GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of young Black and Brown girls in Grand Rapids will create a leadership program starting this summer that will be the model that future participants will follow.

These young female leaders will use their voices and ideas to relaunch the Young Women for Change program which was established by the YWCA West Central Michigan about 10 years ago.

“Young Women for Change program has gone through several iterations. It used to be the Girls Inc. program and we’ve really just expanded and evolved and grown in the spirit of listening to young women and girls in the community,” Charisse Mitchell, CEO of YWCA West Central Michigan, said.

Between eight and 12 girls will build the program how they want alongside new partners Shannon Cohen Inc. and Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy. They will choose what books they want to read, people they want to meet and things they want to learn. They will also attend vision trips and visit universities and women-owned businesses among other activities.

“This specific program is targeted towards amplifying voices and opportunities of young women of color and bringing them together in a peer-supportive,” Mitchell said. “That investment pays off not just for students, not just for young people but the entire community benefits when women of color their dreams, their vision for themselves is actually supported.”

Helen Claytor will be the inspiration for the program which will focus on social justice and activism. Claytor was the first African American president of both the Grand Rapids YWCA and the national YWCA.

“She built programming here that was really focused on the voice, the power the ingenuity and resilience of Black and Brown girls and we are so proud to be able to do that here through this relaunched program,” Mitchell said. “We hope to see the next generation of Helens who are leading the charge, leading the way coming through this program.”

The program will officially launch in the fall of 2024.