photo of Lynn Gordon '83

GirlSource

Teen magazines would have it seem that lipstick and prom fashions are the top concerns for young women.

In truth, other concerns-unstable homes, depression, violence, work, drugs, relationships, the question of what to do with one's life-are far more urgent, affecting the mental, physical and economic health of young women today.

While there is no shortage of problems facing young women, there is a shortage of unbiased resources. GirlSource hopes to fill that gap. Founded in 1987 by Lynn Gordon '83, GirlSource is a San Francisco-based nonprofit whose mission is to provide meaningful, creative work opportunities for low-income young women, with a focus on teen mothers. It's About Time!, for example, is a 96-page health and life guide for young women-created by 10 culturally diverse women, ages 14 through 18, in a GirlSource program.

The young authors were hired through an application process that screened for demographic appropriateness to meet GirlSource's mission. "There couldn't have been a more different group of young women," says Gordon. "And by the end they were such a supportive and proud team. It was a moving evolution."

The editorial team received leadership and job training 12 hours a week after school while earning an hourly wage. They interviewed sources, researched, wrote, illustrated and edited in collaboration with adult professionals. Not only did they learn these important skills, but they also learned that their own experiences, inherent abilities and opinions had value in the world, says Gordon.

While many teen programs target only one problem, such as pregnancy or drugs or violence, GirlSource embraces a holistic approach because "young women experience all this stuff simultaneously, not as separate issues," says Gordon. Accordingly, It's About Time! addresses young women's health by tackling a wide range of health and well-being issues. The book covers topics such as suicide, tattooing, exercise, birth control, physical abuse, running away, discrimination, money, and others deemed important through focus groups with hundreds of young women in different cities.

"We are looking at how we can best impact cycles of poverty," she says. "You don't just do it with job training. You need to consider all the parts of their lives that affect their physical, emotional and economic health." As the editorial team writes in their introduction, the book's purpose is to provide information and options-not advice-"in order to teach young women to survive."

According to Gordon, the biggest threats to a young woman's survival are domestic violence and sexual abuse. "These issues of violence and power are so systemic to a young woman's mental and physical health that they have the potential to undermine many current and future areas of a young woman's life if not somehow addressed."

A secondary school education is the best way a woman can empower herself against these threats, says Gordon. "This is the one variable that most consistently predicts the probability of a low-income young woman moving out of a cycle of poverty, particularly if she is a teen mother."

Gordon retired as executive director of GirlSource this year so that she could concentrate on a variety of economic and social justice projects for women and girls in the Bay area. But she still acts as "something of a guardian angel" to GirlSource, as advisor-on-call. See www.girlsource.org or e-mail Gordon for more information.

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MHK