MEET Bee: girl-empowering all-star
For many girls in America, the dream of a picture perfect prom night, complete with a breathtaking dress, is out of reach. Bee Nguyen doesn’t think this is fair. In fact she doesn’t think a lot of the disadvantages faced by underserved girls are fair. In 2009 she founded Athenas Warehouse to provide prom dresses and important life lessons to girls in need. We sat down with her to find out what keeps her going.
Tell us a little about your project:
Athenas Warehouse is a local nonprofit that works with underserved teenage girls in Atlanta high schools to promote education and empowerment. I started the organization in 2009, originally with just a prom program that provided gowns to girls in exchange for three hours of community service. Since then, we have started an after school program, provided scholarships, and are beginning to form our own voice through the gender equality/empowerment movement for girls.
How did you get started with it?
I started the organization with my sisters and close friends. Through their support and influential roles in my life, I have been able to create and continually grow Athenas into an organization that helps young women.
What inspires you to do this work?
I love women and believe that all girls need female role models to uplift, inspire, and empower them. I also believe women should support other women, and this is a way for us to join forces and strengthen ourselves and each other. I have four sisters and am thankful for all the ways their spirits have encouraged and challenged me and for the way my family forced me to form my own voice. When you grow up in a big family, you have to learn how to speak loudly and at times, stand up for yourself and your beliefs.
What challenges have you faced?
Our main challenge is that we are not in the position to have any staff members, so many of the responsibilities fall on the shoulders of our gracious board members, and this makes it difficult for us to expand in all the ways we envision.
Are you collaborating with anyone?
We are currently working on a screening of Miss Representation, a documentary that has created a national movement examining the role of media representation of women and the negative impact it has on girls/women. We also require the teenage girls to volunteer with Project Open Hand each year as part of community service requirement. We get a lot of support from the community, which has been amazing and humbling. Some of the organizations that have helped us are Dashboard Co-op and Wonderroot.
What impact are you hoping to have on our Atlanta community?
We work closely with Cross Keys High School, and our goal is to equip these girls with the correct to tools to make decisions that will respect their body, mind, and spirit. We want to combat issues, such as self-esteem, teenage pregnancy, and domestic violence. I recently read an alarming statistic that said that 75% of girls with low self-esteem engage in high-risk behaviors such as drinking, cutting, smoking, bullying. Self-esteem is crucial in creating a healthy and successful life. We also work with a lot of Latino girls and over 50% of all Latino girls become pregnant before they are 20 years oldthat is a startling and terrifying statistic. So, we hope that we can work with these girls to change behaviors and beliefs that will prevent them from being part of these statistics.
Would you like to see this organization replicated?
I believe after school programs are essential in helping kids stay out of trouble, so I am an advocate for any program or sport that teaches the values of self-worth, team work, discipline, creativity, and commitment.
What kind of assistance do you need to keep this going?
Funding! And we rely on the community a lot, so one of our main needs right now is for people to get involved with the organization. We are looking for passionate people who are willing to commit their time in helping us grow as an organization. Another easier thing you can do for us is to like us on Facebook; we need 2,000 likes to participate in Yeah Burgers Feel Good Tuesday fundraiser.
What are some of the biggest issues you see facing Atlanta?
I love Atlanta, but one of the most disheartening things about our city is the racial divide that can be seen in the way we invest our money, specifically through things like public education and public transportation. Education is key in reducing both poverty and crime, but our Atlanta public schools continue to suffer. Meanwhile, parents pull kids out of the public school system and into private schoolsand you really cant blame thembut the result is people who cannot afford to send their kids to a better school end up stuck in a cycle of poverty. Thats why Athenas Warehouse works with inner city high schools because we believe we need to invest our time and energy into kids who may not have as much of a chance to succeed.
What are some of your favorite things and organizations around town?
I love LeahandMark.com (they took the article photo); they have been wonderful to us, and they are an example of how one can take a leap of faith and develop a distinct brand that shows their passion and creativity. I also love Project Open Hand and Cross Keys Foundation. Cross Keys Foundation recently raised money to send a group of Dekalb high school kids to a solar competition; they built the first ever solar powered car in Georgia, and theyre testing it on Buford Highway this Saturday!
Where can interested readers find you?
Visit our website: www.athenaswarehouse.org & you can track me down on the East side of town running, working, or playing.