Sometimes the best way to fill a need is to meet it head on. That’s what T’wina Franklin did back in 2012 when she, along with Tasha Ina Church, founded Ladies First, a school-based program dedicated to empowering young women to make healthy decisions and promote free thinking and cultural awareness in their everyday lives.
“Ladies First was designed in response to a need at a local middle school in Tacoma,” says Franklin. “The principal at that time requested assistance with fostering positive relationships between the young women attending the school. Tasha connected with me, shared the principal’s concerns and asked if I would be interested in mentoring middle school girls. I was in from the beginning.”
“We volunteered our time and resources the last three months of the 2011-12 school year,” says Franklin. During the summer of 2012, after being asked to provide similar programming at additional schools, they decided to create a small business. That way they could expand their program without having to take a personal financial hit. They would be able to offer quality programming to more kids by charging a small fee for their time and for program materials.
When Church moved to Hawaii two years ago, it could have spelled the end of the program, but Franklin decided to keep pushing forward on her own, and Ladies First continues to grow and thrive.
Franklin, who holds an M.A. in Teaching and B.A. in U.S. Politics, both from the University of Puget Sound, is a full-time academic instructor and pre-college advisor at Lincoln High School in Tacoma. She is also an elected official, serving on the University Place School Board. In all of her roles, her dedication to community is paramount. Service to her community is a passion, she says, and it comes from personal experience. “When I was younger, my community saved me,” explains Franklin. “Today my community continues to play an important role in my life.” Giving back, she says, is a duty and an honor.
What she hopes to achieve with Ladies First is to develop a community of trust and support among the young women who participate. “Ladies First is more than a program for young women. It’s a living, breathing sisterhood that celebrates intellect, diversity, beauty, love, empowerment, realness and friendship.”
“Ladies First has always offered programming at schools during the school year, but now we design summer camps, host community events and have an extensive list of partnerships with organizations who seek to educate and empower women and girls,” explains Franklin. In any given calendar year, the program will reach between 70 and 300 girls depending on programming.
This school year, Ladies First is engaging approximately 45 young women in two different school programs. Franklin estimates between 12 and 15 volunteers have or will be participating during the course of the year. Community organizations often partner to aid with programming. Activities are varied and have included everything from body-image workshops and self-defense training to the assumption game and cultural awareness discussions. Guest speakers – successful women from the Tacoma community who share about their lives, jobs and personal journeys – are a staple.
Current projects include bike rides with VeloFemmes, an all-female cycling advocacy group, attending and presenting at the Camp Seymour Sisterhood Retreat with the YMCA and Fahren Johnson, prepping for a photoshoot and billboard campaign with Girl Scout of Western Washington, offering free yoga for students in partnership with councilwoman Denise McCluskey and developing more summer camps with Tacoma Urban League.
Ladies First regular meetings range from 30 minutes to one hour, one day a week. In addition to guest speakers, the meetings give participants a chance to check in with each other, to share how their lives are going. “We laugh a lot and we keep it real with each other,” says Franklin. “Ladies First members grow into better women and honestly I have too.”
There is a growing need for young people to have a voice and be able to express themselves. Sometimes they need guidance learning how to express themselves in a positive way. And sometimes all it takes is one adult, one person, to remind a young person of their value as a person. T’wina Franklin and Ladies First are striving to fill that need for young women in Tacoma.
Would you like to get involved? Franklin is always looking for additional mentors and guest speakers to share their stories, passions, careers and hobbies. She also welcomes partnerships with organizations that work to help women and girls thrive.
You can contact T’wina Franklin at Ladies1stOrg@gmail.com