It is difficult to be a young woman in Chicago’s infamous South Side neighborhood. In the shadows of skyscrapers and the financial empires of the Midwest, South Side girls are faced with unprecedented gang activity, continuous economic decline, and crumbling educational institutions. Within this challenging environment, medical students Deepa Bhat and Jackie Corley formed WilPower, an organization that provides high school girls with mentors to assist with homework, college applications, and life in general.
“Wilpower was created in the fall of 2013 to fill a leadership void in the lives of young women at an impressionable time of their lives,” Bhat said. “Today, so many young girls are faced with a destructive confidence deficiency that can lead to a lot of other problems. We wanted to address that confidence gap, and we felt that, more than with any other group, girls on the South Side needed extra assistance.”
Bhat and Corley, both third-year students at Rush Medical College, designed WilPower to be a one-on-one mentorship program and have successfully matched 22 students with 21 mentors in two of Chicago’s public high schools.
“Mentors work with students to determine what their goals for the relationship are. Whether it’s helping a girl study for the SATs or taking a student out to lunch to chat, mentors try to be a stable and positive influence in an unstable and difficult world,” explained Bhat.
Many of the students in WilPower routinely struggle with family and personal difficulties. Some of the girls in the program have relatives in prison, others have been the victims of crime themselves, and many of the students come from single-parent households.
“More than anything else, this program is about giving back to the community. So many of our mentors are young professional women who have never had to face the kinds of struggles that our girls face every single day,” Bhat said. “The world often looks at these high school kids and thinks that the challenges they face are too difficult to overcome. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These young women are some of the strongest people I have ever met, and they have big dreams and high expectations for themselves.”
WilPower is more than just a simple mentorship program for girls; it is a grassroots force for change that bypasses the bureaucracies and inefficiencies of city hall and the state capital. Bhat and Corley are not waiting for the problems that plague the South Side to be solved by another government agency or promise from a politician; they are creating the change they want to see in the world and the community desperately needs.
Sources: Phone interview with Deepa Bhat on January 11, 2014.