Community Action Committee Lehigh Valley is located on East Fifth Street, a four minute drive from the Lehigh University campus. CACLV offers the SHE after-school program which works to uplift young women. (Nicole Hackett/ B&W Staff)

‘SHE’ program equips young girls for success


Winslow Mason spent most of his career managing nonprofit projects. When he became the director of racial and ethnic justice for Community Action Lehigh Valley in July 2023, he was assigned to oversee three  programs, one of them being “SHE.” 

SHE is an after-school program through Community Action Lehigh Valley, which works to uplift young women. The acronym stands for “self-esteem, health and education” or “she has everything.” 

Mason said he saw lack of opportunities for young women and had two goals in mind: expand and raise awareness for the cause.

SHE differs from the other programs as it’s exclusive to young girls from fourth to eighth grade.

The program was established in 2018 through Community Action Lehigh Valley and is present in several Allentown and Bethlehem Area School Districts. 

Donegan Elementary School is located on East Fourth Street, three minutes from the Lehigh University campus. The SHE after-school program is present in both the Allentown and Bethlehem Area School Districts, which includes Donegan Elementary School. (Maeve Kelly/ B&W Staff)

According to the SHE webpage, the program worked with over 125 students between 2022 and 2023.

As an overseer, Mason is now at the forefront of this program.

“(SHE) is really a mentoring program for young girls,” Mason said. “It helps them with self-esteem issues, career readiness and just preparing them for adulthood.”

Mason said the program includes an array of activities for students, such as field trips to local museums and visits from guest speakers. 

Creative projects, community service and student-led conversations are also included, according to their website.

He said as a part of the students’ regular daily schedules, two program coordinators teach classes on life skills, teamwork and partnerships. They also discuss body image, self-esteem and how to manage bullying.

The guest speakers serve as role models for the classes, Mason said. Some of them are business owners in the area and others are working to start their own businesses.

“The idea is to really mirror for the young girls what’s possible for them and to help them see themselves as they mature into adulthood,” Mason said.

Sociology professor Danielle Lindemann said she thinks the program brings awareness to important issues among women that are often ignored, specifically within professional life.

She points to general data that show inequalities and disparities between men and women still exist, despite many people not wanting to believe it.    

In 2023, the Pew Research Center released a study on the gender pay gap in the U.S. The analysis showed that women earned 82% of what men earned on average for both part- and full-time work. 

The research further shows this percentage has only increased by 2% since 2002. 

Lindemann said even young girls start to perceive themselves in a negative light based on disparities like this. 

“I don’t think any stage is too early to start talking at an appropriate age level with girls about having a positive self-image, because they are going to be bombarded with images that are going to be eating away at their self-image,” Lindemann said.

Women and men still take on different roles within a family structure that impact their careers, Lindemann said, which can lead to the phenomenon called the “glass escalator.”

Lindemann said the “glass escalator” is a phenomenon where men are promoted more often within female-dominated careers and that these occupations pay less than male-dominated ones. 

Sophie Hatfield, ‘25, co-president of Women In Business at Lehigh, explained the concept of “soft skills” in business, which include compassion and understanding strengths and weaknesses.

“Fostering those (soft skills) from a really young age helps people and students like us to be able to face more dynamic challenges as we grow in our careers,” Hatfield said. 

Mason said the program proves to be effective through alumni support, as SHE measures success by tracking the lives of graduates of the program. 

He said they currently have an advisory board of women who support the program and come back to speak with the current members and motivate them. 

“It’s wonderful to think that students, especially young females, are really going to be able to define who they are and where they want to grow from an early age,” Hatfield stated. “They’ll feel a little bit more supported already.”

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