HARPER WOODS — Women of Tomorrow mentor Elena Kerasiotis has seen a young teen grow from a quiet girl who didn’t speak much to a young woman who helped set up the room for the mentoring meeting and greet people with confidence and a smile.
She’s watched a group of girls develop into leaders, who are eager to help other girls who might need a sister and a friend.
“Every one of the girls that were here last year … greeted the other girls and welcomed them in,” Kerasiotis said. “They wanted to help them, really wanted to share.”
It’s not just watching the girls grow, either. Kerasiotis said she learns through the program, and it inspires her.
“When I leave here, I’m energized to do what I do every day,” she said.
The Women of Tomorrow program has been adding a new crew of teens this year and continuing their work with some of last year’s young ladies who took part in the program.
“Women of Tomorrow is a national organization that connects young ladies with mentors from the professional world,” Harper Woods High School Principal Thomas Parker said in an email early this year, highlighting what he called a great thing happening at the school. “They did an awesome job last year and plan to do even more this year to inspire our young ladies.”
Girls can go through the program all four years of high school.
The mentors visit the school each month to work with the girls, and they also take the girls on field trips, bring in speakers and take part in other learning opportunities.
The mentors who work at Harper Woods High School are women in top businesses, including banking and the auto industry. Beth Ann Bayus, a public relations specialist with Chrysler, A.J. Barkley of Bank of America and Kerasiotis of Ortho Care Physical Therapy, are mentors at the high school.
“The goal is to put women into male dominated jobs,” Harper Woods teacher and program sponsor Cher Nagey said, adding that they’re showing them that they can be surgeons or anesthesiologists.
Nagey said she is seeing the girls grow through the program.
The teens have opportunities to network. They create their future goals and build their own confidence while helping each other in the program to succeed.
The teens learn how to be respectful of one another and how to support each other.
“It absolutely builds their self-confidence and self-esteem,” Barkley said of the program. “What they get here is a partnership, a sisterhood, and it’s a place that allows them to talk about their dreams and aspirations with support.”
She sees the difference in the girls who were in the program last year, as they move through the program this year. She said she enjoys seeing the ones who were in the program last year helping guide the new students this year.
“It’s actually very exciting,” Barkley said.
Giving back to the next generation is important to Bayus.
“I had a lot of people help me when I was in high school … and I think it’s important to give that back,” Bayus said. “I have a young daughter (and) I really hope that someone does this for her.”
She wants to show the girls in the program how hard work does lead them somewhere. She enjoys taking part in the mentoring work at the high school.
“They’re fun and they make me laugh,” she said of the girls in the Harper Woods program.
The girls want to help others, as well. Last year, they chose to have the money, which would have been spent on holiday gifts for them, go to charity to help others. They were planning to give again this year.
“It was really powerful in that they chose other young women to help,” Kerasiotis said of the specific charity they chose last year. “They did it without even thinking twice.”
There’s more benefits to the program, other than growing as young adults and seeing what is possible for their futures. There also is a scholarship opportunity for those in the program who stick by their commitment to attend meetings throughout the years.
“It’s kind of a huge incentive not to miss meetings” Nagey said.
Junior Michella Parlett said the scholarship aspect is a good incentive for joining the program, but she also likes that it is a support group among the girls.
Sophomore Tramia Willie agreed.
“It gives you a second family, people to lean on, people to talk to,” she said.
“I learned a sense of sisterhood,” junior Ebony Curry said, adding that all of the girls might not have spent time together if they hadn’t been in the program because everyone’s lives are busy. “This program has brought us together.”
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