These girls are achieving things they never thought they could thanks to this NYC club.

Manhattan’s Lower East Side today doesn’t look anything like it did just a few decades ago.

The '60s and '70s were an especially chaotic time with residents leaving in droves. Disinvestment in the area was devastating for the community — an impact that would be felt for decades.

Many of the social services agencies that the community relied on also began shutting their doors not long after the mass exodus. This meant that the Lower East Side — specifically the eastern edges of the community, which still has some of the highest rates of poverty in the city — was struggling.


Some agencies did manage to stay open over the years. Among them was the Boys Club of New York (which had two different facilities); it offered a safe haven for boys, especially those hit hardest by the economic crises of the time. But local girls were left without a support system.

All images via the Lower Eastside Girls Club.

“There were no services in the neighborhood ... [and] no spaces for girls to attend after school,” explains Valerie Polanco, senior development partner at the girls club.

In 1996, a group of mothers, activists, and artists decided to do something about it.

First, they filled a shopping cart with art supplies and started pushing it around the neighborhood.

Without a center of their own and having only a miniscule budget, volunteers ran programs out of schools, church basements, community rooms, and other borrowed spaces — their cart filled with supplies in tow.

From there, they moved into a physical center in 2013, which they named the Lower Eastside Girls Club. It gave girls the services and space — including after-school programs, career and educational services, and wellness activities — they so badly needed.

Today, the Lower Eastside Girls Club offers over 50 programs a week to middle-school and high-school girls, including STEM programs. They also have a planetarium and an art studio.

“We want to give girls the tools now so that when they leave here they have a sense of the direction that they want to go in,” Polanco explains.

In addition to educational programs, the club offers field trips and mentorship opportunities, including from companies like Maybelline, to help girls get on the path to the careers of their dreams.

Many of the girls served by the club grew up in the shelter system, came from immigrant families, or have lived in poverty. These are girls who so often slip through the cracks. However, with access to tools like those available at the club, they can imagine a brighter future.

The club also offers a safe space that many of the girls wouldn't have otherwise.

“If you’re in the shelter system, you don’t know where you’re going to end up or where you’re going to be next year,” Polanco says.

“[The club] is consistency in their lives. If they move somewhere else, we’re always going to be here, and we’re always going to be a place they can come back to.”

The impact is undeniable. Girls who joined the club have gone on to do incredible things.

One girl, Aicha — whose family emigrated from Guinea — filmed her own documentary in which she highlights the seriousness of female genital mutilation in her country of origin. And another girl, Amerique, has taken an interest in music production and is now a part of the club's new record label, having recently released a song written by an 11-year-old girl.

These are just a few examples of the extraordinary things girls can do when given the resources and mentorship they need.

“We want this to be a space for them to grow, a place for them to dream, and a place for them to reach their full potential,” Polanco says.

It’s not easy being a teenage girl today. But for girls facing the most difficult of circumstances, a safe, nurturing space can change the course of their lives.

It takes a village to push back against a culture that conditions girls to believe they aren’t good enough. But with places like the Lower Eastside Girls Club offering resources and mentorship, many more girls will have what they need to make their dreams a reality.

For working class and immigrant communities on the Lower East Side, where girls once had nowhere to go, that safe space can be the difference between being trapped in the cycle of poverty or escaping it.

When they’re given a real chance to achieve their dreams, their futures are limitless. Whether they want to be a documentary filmmaker, a scientist, a chef, or an artist, the Lower Eastside Girls Club can offer them that first step in the right direction.

More
True
Maybelline New York Beauty & Beyond

As a child, Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia's parents didn't ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Instead, her father would ask, "Are you going to be a doctor? Are you going to be an engineer? Or are you going to be an entrepreneur?"

Little did he know that she would successfully become all three: an award-winning biomedical and mechanical engineer who performs cutting-edge medical research and has started multiple companies.

Bhatia holds an M.D. from Harvard University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from MIT, and a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT. Bhatia, a Wilson professor of engineering at MIT, is currently serving as director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, where she's working on nanotechnology targeting enzymes in cancer cells. This would allow cancer screenings to be done with a simple urine test.

Bhatia owes much of her impressive career to her family. Her parents were refugees who met in graduate school in India; in fact, she says her mom was the first woman to earn an MBA in the country. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, started a family, and worked hard to give their two daughters the best opportunities.

"They made enormous sacrifices to pick a town with great public schools and really push us to excel the whole way," Bhatia says. "They really believed in us, but they expected excellence. The story I like to tell about my dad is like, if you brought home a 96 on a math test, the response would be, 'What'd you get wrong?'"

Keep Reading Show less
Packard Foundation
True

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
via Hollie Bellew-Shaw / Facebook

For those of us who are not on the spectrum, it can be hard to perceive the world through the senses of someone with autism.

"You could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses," Stephen Shore, assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University, told Web MD.

"Some senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and it's very hard to perceive a person's environment accurately," Shore continued.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information
Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign, is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

truth
True