Tell us about yourself.
My name is Angela Patton. I am the president and chief executive officer of Girls For A Change (GFAC) and the founder of Camp Diva. I have a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from ECPI University and have been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. I’ve served in various roles and supported diverse communities – marginalized children, the arts, those living with HIV and AIDS and mothers, as a former doula.
What is the focus of your work?
GFAC’s mission is to support Black girls and other girls of color and inspire them to visualize their bright futures and potential through discovery, development and social change innovation in their communities.
We support them by providing them with premier educational opportunities; problem-solving proficiencies to recognize societal challenges and create solutions to address those challenges; and professional development through internships and informational sessions with top-tier businesses. We present them with opportunities that they are not typically offered.
I like to say that we are preparing Black girls for the world and the world for Black girls. Through this exposure, we are creating structural and narrative changes. We want our girls to be skilled, positive contributors and change agents in their communities and for communities at-large to recognize their value.
ABOVE: Virginia Currents Special on Girls For A Change.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
The most rewarding component of my work is seeing girls achieve their dreams despite systemic and personal hurdles. Many of our girls have economic challenges and often come from single-parent households. When pairing those challenges with racial and gender inequities, we know that these girls will have an uphill battle. But, we’re right there with them. It is inspiring to witness these girls go on to become college graduates and gainfully employed women even with cards stacked against them.
It’s a huge component of what fuels my drive to continue this work.
ABOVE: A powerful video where girls and parents talk about the impact that Camp Diva and other GFAC programs have made on them and their lives.
What are some major challenges you have faced and how you handled them?
The intersectionality of being a woman and Black while leading a nonprofit is extremely challenging. The constant having to prove myself to get even the most modest amounts of funding for items or programs can be exhausting.
But, here’s what I know to be true – Girls For A Change is not for everyone, and that is okay. We accept that and continue to help girls even if we don’t have the same annual budgets as other organizations. We make the very best of what we have.
We are intentional about our mission, and we attract those people who recognize the needs of Black girls and other girls of color. These are typically progressive people, and they are our biggest supporters. We don’t force people to believe in what we do. We stick to our mission and the right people seem to find us and stay with us. Recently, Virginia’s new First Lady, Pam Northam, has publicly supported us, which is encouraging.
Further, I am a huge believer in self-care when things seem to get rough. I enjoy going to the spa, fitness, traveling and attending concerts. Self-care helps me recharge and get back out there.
Unfortunately, when nonprofit leaders and activists focus on unpopular causes with limited resources, the stress level is high and disappointment and rejection tend to knock you down. It is easy to lose hope, compassion and inspiration. You can easily start to question why you’re doing this. Self-care, sharpening skills, networking, developing a caring, family-oriented team within the organization and having your own personal support system are ways to survive the challenges.
What’s one misconception the public has about your organization?
Because GFAC is intentional about serving Black girls and other girls of color, other racial groups may feel as if they cannot come to the program or do not qualify for various reasons. We do NOT exclude any girl.
Participating in GFAC is a great opportunity for all girls to address any misconceptions they may have about Black girls or other girls of color and develop healthy friendships. Our nationally-recognized social action teams provide solutions to societal issues and today’s girl – no matter her race – overwhelmingly want to be part of the shift that is happening to create a more inclusive future. The training the girls receive from GFAC will help them as adults continue to move this country forward. Our curriculum is excellent for helping all girls recognize injustice and/or how to advocate for change and even advocate for themselves.
Our coding program is a good example of this. Parents don’t care if their daughters don’t look like the girls who are at the center of our work, they just want their girls to excel in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.
Do you have any interesting initiatives or programs on the horizon?
I think we’re still on the horizon! We finally have our own center, which means we can work outside of school hours where we typically offer our signature program, Girl Action Teams. The center allows us to start working with girls at an earlier age and measure our impact far longer. Sustaining a brick and mortar program is costly and challenging; however, we know safe and nurturing spaces for girls help them build confidence to face the world. Our space also offers girls the opportunity to enjoy diverse experiences and program offerings. Our diverse offerings coupled with structured programs are key to keeping our girls connected, resourceful and engaged.
We do have one new program that will roll out soon, which is our upcoming Girl Ambassador Program. We will work with companies to provide them with talented girls of color seeking internships and employment. This will allow employers to get to know the girls and help cultivate them for future employment. We strongly believe that these internships help confront and eliminate bias, boost the girls’ confidence and skills, widen their network and generate income for them and their families.
Target is a partner of our Girl Ambassador Program, and Capital One gave us a grant for the early development stages of this program.
Is your organization involved in any exciting collaborations or partnerships?
Yes, we are. Some of our partners include MathScience Innovation Center, 804RVA, Richmond Public Schools, Chesterfield Public Schools, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, Virginia State University, Girls Who Code, Girl Talk and the Boys and Girls Club. They are extremely important to our mission.
As we move forward, I encourage more women of color to partner with us. Culturally, I know people of color are challenged with time and resources, but I would like to see them contribute more. It is important for our girls to see women in their image giving back and providing emotional support. Don’t get it twisted. ALL volunteers matter and make the world go around! GFAC welcomes all caring volunteers ready to make a difference!
ABOVE: GFAC partnered with Virginia Credit Union to create a vibrant and powerful mural in Jackson Ward.
How are you leveraging ConnectVA/The Community Foundation to achieve your mission?
Through a grant from a Community Foundation donor, we were able to purchase our van. We needed transportation for the girls and now we have a van that can transport them to our afterschool program and other events. I am confident that this is just the beginning of our relationship with The Community Foundation.
While we constantly visit ConnectVA for grant opportunities, programs, events, etc., I think we can be more deliberate in using it to promote our programs and announcements. We have amazing events happening all the time.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Yes, there are few things I’d like to add.
A significant amount of people in the community have this idea that this program is for girls with behavioral problems. Black is not synonymous with bad. Minimizing our girls and their families to this devalues them. Our girls come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but the common shared experience is that they feel invisible and devalued.
We know that a higher income bracket does not directly negate this experience of feeling invisible. GFAC is trying to shift these feelings and that is why our approach is extremely unapologetic about serving girls of color. We know the barriers these girls face and will face as adults — no matter their income.
This country is starting to see how Black and Brown girls are bold and brilliant but are often untapped and unheard. We’ve known from the beginning just how dynamic these girls are and can be with the right resources. While the “Time’s Up” campaign is flooding the headlines, we have our own two-word phrase – “Make time!” Making time is the special sauce that works for our girls. We make time to see them through success as they enter womanhood, and importantly, in the way they define success and happiness for themselves.
We don’t have all the answers, but I think we are doing our best to be a consistent resource for girls of color. I know the community appreciates our work; we have no shortage of public relations. But, we need our visibility to correlate with our funding. We don’t want to be behind the margin of our potential. We want to give our girls greater opportunities and deeper relationships and that comes from increased financial giving.
When the #BlackGirlMagic and #HireBlackWomen headlines fade away, we’ll still be here doing the work and we’ll need the help to do it.