Last year I had the great pleasure of being a guest speaker at a Louisville-based weekend retreat for area middle and high school girls called My Sister's Keeper. The theme of the weekend was "Happy With Me" and the activities for the girls ranged from hip-hop aerobics sessions and self-defense classes to girl talk time.
My Sister's Keeper was founded by Mandi Mohammed, a stay-at-home mom and former teacher who designed the retreat to help build the girls' confidence.
Going along with the theme, my talk with the girls was called "How I Learned To Be Happy with Me." I spoke about how I managed to love my body and my looks despite my big hair and small boobs and how I dealt with boys who tried to pressure me into sex when I was a girl. I told them I was a nerd and tried my best to convince them that they should be one too.
Later that night, the girls gave me hugs, asked for my business card and said things like, "You really inspired me," and I wanted to cry. But they have no idea how much the night inspired me. After my talk, the girls, volunteers and I all sat in a circle and many of the girls shared heartbreaking stories of the things they're dealing with or have dealt with at home, including parents struggling with drug addictions and mental illnesses. But despite all this these girls were so kind to one another, they were so positive and they were so determined to go to college and pursue their dreams. I was blown away by their strength.
I was inspired also by Mandi for putting together such a life-changing event. I caught up with her recently to chat with her about My Sister's Keeper in hopes that she would inspire you too.
How did you get the idea for My Sisters' Keeper?
I taught in (Kentucky) for three years before I was married and moved to Atlanta. I pretty much started a family right away and decided to be a stay at home mom. However, I did miss my interactions with my students. MSK was my way of connecting with young people without going back into the classroom. I decided to focus on young women because as a woman, I felt I had so much to offer them as far as life experiences.
What all did you have to do to get it started?
I still feel like I am getting started. I really just spoke with other people who had started organizations or are involved with non-profits in some aspect. The main thing was coming up with a mission statement. Everything else just kind of came together.
What was the toughest thing about starting the program?
The toughest thing about starting the program is being broke and unknown. It has only been a year, and although our budget is better this year and more people know about what we are doing, we are still working to get the word out. Also, I have no financial background. So creating a budget and organizing finances is always a challenge.
What has been most rewarding?
The most rewarding so far has been the first retreat. You work so hard to make something happen, but you still don't know how those efforts are gonna pay off. The retreat in 2008 exceeded any expectations I might have had. It just proves that things work out when God is working in your heart. I have also seen a few of the girls in the mall or talked to them by e-mail, and they all want to attend the retreat this summer. That feels good to know they had such a good time that they want to come again this year. And they are telling their friends.
What kind of advice would you give to someone interested in starting a program like MSK in their city?
My best advice would be to not let anybody get in the way of what you want to do. When God is moving, so is the devil. You must be careful. That has been the best advice given to me. However, you must be realistic in your goals. I know what I can handle right now. I pray that MSK will grow and grow, but it is how it should be right now. And the other thing is to continue to do your research and ask for help. MSK would not happen if it were not for all the volunteers that help me from the goodness of their hearts. I am still learning and getting new ideas for this program. I keep a of journal of other components that I would like to implement. I am always dreaming of what it can be.
For more information about My Sister's Keeper visit mysisterskeeper.org.