“In Dida you're allowed to be yourself.”
“I can be many things...” Seventeen female voices speak in unison on a summer Saturday afternoon..
“...but I will always be a blossom,” continues Toniann, the recitation leader for the Blossom Be You pledge.
“But I will always be a blossom,” repeats the room of young women. The words of the pledge are displayed in handwritten turquoise on the whiteboard above the circle of seats. “Rooted in responsibility. [all repeat] Showered in self-love. [all repeat] Water in wisdom…” Toniann leads quickly and clearly.
This is the first of five empowerment workshops for teen girls presented by Blossom Be You, a project founded by twenty-year-old Kelcy H. with the help of Dida Academy. Each Blossom event includes activities to support introspection and social bonding while offering actionable steps to grow confidence in participants’ personal and professional lives. By the second workshop, a few girls had the pledge memorized.
We began working with Kelcy at Dida Academy in January of 2017 during her winter break from college. We held 10 one-on-one or small group sessions and networking field trips during the 3-week period. When Kelcy returned to her college campus for spring semester, Danielle (Dida’s Executive Director) and Kelcy had weekly project planning phone calls to support development. When asked about the likelihood of starting the project on her own, Kelcy explained:
“Dida gave me the proper materials and feedback needed to have a head start on this project…Without Dida I wouldn't of had the motivation to work on certain tasks.”
Kelcy was referred to Dida by the Crown Heights-based nonprofit, Youth Organizing: Save Our Streets. She had demonstrated her leadership skills in other teen-oriented community-based organizations (CBOs), and she sought Dida’s I-Project to build her own personalized, professionally-minded program for young women.
Project-based learning is inherently student-centered. The first few project meetings looked more like a combination of a writers’ collaborative and personal counseling. According to Kelcy:
“The best parts of Dida are the informal conversations we have just reflecting on life, being able to vent about whatever it is that's going on in our life not feeling a sense of judgment. It is sort of like a break from working and just getting in touch with reality and what's actually affecting us daily.”
We often call the time of exploration at the start of a project “deschooling.” The aim is to establish effective communication and a safe environment for self-directed learning. Improv games and brainstorming challenges offer easy entry to creative and critical thinking.
Through iteration, Kelcy wrote a mission statement and a set of life skills essential for teen girls. Listed on Blossom’s Facebook page, “The goal of Blossom Be You Project is set to help build confidence in teenage girls which is vital as it impacts education, social awareness, and self esteem.” Her work envisions collaborative learning as the foundation for young women to learn for life.
Kelcy pivoted early in her project to shorten her program from 7 weeks to 5 weeks. She explains, “I decided to make my sessions longer so that my program isn't over a certain amount of weeks.” This would not be her only challenge. The six months leading to Blossom’s summer workshops have included grant applications, schedule challenges, and miscommunications with her team. The by-product of incorporating her network of close friends meant that her leadership required authenticity and vulnerability among those who know her best.
In May, Kelcy won a grant of $2,350 from the 2017 Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards (Brooklyn Community Foundation). Her hard work and perseverance has been financially rewarded! The 21st century skills Kelcy is developing through her passion project are validated by other organizations in her community.
As Dida grows alongside our students, we thrive on all forms of feedback. Kelcy tells us, “In Dida you're allowed to be yourself.” We accept this as high praise from the founder of Blossom Be You Project. We are proud to be blooming together. Congratulations, Kelcy!
If you would like to learn how Blossom Be You can serve teen girls in your community, please email Kelcy (BlossomBeYou@gmail.com).
If you are interested in creating your own passion project at Dida Academy, contact Danielle (firstname.lastname@example.org).