BY NATHAN DUKE
Celebrating its first year with a ceremony that will feature awards and scholarships, Guyanese Girls Rock is living up to its goal of empowering and mentoring young Guyanese women. Founded by Cloyette Harris-Stoute, the nonprofit—which operates out of the teen center in Jamaica’s Queens Central Library—also aims to inspire teenage girls from the Caribbean nation to take on leadership roles.
Harris-Stoute was born in Guyana and attended high school there before migrating to the United States in 1993. She lived in St. Albans and attended SUNY’s College of Health Related Professions. In 2012, she launched a blog—Guyanese Girls Rock—that celebrates the accomplishments and achievements of Guyanese women across the globe. Five years later, she launched the Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation, a Queens-based nonprofit that kicked off its leadership academy in January at the Queens Central Library.
“Our mission is to harness the power of leadership in young women,” Harris-Stoute said. “We’re dedicated to empowering them to create their own paths of success.”
The Young Women Leadership Academy—which runs once per year from January to June—welcomed its first class this year. The program, which is held on Saturdays, is split up into two parts—its first hour includes a leadership course, while the second hour is spent listening to or meeting with mentors and professional speakers.
“We teach them a little about Guyanese heritage and culture,” Harris-Stoute said. “Other workshops focus on confidence building, money management, self care, bullying and job preparedness. Basically, the program’s focus is on three key areas—identity building, developing self confidence and learning leadership skills.”
The program also includes a community outreach component. On June 2, the program’s participants will take part in a clean-up effort at Roy Wilkins Park that will be followed by a picnic. The academy also takes part in field trips during its six-month program.
The program’s first group included eight girls, two of whom are seniors. It welcomes all high school-age girls. However, Harris-Stoute said she believed that due to the positive response the program has received, she expects it could be at full capacity—25 participants—this coming year.
“The girls love it, and some of the parents have told us that it’s a great outlet for them,” Harris-Stoute said. “We try to make it fun and interactive. We’re very selective, so that mentors are relatable to the girls. Young women flourish when they can interact with women who look like them or who they can relate to. We want to offer them a safe space where they can open up and interact.”
Guyanese Girls Rock offers two scholarships—a merit scholarship, for which students must attend a two- or four-year college and obtain a 2.5 grade point average to be eligible, and a technology scholarship, which recognizes young women who have an interest in such technology-related fields as STEM, engineering or computers. For the former, recipients receive $1,000, while the latter—which requires a 3.0 grade point average to be eligible—awards $1,000 and a new laptop computer.
On June 23, the foundation is hosting its first major fundraiser—the Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation Awards and Luncheon, which will honor 10 women from the Guyanese community with Women of Influence awards—at Antun’s in Queens Village. During the event, the two scholarships will be awarded to the academy’s graduates, while the remaining members of the program will receive certificates. Harris-Stoute said that tickets to the event—which runs from noon to 4 p.m.—can be purchased on Eventbrite.
Harris-Stoute said that the academy will continue to be hosted at the Queens Central Library, at least for the foreseeable future.
“It’s a good space for now, until we expand,” she said. “I’d love for us to have our own location, but it depends on funding.”