Negotiation, Advocacy, Mentoring and Entrepreneurship were the goals of the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s third annual conference.

The Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania is a network of providers, parents, funders and community stakeholders who are dedicated to improving the lives of the girls in our region. The coalition brings together people and resources to educate, advocate and network on behalf of girls.


“We wanted to bring the needs of girls in our region to the forefront. We represent African-American girls and they have a unique set of needs,” explained Lynn Knezevich, executive director of Gwen’s Girls, which served as a champion sponsor of the conference. Gwen’s Girls mission is to empower girls and young women to have productive lives through holistic, gender-specific programs, education and experiences.

In addition to Gwen’s girls, other sponsors for the day-long conference included signature sponsor Fisa Foundation, Comcast, Elsie H. Hillman Foundation and the Grable Foundation.

The conference taught young girls how to become successful members of society by opening and maintaining their own businesses, working together to better their communities and financial status.

“Historically we have been their commodity so issues about who we are were about doing for other people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we’ve given without return in major ways,” said Lakeisha Wolf, during the Critical Factors Impacting Economic Empowerment of Black Girls workshop. “We have to look at what African-American women were doing before we got here. Mass poverty and high infant mortality rates were not as high as they are now so we have to look back to figure out what to do.

“There’s a lot of psychological stuff that we have to break down like cattiness and jealousy and the feeling that women can’t be trusted by other women. That comes from slavery because we had to be sneaky to feed our children and those tactics have permeated our society. It’s importation that we take responsibility in the cycle of change,” Wolf continued.

During her presentation of the workshop, Entre­preneurs are Women Too, Cathy Blanchard taught facilitators how to inspire girls and young women to find out what their innate skills are and how to use those skills.

“Entrepreneurs started this country through barter and trade. They were the foundation of the United States,” Blanchard said. Entrepreneurship is not just about business ownership but it’s also about life skills because the business should be your passion which is about most of your life.”

Blanchard showed how women use their innate abilities to solve problems in new and innovative ways.

LaVerne Baker Hotep, a member of the steering committee of the Girls Coalition of Southwestern Pennsylvania who also helped organize this year’s conference, said that the conference is a much needed commodity in today’s society as a way to help young girls become productive members of society.

“I’d like to see more African-Americans attending the conference because we need to be empowering girls, especially around entrepreneurship so they can use their skills to do what they want to do and understand that what they love to do is what they were put in the world to do and that is what people need.” Baker Hotep said.

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