Phoenix nonprofit empowers girls to realize their potential
For career coach Dena Patton, founding an organization that empowers girls to become the next generation of leaders has been a dream come true.
Patton’s mission began two decades ago when she moved to New York City with just $1,500 in her pocket to launch her own PR and marketing firm. The business was wildly successful, but the job pressure coupled with 16-hour workdays took a toll on her health. After suffering a minor stroke, Patton sold her firm, now a successful website, and set out on a new path, one that would change the futures of teenage girls across the nation.
“During my recovery, I realized my gift was empowering and inspiring and equipping women and girls,” says Patton.
Guided by her love of philanthropy and ministry, Patton became a global speaker, best-selling author, and a life and business coach for female leaders and entrepreneurs. After coaching hundreds of women, she discovered many of her clients struggled in their careers because they had not developed key leadership skills as teens.
“That’s where the ‘a-ha’ moment occurred,” says Patton, who asked herself, “Who is doing this on a teen level, teaching teen training and development?”
So in 2007, with the help of three friends, Patton launched the nonprofit Girls Rule Foundation to help teen girls recognize their value in the world and to discover their ability to lead and make a difference.
“We looked at the need in teen girls 12 to 18,” Patton says. “We also looked at statistics and new access to media and phones, and the struggles of peer pressure and social media. What we found were a lot of girls struggling. We wanted to help as many girls as we could to navigate those teen years.”
Offering a rich array of leadership programs and workshops, Girls Rule Foundation helps thousands of girls develop the skill sets, self-esteem and confidence they need to follow their dreams.
“We have 12 principles of leadership. When girls are equipped with those 12 principles they can lead their choices, their mindset, their life and their dreams with purpose and intention,” says Patton.
The organization offers a national peer-led program called dreamLAB Afterschool Club, as well as four Phoenix-based programs: Shine Brightly Mother-Daughter Summit; Dream Big Workshop; the Brilliant, Beautiful and Bold Workshop; and the Wings to Fly Summer Camp. The organization also runs a social media movement titled Brilliant, Beautiful and Bold with the goal of reaching millions of girls to help them learn valuable skills to build self-esteem, confidence and taking action.
“It’s about these girls being empowered, which is knowing their voice and the leadership principles. When they are equipped with those two things, they’re unstoppable and they really get that they are valued in the world and that we are waiting for their leadership, we are waiting for their ideas,” says Patton.
For 13-year-old Riley Bohlander, participating in the Wings to Fly Summer Camp was a life-changing experience. In addition to enjoying fun activities such as archery, horseback riding, swimming, a ropes course and a zip line, she also learned teamwork and leadership skills.
“The camp is an amazing experience I’ve had the privilege of having twice. I think it’s educational and extremely worthwhile in many ways. I’ve learned so many things from inspiring women and amazing young ladies, who I’m so blessed to call my friends. We help each other through difficult challenges, while also having fun and laughing together all the time,” says Riley.
During camp, girls learn to believe in their own abilities, the foundation’s 12 leadership principles, the importance of STEM skills, how to run a business, and how to collaborate with others.
Riley had an opportunity to create a business with fellow campers that involved designing bracelets, producing a business plan, creating a budget, and making sales calls to family and friends. The girls raised $3,000, which will fund scholarships for girls to attend camp next summer.
Riley and her mom, Tara, also attended the Shine Brightly Mother-Daughter Summit, a full day with guest speakers and breakout sessions.
“They really focus on empowerment and accountability,” says Tara. “Riley wants to go to the mother-daughter summit every year and camp next summer. I would recommend the program 100 percent to other families.”
As for Riley, participating in Girls Rule has opened up new opportunities to make friends and learn important new skills.
“Girls Rule is a world-changing organization,” says Riley. “There’s an amazing community there, who all work hard to empower girls and support them in accomplishing long- and short-term goals, following their dreams. I have acquired amazing knowledge that has helped me do things I never believed I was capable of.”
To reach its budget goal of $325,000, Girls Rule Foundation is launching its second fundraiser of the year Oct. 11 to coincide with International Day of the Girl.
“We’re doing a 24-hour GoFundMe Girls Change the World Campaign,” says Patton. “Our goal is to raise $50,000 on that day.”
In addition to continuing the organization’s programs and workshops in Phoenix, Patton has plans to open 1,000 Dream Labs across the country next year. She is excited about growing the program to help more girls navigate their teen years with confidence and success.
“What I love most is seeing a girl knowing her power, knowing her voice, knowing her dreams and truly understanding that she can achieve them,” she says.
Story by Leigh Farr
Photography by Mark Lipczynski