They live in the same Pleasant Run Farms home, but teenage sisters Morganne and Madisyn Holt have different personalities. Morganne, who turns 14 in March, is shy. Madisyn, 13, is more outgoing. In September 2018, their mother, Nicole Holt, suggested the girls enroll in Ladies of Leadership (LOL), a nonprofit mentoring program for minority girls ages 7 to 18.
True to their nature, Madisyn immediately embraced the idea and looked forward to making new friends, while Morganne initially was hesitant. But 2½ years later, the sisters are in sync when it comes to describing the impact LOL has had on their personal growth.
“It’s helped me gain leadership skills, and it’s helped me build better relationships with my friends and my family,” Madisyn says.
“I’ve definitely become more confident and open-minded,” says Morganne, who also has taken on a leadership role within LOL.
LOL has been instilling self-esteem and building confidence in girls since 2007. The goal, founder and CEO Kimberly Huckleby says, is to help them reach their full potential so they can thrive academically, economically and socially.
Today LOL serves about 200 girls. Almost all are Black. More than 80 percent live in single-parent households. More than 60 percent of those families receive public assistance.
In 2020, LOL received a $25,000 grant from United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s Black Empowerment Works (BEW), which invests in Black-led, grassroots programs that address poverty. But in addition to a monetary infusion, United Way supports grantees by connecting them to other partners and resources.
Here’s an example: In late summer 2020, Laura Wells, United Way’s senior manager for volunteer and community engagement, was approached by Procter & Gamble officials who were seeking an academic tutoring opportunity for P&G employees. Wells spoke with Jena’ Bradley, United Way’s senior manager for community impact, who pointed her to Huckleby. Wells then connected Huckleby with the P&Gers. The result: Since last fall, about 50 P&G employees have been tutoring LOL students, including Morganne Holt.
“She’s helped me a lot with understanding math,” Morganne says of her P&G tutor.
At LOL’s core, however, are its three dozen volunteer mentors, the professional women who meet with girls three times a month in small-group settings. Unfortunately, the pandemic has curtailed many in-person LOL activities.
“It’s been way different,” Madisyn says, of connecting with mentors and friends in virtual settings. “I miss seeing people, and being around people.”
In normal times, mentors and girls also gather monthly for community service projects or social outings. LOL emphasizes the importance of giving back, and the organization offers plenty of volunteer opportunities. The Holt girls have served at soup kitchens, packed meals for the hungry, and handed out blankets for winter. Their father, LaMonte, and mother have taken part, too.
“I really enjoy helping others,” Morganne says. For the past two summers, she and her sister have served as junior leaders at LOL’s summer reading and enrichment program. That experience has benefited her daughters immensely, Nicole Holt says.
“Being able to reach out to a younger child — help them learn how to read, work with them on math, see that child progress — lets (the girls) know they have skills they can share with someone else.”
It’s one way LOL builds self-confidence in girls. Spending time with mentors who are role models is another.
“It’s been a way for me to see women doing amazing things,” Madisyn says, “and for me to know that no matter what, I can grow up and be an amazing woman, too. I can do great things.”