Isolation, confusion, and loss due to Covid-19 have taken a significant toll on the mental health of many. It has affected children and teens at high rates. This was one of the reasons why Keren Taylor decided to face this issue head-on by developing a mentoring program called WriteGirl that is centered around helping teens combat ongoing issues during Covid-19.
“What we see is that young people have been slipping away. Many of them are not showing up at school,” Taylor told CNN.
The program operates out of the Los Angeles area, a city where Taylor recognized living conditions that are unstable and filled with violence in their communities.
“It’s teens that are at risk of slipping through the cracks,” said Taylor. “We bring them in and get them inspired … show them poetry, journaling, songwriting.”
The program pairs girls with knowledgeable mentors in subjects such as scriptwriting, poetry, songwriting, and journalism.
One of WriteGirl’s prominent graduates is Amanda Gorman, who delivered her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We are always encouraging our girls to share their own story,” Taylor said. “Amanda is the only one that could put that particular story together; she put herself right in the middle of the poem. She shared it as herself. When we saw her perform at the inauguration, we could see the same things that we really embody at WriteGirl represented in her,” Taylor said.
“Confidence being willing to really be present. What was really exciting to know was that she represents not only every girl that’s ever been in WriteGirl, but she also represents every young woman in this country.”
Although the organization seems gender-specific, this isn’t the case. They offer programs for boys, coed groups and has included nonbinary and transgender youth in its definition of girls. For WriteGirl, the mission is getting to as many teens as possible and helping them through their struggles.
WriteGirl’s also offers mentorship by encouraging their students to think about their future beyond high school. “When we find out a girl is in need of a computer, we have been trying to raise the funds to purchase laptops, especially for our college-bound teens, where a laptop becomes critical,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s vision of WriteGirl began in 2001 after she was laid off by her employer. Instead of wallowing in panic or grief, she used her severance pay to start the WriteGirl foundation.
WriteGirl started helping around 30 teens in community centers, but as the mission caught on, it now serves around 500 teens a year, mostly with volunteers ranging from authors, journalists, screenwriters, executives, and poets.
WriteGirl offers one-to-one weekly mentoring to promote the message that confidence in academics and speaking skills is key.
Recently, singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb, who started her career with the number 1 hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites, had a song in which the lyrics were written by WriteGirl’s participants.
“It’s really exciting to see all the different things they’re doing in the world,” Taylor said. “That they want to do work of meaning is really the most exciting thing for me.”