In 2005, a group of female teen activists called Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers found an unlikely enemy: Abercrombie & Fitch. The girls, working with Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pa., staged a "girlcott" of Abercrombie T-shirts, some of which displayed sexist slogans.
Inspired by that campaign's national success, WGF decided this year to revamp the grant program and broaden its scope.
Called Regional Agents for Change, the new program entrusts $20,000 to a core group of 15 girls from Allegheny, Greene, Fayette and Washington counties. The individuals in that group, called "change agents," will work with and through WGF to distribute funds to young female applicants who create and propose initiatives aimed at improving the lives of young girls in their communities.
Executive Director for WGF Heather Arnet wants the new program to yield the same social impact as the "girlcott" campaign, as well as offer young girls more resources to help them effect change in their own communities.
"Our hope is ... that this new group of change agents will also decide to take action against a form of gender inequity, too" says Arnet in an e-mail. "In this case, we are providing them with even more resources to do so -- grant funds, advocacy training, and adult colleagues and partners in each county."
Individual "teams" of girls, who must be 13 to 18 years old and live in one of the four counties, can submit grant proposals requesting up to $2,000 for initiatives. Each county receives a maximum of $5,000 overall, which the change agents will award sometime in November. Deadline for applications is Sept. 20.
Although there is no limit on how many teams of girls can be in each county, or how many girls can participate for each team, the groups must have support from an adult adviser from their community. WGF also encourages young boys and male advisers to participate as well, as long as a girl or set of girls leads each team.
"For our girls who are participating, we really are excited about them getting involved in philanthropy from a young age -- to see that a few dollars can make big change," says Tara Simmons, director of community initiatives for WGF. "On the flip side of things, we want girls in the community to see what an impact a small group of girls can really make with a small project."
Projects can tackle just about any issue pertaining to gender equality, so long as they improve the lives of young girls, says Simmons. For instance, teams can request funds to host community dialogues about gender and stereotypes, as well as to fuel advocacy campaigns for increased girls' rights in the region.
Katie Orr, a 13-year-old who attends Dorsey Middle School and is one of the 15 change agents, says she sees how negative self-images instigated by media affect girls around her, something she hopes proposals will combat.
But most of all, Orr says, the program will encourage girls to help themselves and each other -- the key to making life better and equal for women.
"Getting the word out there -- and friends telling other friends -- it helps because girls see that other girls want to help them," says Orr, "and that makes them want to help, and it'll keep going down the line until it makes a difference."