Girls Light Our Way

This local organization is making a difference in Peoria… one girl at a time.

by Brandi Simpson
Girls Light Our Way
The GLOW girls meet to discuss their upcoming summer program, while writer Brandi Simpson (far right) sits in.

GLOW, or Girls Light Our Way, is an organization of primarily African-American girls here in Peoria working to better themselves through health, financial literacy and self-efficacy. The group was founded by financial consultant Dawn Jeffries, who noticed something was missing in the lives of young girls living in poverty. 

Breaking the Cycle
A 2013 Brookings Institute study about the slim odds of teens living in poverty being able to achieve middle-class status was pivotal in Jeffries’ decision to create GLOW. According to the study, more than 70 percent of black children are born outside marriage, increasing the likelihood that they will live in a single-parent home. Children in single-parent families are four times more likely to live in poverty than those living with both parents. “While our girls are predominantly African American, we're an inclusive organization and have members of all races. Poverty knows no color,” Jeffries notes. “The compilation of GLOW generally reflects the overall poverty demographics in Peoria."

Poverty causes a wide range of problems for children, increasing school dropout rates and out-of-wedlock births, thus perpetuating the cycle. On the other hand, the study shows that college-educated women have high marriage rates, low non-marital birthrates and low divorce rates. These statistics suggest that, with some guidance and access to valuable opportunities, young girls will be more likely to complete their education and be successful. “My goal is to give them all the tools to become part of the upper-middle class,” Jeffries explains. 

Broadening Horizons
The GLOW girls participate in many activities throughout the year, such as job shadowing, art therapy, attending shows, making jewelry, biking and even partnering with CIBM Bank to work on financial literacy. These activities are funded by donors and sponsors, some local and some corporate. “Ms. Dawn take us places I’ve never even thought of going before,” says GLOW girl Bre’Annia Webster. “For instance, we’ve tried foods from Europe and now I think I might want to go one day.”

A trip to New York City in the spring of 2018 was a highlight for the GLOW girls. In order to fund the trip, the girls did “GLOW Gigs,” completing tasks that earned them donations. In New York, they were given a private tour of the World Trade Center, explored Downtown Manhattan and visited the famous Apollo Theater. They also participated in “speed mentoring”—similar to speed dating—in which each girl sat at a table and different professionals provided a brief overview of their occupations. 

GLOW activities are designed to broaden the girls’ horizons and open their minds to the possibilities for their future. “Personally, GLOW and Ms. Dawn have helped me set goals and figure out ways to actually go after them,” remarks Alyssa Bledsoe. 

Paying It Forward
The girls joined GLOW through AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a national nonprofit program that works to close the opportunity gap so all students can be prepared for college, careers and life. They may also participate in weekly after-school tutoring or take part in the Summer GLOW program. Jeffries is looking to expand so they can continue in the program after graduation.  “Wherever the girls are is where we will be,” she declares. Her ambition is to “glow all over” the country, starting with a new GLOW chapter in New Orleans in the near-future. 

As I spoke with the girls, it quickly became evident that Jeffries has taken on the role of “fairy godmother” for young, underprivileged black girls in the Peoria area. For her part, Jeffries says that investing in these girls is her way of paying it forward. When she was a young girl, her “adopted aunts” took her to church and supported her in a variety of ways. Today, she’s doing the same through GLOW. 

Exploring Possibilities
It is essential to recognize the importance of helping underprivileged teens access the resources they need for their shot at success. Many young girls feel pressured to fall into stereotypical female roles and don’t realize how many options they actually have. They just need a push in the right direction to truly realize the extent of their abilities. Dawn Jeffries is doing exactly that, having created a program that not only informs young teens about their options, but helps them explore the possibilities through hands-on activities, allowing them to make their own decisions to shape their future. 

The hardest part of starting GLOW, Jeffries notes, has been competing against larger nonprofit organizations to receive grant money. While the process has come with many obstacles, she believes the girls are worth the investment. “It’s real-life actionable intervention,” she explains. GLOW is working one girl at a time to make a difference in the future of black women as a whole. 

The GLOW girls plan to begin a YouTube channel soon where you can get a firsthand look at what they are doing. In the meantime, you can learn more and make a donation at PM

Brandi Simpson, a recent Richwoods High School graduate, will attend Northwestern University in the fall to pursue a journalism degree. She is excited to have her first professional article published in Peoria Magazine.