Like many local nonprofits, Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) overcame obstacles in 2020 to adapt to the challenges of a global pandemic. The multigenerational mentorship organization connects professional women, college women, and elementary school girls with mentors. Their overarching mission: to help every woman and girl realize her inner strengths to dream and do.
Connecting looked a lot different for the organization this year. Social distancing was in full effect, and there were limits on the number of people who could gather indoors. This tossed a monkey wrench into SWSG’s usual protocol of group sessions for elementary girls and networking events for college-aged women. A bit of creativity was required to move forward.
“We had to stop the program on March 13,” said Kimmi Baston, managing director for the Pittsburgh site. “We came home that day and we never went back to the office.”
The first casualty of 2020 was the annual spring event for girls and their mentors, which was scheduled for early April. Next came the cancellation of end-of-year programming. It was a heartbreaking moment for the organization.
Despite the enormous obstacles facing them, Baston said their small staff of five was not discouraged. They quickly rallied to make the best of the situation. SWSG is all about giving young women and girls the tools they need to face and overcome adversity, and if 2020 was anything, it was a prime example for how to meet a challenge head-on.
SWSG’s normal 20-week curriculum consists of a 90-minute, in-person lesson for elementary school girls that is run by college-aged mentors. During each session, the girls learn about a girl or woman who has achieved great things and the skills she needed to accomplish them. The girls are encouraged to journal back and forth with their mentors each week to share their dreams and goals.
“Our program is structured to show them they can do and be anything they want,” said Baston.
When COVID-19 kept in-person meetings from happening, SWSG rose to the challenge to quickly adapt its curriculum.
“Our program team completely redesigned our curriculum for the girls. We write our curriculum every semester, and they had to completely revamp the way we did that, including shortening sessions from 90 to 60 minutes, according to best practices for screen time for youth,” said Baston.
Every single activity was adapted to work in a virtual setting. By the end of April, the team had compiled asynchronous video lessons that included all of the information they planned to share at their in-person events that year for the elementary school girls. The lessons also included fun, at-home activities the girls could do on their own or with a parent to help reinforce the lesson.
Since meals and snacks are also an important part of the elementary school girls’ program, Baston said SWSG arranged to mail supply and snack kits to the roughly 200 girls enrolled in the program this semester. These items normally are distributed during in-person sessions by the 300 college mentors who oversee the sessions. This was a huge challenge since SWSG serves 700 elementary school girls in grades 3-5 across 40 sites in and around the Pittsburgh region.
Accommodations for the elementary school girls were not the only changes that needed to be made. Baston said that the college women, who are mentored by approximately 230 professional women in the region, continued to meet virtually for the remainder of the year rather than the typical in-person get-togethers.
Moving forward, Baston said SWSG plans to continue its programming in a virtual model through the spring.
“The biggest opportunity for us in 2021 is to continue to hone our model and to continue to perfect it at the elementary school level,” she said. “The college and professional women were easier to adapt to virtual, but with the young girls, we have to continue to optimize our program to serve them.”
Part of that optimization process involves learning to operate in different settings and circumstances. Perhaps the biggest advantage of operating virtually is the tearing down of walls that may previously have prevented young girls from attending due to transportation or other challenges. “Now, girls who were unable to attend before can do so virtually,” said Baston.
SWSG is always is looking for new volunteers to share their mission and vision for young women and girls. There are three ways interested parties can reach them; via the contact form on the SWSG website, by emailing email@example.com or emailing Baston directly at
They also welcome donors to help keep the program operational since they do not receive any public funding. Learn more about SWSG’s mission and vision on their website at www.swsg.org.