The life of a teenage girl can be scary and confusing. Now, add to that being part of a society that isn’t built for you to succeed while trying to understand yourself and live in your truth and purpose authentically. Things grow even more complicated for young girls whose circumstances – often outside of their control – make it infinitely more challenging to do those things.
This is the reality of many young girls living in under-resourced communities in the Richmond metropolitan area. There is limited programming for tween and teen girls, which means an abundance of idle, unsupervised time. Virginia State Police report most youth crimes occur after school, between three and six in the afternoon. In the areas served by Work of Art, the Virginia Department of Education reports that 260 females dropped out of high school for the 2018-19 school year.
These disparities exist largely due to a lack of positive relationships, sense of belonging, and available resources.
Kai Butler saw this firsthand while working as the director of school counseling at The Academy of Virginia Randolph. In that role, Butler served students from nine Henrico County high schools including Highland Springs High School, Henrico High School, and Varina High School – all of which have predominantly Black student populations. Butler was inspired to do more for the female students especially. In 2018, she founded Work of Art, an organization committed to empowering girls ages thirteen to eighteen from underserved communities in the City of Richmond and the surrounding area.
“I wanted a safe space for girls to be themselves freely because I didn’t have that opportunity. I had to find who I was as I was growing up without a lot of support,” Butler says. “I created WOA to allow girls to further discover their authentic selves without judgment and without fear.”
That first year, the relationship-centered nonprofit empowered thirteen girls and their families by pairing them with mentors in the community. The following year, that number nearly doubled, serving twenty-three girls for the 2019-2020 school year. This year, the number of girls signed up for services has increased to forty-five.
Work of Art’s mission is centered on holistic youth enrichment through community and cultural immersion, one-to-one mentorship, group workshop sessions for participants and their families, and academic enrichment as a whole. Outside of the academic support and direct tutoring, mentees and mentors commit to spending at least six hours a month with one another. Community leaders conduct group workshop sessions in areas such as self-development, character building, self defense, financial literacy, goal setting, and healthy communication. Participants engage in community immersion in the form of park and neighborhood beautification projects, and local volunteer initiatives at Ronald McDonald House. Another goal of the group is to help girls connect with the broader community. “We satisfy the cultural immersion component by hiking and participating in yoga,” says Butler. “Before COVID-19, we were gearing up to do an immersive trip to Morocco and connect to the world.”
More than a mentoring program, Butler says Work of Art is dedicated to helping girls overcome generational challenges that leave them disadvantaged and underqualified, creating generational gaps, limiting job acquisition and opportunities for advancement.
Butler describes Work of Art as a support system, family, and network of powerful women and community members. “It’s not just about supporting the girls. It’s about supporting Black women, minority women, unseen women, and under-
resourced women in totality and as holistically as possible,” she says. “We’re making sure we are successful and providing for the next generation as storytellers, sisters, mothers, wives, and community members.”
How to Support Work of Art
In preparation for a COVID-inspired hybrid model that adheres to public health safety recommendations, Work of Art is lining up resources. Here is what’s needed:
• Tutors in all subject areas
• Mental health clinicians
• Community members, professionals, and subject experts to lead virtual workshops on careers or other pre-approved topics
• Snack donations for in-person workshops and small gatherings
• Donations of food, clothing, school supplies, personal care items, and any gently used items that we can distribute to our community
• Volunteer and service opportunities for participants
To learn more about Work of Art, visit workofartrva.org. See how you can get involved at WorkofArtRVA on Instagram and Facebook.