Duluth hosts GirlsBEST summit

Girls from throughout Minnesota convened in Duluth for the GirlsBEST summit on Nov. 7-9. GirlsBEST (Girls Building Economic Success Together) is a statewide initiative created by the Women's Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) with the goal of improvin...

Girls from throughout Minnesota convened in Duluth for the GirlsBEST summit on Nov. 7-9. GirlsBEST (Girls Building Economic Success Together) is a statewide initiative created by the Women's Foundation of Minnesota (WFM) with the goal of improving the economic prospects of girls.

In January 2001, the foundation adopted a five-year plan, in part to increase its grant-making program. The foundation conducted a "listening tour" to determine how to invest the funding.

"We found as a result of research and the listening tour that women and girls were interested in the status of girls in the state," said Jane Ransom, president of WFM. The foundation determined that the best way to build opportunities and equality for women was to invest in the girls of today.

"What we heard and what the research tells us is that there are a lot of boundaries to equality." Girls face such boundaries as low wages and job discrimination; sexism in school; poor body image and self-esteem; teen pregnancy; lack of leadership and athletic opportunities; and violence against girls by boys and men. "We decided to raise special money for programs that are led by girls."

Girl-run organizations throughout Minnesota have received funding from the foundation through GirlsBEST. The organizations share the goal of building economic success for girls by combating the boundaries but address this goal differently. Some of the groups focus on building self-esteem, exploring careers and running businesses and working with mentors. Most of the girls are of junior high and high school age.


"There really is a need for this," said Ransom about the GirlsBEST project. "Girls are still getting the message that their vision shouldn't be that big. This kind of project is an opportunity to open up their horizon."

The goal of the summit was to convene all of the GirlsBEST groups to provide the girls an opportunity to interact with one another, provide them with valuable information and to evaluate the programs. The approximately 100 girls at the summit toured local colleges and made presentations about their programs to share with each other what they have learned. The girls are convened regionally for evaluations periodically. "But this statewide convening is pretty unique," said Ransom. "And we're really pleased to be doing this in Duluth."

Many of the groups are in the northern Minnesota area.

Home Girls, a group working to train girls in the construction trades, is based in Duluth. The group was created through the Women's Transitional Housing Coalition of Duluth and was already working with the Women in Construction program when it received a grant from the foundation. Home Girls and Women in Construction Co. LLC., work to teach women skills in the construction trades.

Anna DeFoe started with Home Girls through YES Duluth (youth employment services). "I wondered why I never considered construction for a career, because I got a lot of self-esteem from working with a team of women," she said.

In the program, girls learn from professionals who have been working in the field. As their skills improve, they pass on what they have learned to each other. "I think its really important to have role models, strong women to look up to," said Katie Piasecki, who has been with the program for over a year. "I fell in love with my job, and I decided to stay on long term." She said that it is supportive financially as well as mentally.

The latest house to be completed, at 325 N. 58th Ave. W., is part of HRA, a project that they bid on formally. The house had been condemned for over a year before the renovations began. It received a new roof, siding, windows, flooring, walls and porch.

"When we got here everything was covered in soot," Piasecki said. "And to be here for the whole thing was amazing."


Piasecki has been an apprentice construction site coordinator for the house and plans to get her contractor's license. She said that the program has many opportunities to take on leadership roles and "expand your horizons."

Home girls began with three goals. First was outreach, to speak in schools and places where "at-risk youth" would be found, such as the alternative schools in the area. Through informal discussions they talk about the benefits of the program. "Because working in this field you get such a sense of accomplishment," Piasecki said.

The second goal was to provide intensive training. Girls 18 and over can work on houses, and younger girls can participate in workshops held at the cabinet workshop downtown. "They're pretty excited to use tools," said DeFoe, about the young girls who participate in the workshops. "They think it's cool."

The third goal was to plan the first ever Women in Construction Expo. "We thought an expo would be a great opportunity to reach a large number of women," Piasecki said. Home Girls talk to many girls in schools but not those who drop out of school or women who are interested in the construction trades.

The Women in Construction Expo was held on the same weekend as the GirlsBEST summit so that the girls who attended the summit could also explore the career opportunities in the construction trades. The expo offered girls and women from the area information about careers in the construction trades, hands-on workshops and construction trade vendors. Home Girls conducted demonstrations and workshops during the expo and summit.

For more information on how to become involved in the Home Girls project, call 733-1451.

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