By Stephanie Dolan
A single mother of 16-year-old twins, Shalanda Jackson wasn’t always without a partner. But, sadly, the children’s father passed away when they were 4, leaving Jackson to raise the kids on her own.
“I’ve always kept my son involved in organizations and around men and didn’t really realize how important it was for my daughter until she was older and then realized the only consistent male role models were the boys at school,” she said. “That’s not always the most positive role model for her.”
As a result, Jackson, 34, of Franklin Township, decided to start her own mentoring program for young girls, Treasured GEM, which stands for Girls Embracing Magnificence.
“I’m trying to break this generational thing that’s happening in our family,” she said. “We got our 501(c) (3) status in July 2018. We are literally just starting, and are officially kicking off in August as an afterschool program. I’ve had my daughter come in as a peer mentor, so she’s going to be involved in the program too.”
The healthcare business analyst will begin her program at Vision Academy at Riverside.
A curriculum in self-confidence
“And then I have a few propositions out to other schools to see if I can get in there,” she said. “We have a curriculum. The point is about empowerment and letting these girls know they need to love themselves for who they are. Our curriculum is built off of ‘I SEE’ statements.”
For instance: social media – “I see when to not reply.” Bullying – “I see it. I stop it.”
“It’s all geared after ‘I see’ affirmations and statements,” she reiterated.
“When Shalanda was initially telling me that she wanted to do something like this to show young ladies that there are men out there who want to step up I thought it was a great idea,” Treasured GEM volunteer and mother Kenya Johnson said. “There are a lot of young ladies who don’t have male role models or mentors period, and I thought it would bring overall greatness to them – something that a mother or female role model couldn’t show them that a man could. When Shalanda came to me and was advising me I thought it was a great idea. I really think this is something that will grow into a bigger and better standard for our area – the entire Indianapolis community – something that will eventually grow to other cities as well.”
Johnson’s girls, Kaleea, 13, and Jamea, 11, have already been involved in the program.
“I would definitely say having a role model as far as a male figure will empower anyone,” she said. “But it definitely shows within my daughters. They do have their father in their lives, but to have someone there to be a helping hand gives them a lot of encouragement. I would say it has helped them and given them someone to look up to.”
Rana McChristian’s daughter, Riley, 12, has also been participating in the program. She said Riley enjoys the social interaction of meeting other girls who share a commonality.
“My daughter is a cerebral kid but she does like to be social but the opportunity to meet other girls is always on her mind because she likes to make friends who aren’t necessarily within her school group or extra-curriculars,” McChristian said. “As a parent, it is my hope she can be an influence to others and be influenced by others who are seeking the same level of positivity and interest. Initially, the goal of Treasured GEM was to provide girls who don’t have a male parent in their lives to hear from male role models and other girls who may be in that same position I think they all have a story to share. Learning about humanity comes from learning your story. I’m proud there’s an organization that’s been started like this.”
A community introduction
“So far, I’ve had a breakfast in March and that was at the University of Indianapolis,” Jackson said. “What we did was kind of introduce our organization to the community. We opened it up to anyone to come. We had a motivational speaker. We had the girls sit at a table, and we had at least one male mentor at each table. The speaker did interactive activities with us and got us comfortable with each other. He showed us why it’s important that we have a male mentor in our lives.”
How is Jackson finding male mentors to be part of the program?
“Right now it’s kind of been just word of mouth and different men I know and work with and meeting and recommending people,” she said. “They just have to be over 21, pass a criminal background check and have some sort of background with children – they have to feel comfortable working with young ladies.”
The program does not only include mentoring and empowerment, but also creativity and critical thinking.
“Right now, we’re set up on an eight-week curriculum,” Jackson said.
That curriculum will include activities centered on those “I See” statements. “I see my future self” will involve creating a vision board. “I see my purpose” will involve goal setting. And “I see myself” will involve a discussion on self-image.
“We’ll work on different topics and bring mentors in to work on the girls’ comfort level,” Jackson said. “After those eight weeks, we’re going to start mentoring with group activities.”
As a busy mom working full time, Jackson has her work cut out for her and hopes to one day make Treasured GEM her full-time day job.
“I need to work on my exit strategy,” she said. “The plan is to try to get this up and running, get some funding and – after two years – get some grants so that I can be paid a salary.”
Treasured GEM works with middle school girls, ages eight to 13.
“I appreciate her for having the mindset to bring this to the forefront with the issue that may be in a lot of communities we don’t know about,” Johnson said. “I thank her for coming up with this Treasured GEM, so that young ladies can come together and be empowered.”
For more information on Treasured GEM, visit the website at treasuredgeminc.org.
5 Questions with Shalanda Jackson
Who or what inspires you? My children are my inspiration.
What is your favorite movie? Lion King
What is the last book you read? The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins
Do you have any pets? No pets
What is your favorite thing to do with your kids? Go on vacation