership program for black girls ages 9 to 18 years old.
Today, Harmon, now a sophomore finance and management double major at St. Xavier University, credits Ladies of Virtue with being an essential support system for her.
“I really like the aspect of sisterhood… To be in a club that was more inclusive really attracted me,” Harmon said. “They did so much, far beyond what I ever expected they we’re going to do for me.”
Today, the nonprofit directly serves 130 girls during the academic year on Chicago’s South and West sides and reaches more students through one-off workshops and youth organization partnerships. In early November, the organization will have a fundraiser to help more girls like Harmon achieve their goals and expose them to opportunities that might otherwise seem out of reach.
To raise at least $50,000 for the expansion of the organization into other schools and support a college tour and Washington, D.C. trip, Ladies of Virtue is hosting a fundraiser Nov. 4 at Sullivan’s Steakhouse Chicago.
Attorney Dartesia Pitts, Brown Farmer Media Group president Deborah Farmer, Morgan Stanley VP Gwen Cohen, CKL Engineers president and CEO Mae Whiteside and Salter Financial Management president Toi Salter will be honored during the event, and ABC Chicago’s Dionne Miller will emcee the fundraiser.
Growth Through Service
Jamila Trimuel, founder and executive director of Ladies of Virtue, started the organization in 2009 while working as a project manager within the oncology services department at Northwestern University.
Trimuel, who grew up in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, said her parents strived to give her a good education and encouraged her to dream big for herself; but she was disheartened watching as other kids were impacted by drugs and gang violence in the neighborhood, making it harder for them to focus on their studies.
The former Broad Residency saw a need for a bridging program that would introduce young girls from low-income families and first-generation college students to strive to attend college, pursue different career paths and develop leadership skills through community service. After working with youth through her other volunteer efforts, she decided to start the organization that specifically worked with young women.
The nonprofit works with girls regardless of their academic performance. Selected to be a part of the Illinois Mentorship Partnership program, which is one of the ways Ladies of Virtue finds mentors for its students, Trimuel said. The Illinois Mentorship Partnership is a nonprofit that works with other nonprofits providing mentors and provides mentoring guidelines and resources.
More than 80 percent of the program’s participants are first-generation college students or come from low-income families.
As part of the program, the girls choose and perform community service, get paired with a mentor, and shadow working professionals at various companies. High school students age 16 and up secure internships and scholarships for college and are guided through the college application and financial aid process. They are also given advice on workplace attire.
Helping Girls Dream Bigger
“When you think about our girls who are growing up in homes where they may not be exposed to opportunities, where they’re not being exposed to different cultural experiences, that can literally change the trajectory of your life,” Trimuel said. “Being a part of the Ladies of Virtue allows that opportunity gap to narrow.”
The program currently serves students in Crane Medical Prep High School in the Near West area, Perspective IIT Math & Science Academy in Bronzeville and a program for students at Douglas Park, but part of the proceeds from the fundraiser will help with expanding into other schools that want Ladies of Virtue but don’t have the budget for it, Trimuel said.
Though the nonprofit focuses on young girls, its relationship with the girls continues as they mature into young college-aged women. Trimuel said Ladies of Virtue will be sending out GMAT books to past participants who have earned their undergraduate degree and want to attend graduate school.
And Harmon continues to talk with Trimuel and the mentor she was paired up with at Ladies of Virtue as well as receive scholarship notifications from the nonprofit.
“Being exposed to how to dress for success and what business means, what business casual means and how to carry yourself really helped me,” Harmon said. “I was a very shy girl when I first joined at 16, but over time it really helped me break out of my shell and know that my personality is enough. I am beautiful enough. I am smart enough.”
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