Creating Pathways for Young Women to Succeed

“Through the LEAP fund, we partner with other entities that provide experiences for young women to become more confident and become more aware of the world and their place in it.” Celia Foy Castillo, former IWF-NM President

In 2002, International Women's Forum - New Mexico initiated the Leadership, Empowerment and Advocacy Program (LEAP) to honor nonprofit organizations that support women with project funding. Early grantees included WESST, a home for entrepreneurs created by women for women, Southwest Creations Collaborative, a sewing and handwork project committed to alleviating poverty by providing living wage employment for women from low-income communities, and the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition.

IWF-NM then President Lynn Behnfield Thomas holds up the LEAP award plaque before awarding it to the recipient La Colmena. Photo by Nancy Bartlit

Although our members were encouraged to visit grantee organizations and provide mentorship, that element was solidified under Diane Harrison Ogawa’s leadership in 2018. Harrison Ogawa expanded LEAP’s primary focus as a grant-making program to one in which members use their skills, connections and resources to deeply invest in an organization and help build capacity. Members were asked how they wanted to target that investment and the response was, “creating pathways for young women to succeed.”

With $20,000 from a successful fundraiser to work with, we issued a Request for Proposals. The first two-year grant of $5,000 per year was awarded to Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails to support their work engaging girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

To achieve our goal of creating connections and assisting capacity-building, IWF-NM members volunteered as mentors and met periodically with Girl Scouts’ leadership to discuss issues they were facing. Girl Scouts fulfilled their community service requirements by assisting with an international event hosted by IWF-NM, where they were able to meet and interact with women leaders from around the world. The multifaceted approach helped educate IWF-NM members about the issues facing girls today and how organizations and communities of women can support girls to achieve better outcomes.

Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo with Girl Scouts and their patch. Courtesy/IWF-NM

Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo, a former NASA rocket scientist, was invited to speak at a 2019 conference. Acevedo shared her experiences of growing up poor in Las Cruces, N.M., and how Girls Scouts gave her the confidence to pursue her dreams, a living illustration of what happens when you invest in girls and create pathways for them to succeed.

LEAP Helps New Mexico Women