When Sterling resident Ashley Koranteng and Ashley Lucas of Long Island, New York, met as students at George Mason University two years ago, they had an immediate connection and mutual interest in developing a program to mentor teen girls.
Growing up, they wished there were opportunities to talk with young women that looked like them or that were close enough in age to feel relatable.
They decided to create Rise and Thrive Inc., a multifaceted after-school program focused on teen girls to help them grow into strong and confident women. Rise and Thrive officially launched last September, but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly changed the organization’s short-term plans.
With their original ideas for in-person sessions on hold, they decided to launch a virtual program over the summer.
“The silver lining is we can be everywhere in the world,” Lucas said.
They are seeing a greater need for connection and community due to the isolation brought on by the pandemic.
“A lot of girls are wanting to meet and create a sense of community. It’s very hard to be home and so isolated. [The program] is a great way to support students while they are at home,” Koranteng said.
Koranteng, an epidemiology and public health graduate student at George Mason, said she always understood the importance of having a mentor to provide guidance.
While she was a student at Dominion High School, she remembers two fellow students who were role models — Laura Gyamfi and Leslie Mark — and her principal, Dr. John Brewer, who always taught students to live lives of significance, she said.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community. I believe young girls need the extra resources and tools to bridge that gap and have a level playing field,” she said.
Rise and Thrive focuses on nine elements not typically taught in schools — healthy relationships, healthy lifestyles, finances, academic enrichment, professional development, self love, etiquette, social media and safety.
They recently launched the first weekly virtual summer series with 90 participants from around the country and Canada. While the summer virtual program is free and reaches a larger audience, they plan to expand on its success and offer smaller group paid sessions in the fall.
Each session is thoughtfully crafted and planned out, starting with an ice breaker to help introduce everyone and explain the rules of the program.
“There are no cell phones, and this is a safe space so everyone feels respected and their thoughts are valued,” Lucas said.
They then discuss a quote of the day, which is followed by a speaker, career professional or program and then an opportunity to ask questions. They say educators have expressed the need for additional support, and they want Rise and Thrive to be that additional support beyond the classroom.
“We really want to partner with Loudoun schools. This is where I grew up, and I want to give back to this community,” Koranteng said.
A current participant in the program, Valeria Perero, a rising ninth-grader at Heritage High School in Leesburg, said her teacher suggested the program to her over the summer. “It’s really fun and interactive. We are able to be honest with each other,” Perero said.
Her favorite session thus far focused on healthy lifestyles. As an activity, the group did workouts based on TikTok dances. She also enjoyed learning about healthy relationships, how to manage boundaries and what a toxic relationship looks like.
Prior to joining Rise and Thrive, Perero says she only had family members as mentors, so this experience is providing a way to learn from other young women.
“I really look up to them, it is so great they made this program to teach others and I hope to do that one day,” she said.
Lucas, who is a graduate student at Maryland University of Integrated Health, grew up on a part of Long Island she said wasn’t diverse. “It was always hard to relate to speakers who came to our school, and I did not have any mentors except for my mom,” she said.
Lucas said she wanted to reach girls who look like her and are close in age in order to bridge the gap, something she did not have growing up.
“It fulfills me to look at them as my younger sisters, as someone who respects you and your vision and allows you to help make them a better person and impact their growth,” she said.
Koranteng agreed, saying, “It is most fulfilling to get the direct feedback from the girls saying they loved the session. They are excited and engaged. They are actively logged in and wanting to create long-lasting relationships.”
More information can be found at weriseandthrive.com.