Young women gain confidence, career advice at workshop at Jessye Norman

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Dance instructor Sharon Mayfield helps Jade Fielding with exercises during a dance class as part of the Finding the Way Forward workshop at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Dance instructor Sharon Mayfield helps Jade Fielding with exercises during a dance class as part of the Finding the Way Forward workshop at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.

Deja Green, 14, can see her name in bright lights one day. Lauren James, also 14, aspires to become a software engineer, and Precious Hill, 15, has dreams of opening her own bakery.

The three Augusta teens might have varying career goals, but all learned ways of achieving them this week while participating in the Finding the Way Forward workshop, a three-day pilot program at the Jessye Norman School of the Arts designed to “smash the barriers that limit education and career achievement.”

“I really need to make sure that what I’m doing right now, in ninth grade and in high school, is on point so I can be ready for what I have to get done in college and even to apply for college,” said Lauren, a freshman at A.R. Johnson Health Science & Engineering Magnet School this fall. “I have to be ready for it and prepare myself today.”

The girls said they intend to attend college after graduating from high school. Deja, who has dreamed of becoming a singer/actress/dancer since age 5, plans on getting her master’s degree in business administration to pursue a career in business or psychology as a backup plan.

The free camp, aimed at helping economically disadvantaged girls, is run by women and incorporates counseling, career advice in Junior Achievement classes and self-expression through performing arts.

“We wanted them to get a sense of positive role models,” said Danielle Estey, the camp director at the Jessye Norman School. “We wanted to embed in them the idea that adults, and especially adult women, can be great allies and great mentors.”

The girls also received guidance by a panel of businesswomen and tours of Augusta Technical College, Georgia Regents University and Goodwill Industries’ Helms College.

The group consisted of 28 girls between the ages of 11 and 19 with diverse backgrounds, Estey said. A few live in downtown Augusta, while others have come from surrounding counties. Some also reside with foster families.

“I’m concerned about the graduation rate in Augusta,” said Linda Scales, who spearheaded the initiative. “I’m concerned about what this means for the future of young girls. I want them to see that there are lots of options after high school that can facilitate them taking charge of themselves. That’s really what we’re hoping for is their futures don’t become an accident, that they’re very intentional with what they want to do with their lives.”

Scales is on the board of directors of the Rachel Longstreet Foundation, which founded the Jessye Norman School. The workshop is funded by a grant given by the Women in Philanthropy organization.

Precious and Deja agreed that they’ve gained self-confidence for future endeavors.

“I know from this program I’ve built confidence in myself, and I’ve learned how to let go of a lot of stuff that I was holding onto for a while,” Deja said.

The program ended Friday with a presentation by each girl sharing her aspirations.

“We’ve seen the girls open up and share a lot of things,” Estey said. “We’ve shed some tears. We’ve grown in terms of thinking and movement. It’s been great.”

Scales and Estey hope to expand the program in coming years.


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