Confidence is hard to come by for most teens. Northern Virginia-based HALO Academy wants to change that. MITRE’s Priscilla Luera and Willie Hill worked with the founder to fine-tune the nonprofit’s unique empowerment program for girls and young women.
MITRE employees take our mission of solving problems for a safer world to heart—and to their communities. Our "In the Community" series highlights the many ways our people make a difference in neighborhoods across the country and around the globe. Select stories feature employees lending their time, talent, and heart to the causes they care about. In this story, Priscilla Luera and Willie Hill discuss how they used systems thinking expertise to refine the process behind a confidence-building workshop.
Priscilla Luera: Willie [Hill] and I are both business systems engineers. We look at the big picture and key details to help organizations transform the way they work. We uncover the highest priority actions to increase effectiveness and efficiencies. This is what we do for sponsors, and it’s exciting to see the positive results when they adopt our recommendations.
So, when Tammy Freeman [Equity-Centered Design & Futures lead for MITRE’s Social Justice Platform] set up a skills-based volunteer program for our department [Business Process Innovation], we jumped at the chance to help.
Willie Hill: The goal is to use our day-to-day consulting skills to help local nonprofits improve their processes to achieve their missions.
Luera: Tammy matched us with HALO Academy, Inc., a nonprofit in Northern Virginia that connects families and youth with networks of support. Their programs build ongoing relationships with young people to help them thrive.
HALO gives young people a chance to participate in community and extracurricular activities without the burden of costs and logistics. It also combats food scarcity and provides clothing, tutoring, transportation assistance, financial workshops, and other endeavors such as personal empowerment events and learning how to grow food.
Tammy introduced us to the founder and executive director, Tamika Archer, who needed help making a popular event called Box-of-Confidence into an efficiently run program.
Tamika Archer’s daughter, Halo, filled her Box-of-Confidence with prayers, affirmations, trinkets, prizes won, drawing supplies, and an emoji stress ball. (Photo courtesy of Tamika Archer.)
Building a Positive Image
Luera: Social media’s emphasis on looks and clothes puts a lot of pressure on girls. Studies show that over 70 percent of girls between grades 10 and 12 avoid social activities because of their own perceptions about how they look.
Teens experiencing economic hardship face even more obstacles to building a healthy self-image. Sometimes they might lack the skills and support to make positive choices and set boundaries.
Tamika started the Box-of-Confidence workshops in 2016 to help girls between ages 7 and 17 develop healthy self-images to help them avoid risky behaviors.
Each box contains things many people take for granted: a mirror, personal care products, a journal, and more. Some are used during the workshop. Others are gifts for the girls. These items demonstrate the inner value of each girl.
The girls who attend say they get a boost of confidence that stays with them and helps them learn healthy new ways to challenge negative self-messages.
Closing Economic and Social Gaps
Luera: Growing up in Newark [New Jersey], Tamika didn’t have the resources and luxuries many teens in the wealthy suburbs had. She was inspired to start the HALO Academy to close similar economic and social gaps in Northern Virginia.
The idea for Box-of-Confidence came to Tamika because of her personal experiences, her work as a psychotherapist, and as the mom of a daughter, Halo—the inspiration for and namesake of the HALO Academy. Tamika knows firsthand how perilous teen years can be for girls in general, and even more so for girls without strong support networks.
She tells participants when she facilitates workshops: “What’s not in the box is just as important as what’s inside.”
“The things that don’t make you feel good get thrown out. We’re going to trash the things that bring you down. Because once you name them, you take away their power.”
Paying Expertise Forward
Hill: Every workshop involves details, such as fundraising, acquiring supplies, communications, and logistics. Tamika secured small funding streams and grants for each workshop and partnered with local organizations to find places to hold each event. She’d ask vendors and stores to donate supplies, including the boxes.
This took a lot of time and energy for one person, especially while balancing it with her career responsibilities. Tamika needed to streamline the process but didn’t have the time to make that happen.
That’s where we jumped in. We knew we could ease her stress by developing repeatable processes.
Because of COVID, we had sessions over Zoom. We helped Tamika systematize the components of the events, from securing space and donations to publicizing each event and distributing participant surveys.
Luera: We capitalized on efficiencies and developed a team of volunteers to take on leadership roles. That freed up Tamika to focus on the overall well-being of the young people HALO serves.
We developed a process guide that outlines what needs to be done, when, how, and who’s going to do it. We included every detail, including ones that are often forgotten, so that it can be used as a checklist every time—even if people in the roles change for each event.
Hill: The key was helping Tamika empower HALO’s volunteers and create a reusable roadmap.
Developing Processes for Success
Hill: We helped Tamika realize she’s emotionally invested in every aspect of the program and the organization. She plays all roles—CEO, CFO, COO.
Luera: That’s common when someone starts a small business or nonprofit. We led Tamika through a process to identify what she should continue doing—like retaining overall leadership and facilitating workshops—and what she can delegate.
We also worked with her to create an elevator speech to quickly describe HALO and its needs when she meets with potential sponsors.
Hill: Tamika uses everything we provided and says the process guide lets her do what she does best. It keeps her focus on the mission.
I do a lot of community volunteering through NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers], mostly mentoring, and I also coach boys’ sports. This process really opened my eyes to what young girls go through. Their pressures are very nuanced.
Luera: It’s gratifying to help girls develop confidence and support each other rather than compete. I know how support like that at the right time can change a girl’s life for the better.
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