I vividly remember my first visit to the Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) in November 2015. My Uber driver inquired, “Does this look like the right place?” Looking around, I felt a bit swallowed up by the endless rows of ruddy-colored brick tenements lining the narrow streets that crisscross the Lower East Side. I thanked the driver and, as yet unsure of my bearings, exited the vehicle before making my way to a secured, steel-framed glass door. As soon as I entered, I knew I’d arrived at the right place. I was engulfed with a sense of purpose in the movements and sounds of creativity and community.
After introductions, we began our ascent through the stairwells of each of the three floors that are the home of the LESGC. As doors opened, we meandered through spaces, each one more inspiring than the last: a Gulf Airstream outfitted as a music production studio; a Makerspace with garage door access to the rooftop garden; a fully-equipped kitchen with a commercial pizza oven; a planetarium/digital theater that reaches beyond the stars; and additional laboratories for photography, bioscience, art and sewing.
More amazing were the people I met and the stories I heard. Girls stopped to share their individual and collective projects. I met teachers who were experts within their creative spaces, passionate facilitators of Maker-centered learning. I had an opportunity to visit with Lyn Pentecost, a cofounder and crusader who saw a need, made a plan and went to work with a team of like-minded dedicated activists.
What I experienced on that day was Joy. Power. Possibility.
The LESGC Story
The best way to understand the origins of the LESGC is to hear it in the organization’s own words:
The LESGC was founded in 1996 to address the historic lack of services available to girls and young women on the Lower East Side. The effects of inner-city social turmoil which took place in the 1960s and 70s throughout the nation hit the Lower East Side community in Manhattan very hard. Many social service agencies closed their doors and moved during these years, leaving ”boys-only” services and clubs available.
One of the few agencies to remain open and “tough it out” was the Boys Club of New York, operating two full-service facilities for boys. A diverse group of Lower East Side women consisting of mothers, workers, artists, educators, scientists, athletes, businesswomen and community activists organized in 1996 to address this obvious inequity. Soon thereafter, The Lower Eastside Girls Club was founded.
Our founding vision was a dual one: to reframe the field of youth development as a “whole community” issue, and to construct a building to house that vision.
Today, the LESGC connects girls and young women to healthy and successful futures. The LESGC breaks the cycle of poverty by training the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders. Girls Club members overcome adversity, perceive opportunity, develop self-confidence, make ethical decisions and healthy life choices, thrive academically, embrace leadership, and have the ability to enter college or the workforce as fully prepared and connected adults.
Cognizant’s Making the Future Initiative and the LESGC
I was introduced to the LESGC by a colleague at the New York City Economic Development Commission who was familiar with our Making the Future initiative, which is focused on life-long education and skill regeneration. The intent of our initiative is to invigorate a passion for STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, art and math) from an early age by encouraging young learners to use their head and hands to create and design in a process known as “Making.” “Making” fosters curiosity, interdisciplinary problem-solving, risk-taking, adaptability, collaboration and intrinsic motivation — the essential employable skills for the future of work.
Since the launch of Making the Future in 2011, our flagship Making program grants have funded 225 programs, providing 2.5 million hours of “Making” activities to approximately 40,000 young people. A significant number of programs, over 95%, are awarded to nonprofit organizations serving underrepresented and underserved populations. The importance of such programs is undeniable, considering that the lack of access and opportunity are cited as major factors that contribute to the low number of minorities represented in technology jobs.
After that first unforgettable visit to the LESGC, we partnered with the club in 2016 as part of our Making the Future program. LESGC Maker Girls is a stellar example of how our initiative is advancing digital literacy and scientific knowledge by marrying technical skills with creative expression. The content of the classes is a true testimony to how programs evolve as industry practices evolve. Over the course of multiple cycles, Maker Girls has offered:
- Physical computing (Arduino, Raspberry Pi).
- 3-D scanning modeling and printing.
- Classes that incorporate virtual design with physical fabrication.
- Classes that utilize new creation tools to create “hands-on” interfaces in 3-D to grab, choose and build objects and navigate through a VR space.
Classes are designed to give girls the opportunity to participate in activities that create familiarity and a knowledge base leading to academic pathways in STEAM while building technical skills for the 21st century marketplace. What we see at LESGC is a cross-disciplinary approach to Maker-centered learning that lays the foundation for lifelong learning. The interplay of curiosity and creativity develops a sense of agency, joy, adaptability and confidence.
We stand committed to building a diverse workplace. Partnerships like the LESGC are born through a shared vision that this is a goal worth achieving. Investing in robust programs like the LESGC is a business imperative to shift the shortfalls in gender parity and shape an inclusive workplace.
We’ve assembled some of Cognizant’s keenest minds to share their thoughts on how businesses can improve diversity and inclusion, both in an e-book, “Making Room: Reflections on Diversity & Inclusion in the Future of Work,” and a blog series.
In addition to our kick-off article on D&I in the tech industry, our upcoming blogs will cover an array of topics, grouped in four categories:
- The future of work (including blogs on moving beyond the D&I buzzword and why the future of work hinges on D&I).
- What makes us uniquely human in a machine age (including lessons from Beyoncé on authenticity, what global businesses can learn from small businesses and ensuring human centricity in a data-driven culture).
- Addressing bias (including overcoming ageism, dispelling working-mom myths, embracing adaptive technologies and using technology to tackle hiring bias).
- Working with community partners (including renovating youth development with the Lower Eastside Girls Club, empowering women through sponsorship, upskilling underrepresented talent and some bright lights of innovative D&I efforts that are actually making headway).
We invite you to read and welcome your comments to continue this vital discussion.
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