Each month, the Office of Civic & Community Engagement (OCCE) profiles a community partner and its relationship with Wake Forest University. For the month of October, the OCCE is proud to introduce Founder and Executive Director of LEAD Girls of NC, Joy Nelson, and WFU Assistant Teaching Professor of Writing and ACE Fellow, Keri Epps Mathis. 

Learning Everyday Accomplishing Dreams (LEAD) Girls of NC is dedicated to providing the tools and resources that low-income/at-risk preteen girls must have to become productive citizens and active leaders in their communities. Using an evidence-based curriculum, LEAD encourages and mentors girls to aspire and achieve greatness academically, emotionally and creatively.

Learn more about LEAD Girls of NC by visiting their website. Interested in becoming a volunteer with Lead Girls of NC? Please complete their Volunteer Interest Form.  

Joy Nelson Thomas, Founder and Executive Director of LEAD Girls of NC

What does your organization do for the community?
We have three programs that work with the community, that are specific to preteen girls: 

  • Summer Fashion Camp, which focuses on entrepreneurship and teaches girls the basics of business, branding, and marketing and allows participants to model their creations from the camp at the end of the program . 
  • Girls Rising Expo, an annual event that features a full day of workshops and presentations designed to prepare girls for the social, emotional, and academic aspects of high school. 
  • School-year programs, offered in local schools throughout the week and on the weekend at LEAD Girls of NC, that focus on leadership and emotional development. 

Can you talk about your impact in the community?

Lead Girls of NC

Joy Nelson, Founder and Executive Director of LEAD Girls of NC, with participants at Summer Fashion Camp.

Every program that we do is analyzed by an evidence based approach so that we can accurately measure the impact of our programs on preteen girls. We generally do a pre- and post-program survey with the participants to gain insight on where the girls stand in four principles: awareness, communication, leadership, and perspective. 

In the last year we have served around 150 girls through our programs. Using our approach and surveys, we found that approximately 95 percent were more confident in goal setting, 80 percent were more confident in their communication skills, and 80 percent had a more positive attitude about themselves after completing our programs. 

How has the partnership with Wake Forest University helped your organization?
The LEAD Academy, a mentoring and literacy program for middle school girls, started with Wake Women LEAD student leader, Cat Gussman. It has been through this partnership, that we have received a lot of support in getting the The LEAD Academy to its pilot year and staffed with volunteers. 

We also have an AmeriCorps*VISTA from the Winston Salem Community Action Coalition, Ieisha Carter, who is doing a fantastic job. So far she has been working on identifying both service opportunities for volunteers that want to work with LEAD Girls of NC, and grants and funders to help with program sustainability. I don’t believe in starting a program that is not going to be sustainable, so funding is a very important piece of what we do. 

LEAD Girls of NC Anniversary Gala 2018

Executive Director, Joy Nelson with LEAD Girls of NC honorees at the 2018 Anniversary Gala.

How can people get involved with Lead Girls NC?
Right now we are trying to figure out what is going to be the best fit, in terms of service, for volunteers to work with us. We are looking at ways for volunteers to support us with administrative tasks, or to be a part of an ambassador group that works with community outreach. We encourage anyone that wants to volunteer to reach out to us, we are always open to people that want to share their skills and talents with us. 

Are there any upcoming events for the public to attend?
We have an event that we host every year for our donors in December, this year the event will be at Bailey Power Plant in downtown Winston-Salem. We also have our Leading the Way Inaugural Award and Soiree on March 22, 2020; this is a time for us to honor the girls that we have mentored and the community partners that we have worked with.

Dr. Keri Epps Mathis, Department of English, Assistant Teaching Professor of Writing

Dr. Keri Epps Mathis LEAD Girls NC

Dr. Keri Epps Mathis at a LEAD Girls of NC event.

How did you get involved with LEAD Girls of NC? What projects have you worked on?
As a Ph.D. student at the University of Louisville, community engagement was a large part of my work. I often volunteered with and mentored middle school girls, with a primary focus on writing and literacy. Entering my second year as a faculty member at Wake Forest, I really missed the community engagement that I had in Louisville; so, I wanted to pursue a partnership with an organization that aligned with my interests: empowerment and literacy. 

That is when I was connected with LEAD Girls of NC and met Executive Director, Joy Nelson. I came into the organization with the intention of volunteering to stay connected with the community but was later asked to serve on the Board of Directors. In my capacity as both a member of the Board with LEAD Girls of NC and ACE Fellow at Wake Forest, one of the projects I am working on is The LEAD Academy. 

During the academy planning process, I consulted with LEAD Girls of NC and Dr. Angela Monell, a board member and local vice-principal, during the planning and design of LEAD Academy, a mentoring and literacy program that meets every Thursday at Winston Salem Preparatory Academy, matching middle school students with a student from Wake Forest. Dr. Monell developed the curriculum, and I helped to identify ways that Wake students could implement the curriculum and support the program during this pilot year.  We look forward to seeing the outcomes of all the preparation and dedication that went into this program. 

How does this partnership relate to your work on campus?
Wake Women LEAD is a student organization on campusfor which I am the faculty advisor that focuses on women’s empowerment and leadership. A lot of the students are volunteering as mentors for The LEAD Academy and have worked throughout the summer to complete the necessary training and make this a possibility. As far as my classes, I am giving members of my Writing 111 course, Exploring Community Writing, the option to participate in the mentorship program with LEAD Girls at Winston Salem Preparatory Academy.

What are you most proud of from this partnership? What is your highlight so far?
I am most proud of watching The LEAD Academy transform into the program it is now, going into its pilot year. It’s so surreal to see how many women want to be involved in the program and have shown up for the two-hour-long training needed to volunteer. I am thrilled to see members from LEAD Girls of NC, Wake Women LEAD, and Wake Forest come together to make this mentorship and literacy program a possibility.