Local nonprofit provides unique leadership opportunities for WJ girls


Photo by Liann Keren

Liann Keren collects early donations on Saturday, March 20. She will be hosting a donation drive for Lucky Dog Animal Shelter to support animals who have been suffering during the pandemic.

When sophomore Liann Keren first joined the leadership program offered by the local nonprofit, The Fare Connection, in mid-February, she had no idea how to plan a donation drive. But with the help of the organization, less than two months later Keren is gearing up to host her first drive on April 10. The leadership program that Keren is a part of provides unique opportunities for young women in high school to learn how to organize drives and invest themselves in helping their communities during the pandemic.

The Fare Connection was founded in August 2020 by Claire Bowen, a recent graduate from Indiana University as a political science and sociology major. It was started to try to supplement all the networks of aid that have been compromised or strained because of the pandemic. The entirely woman-run organization quickly realized the importance of connecting with high students because they are far more active in their communities than they may realize.

“Really quickly we realized we wanted to develop this into a leadership program for high school women because you are never too young to start developing these skills and we genuinely also believe that high schoolers tend to be the most connected in their communities. You practice it all the time even though you don’t realize it. Whether it is doing a bake sale for the club that you are in or selling a T-shirt for the swim team, or doing Girl Scouts when you were younger. All of that is practice for taking the lead in service and adults don’t do that the way kids in school do. So we thought, hey, high schoolers are going to be the best at rallying our communities together, so let’s give them the support they need to make a difference. Let’s connect them to women who are leaders in the community, let’s connect them to politicians, let’s connect them to mentors who will believe in them,” Bowen said.

The program runs from February to May and there are 66 students in the program, 18 of which go to WJ. After being accepted, students in the program are required to meet with their mentor once a month, attend all of the panels with important women in the community and organize a drive with the nonprofit of their choice. Participants have chosen a variety of nonprofits to support, for example, Lucky Dog Animal Shelter.

“I feel like a lot of people are kind of forgetting about all the animals that have been affected by the pandemic. Like so many have been displaced from their homes and put into foster care and adoption centers and some of them have to be euthanized because no one can care for them. So yeah, I just thought it would be helpful to support an organization who helps animals find homes and donate supplies for them,” Keren said.

Other students are supporting causes that provide food for communities who have become especially vulnerable during the pandemic.
“Basically, what I am going to be doing is a food drive but specifically I am looking at helping low-income families. I am looking at partnering with this nonprofit called Bread for the City, which focuses on food drives and food donations specifically in Washington D.C. which has a disproportionate number of minorities who are suffering and who are impoverished. So specifically the drive’s focus is helping mostly minorities and collecting food for families who are suffering during COVID and just don’t have access to food in general,” sophomore Jackie Ragheb said.

Participants are randomly assigned one of four mentors, all of whom have obtained their graduate degrees or are currently in the process of obtaining it. The process of planning a donation drive can be very overwhelming, especially for people doing it for the first time. However, the mentors in the program help the participants navigate the process and offer their own expertise.

“There are a lot of aspects that go into running a drive. You have to really specify what donations you are looking for, you have to find a nonprofit and communicate with that nonprofit about the specific details of your drive and you have to find a location. There are so many different things that go into the drive making process that it is really important to collaborate with others, and I am honestly super glad that I can talk to [Claire Bowen] because she is super experienced,” Ragheb said.

The program aims to empower young women, as being a woman in a leadership position comes with its own specific challenges. The mentors aim to provide support for these women as they learn to be more assertive in taking on leadership roles.

“The hardest part for us has been teaching women not to second guess themselves. I think women have a tendency to not take themselves seriously and to apologize when they are asking for something. I have gotten better at this but when I ask a question I usually apologize as I ask or I don’t ask strongly. And that is something that I think with practice we can all get better at and we reinforce this over and over again. Basically, don’t feel bad asking, ask for what you need, advocate for yourself and over time you will get more comfortable with it,” Bowen said.

If you want to support this cause and all the other nonprofits being supported through it, check out the information below. All drives are socially distanced so it is easy to participate.
“If [people] want to get involved they can just purchase pet products from the store. Even one leash or one dog toy is helpful. Anything can help,” Keren said.

Liann Keren’s drive for Lucky Dog Animal Shelter will take place on Saturday, April 10 from 12 to 2 p.m. at Congressional Plaza outside Loyal Companion. They are accepting new or gently used pet related donations. If you are interested in making a donation but can’t make it on the 10th, you can reach out to Keren directly to work something out before the drive.

Jackie Ragheb’s drive for Bread for the City will take place on Saturday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. outside of Balducci’s Food Lovers Market at Wildwood Plaza. They are accepting non perishable food donations.
Make sure to check out other student run drives happening in the coming weeks. Follow The Fare Connection (@thefareconnection) on Instagram to learn more.