WOW – Working On Womanhood ™

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Guiding the Journey to Womanhood

Diamond* was just nine years old when she lost her mom to violence. Now in high school, she continues to grapple with the pain of her mother’s murder. At a time when other teens are making friends and having fun, she has often felt discouraged, angry and alone. Grief has made it difficult to do well in school.

Since being introduced to the Working on Womanhood (WOW) program, Diamond is showing growth. She now has a trusted circle of support and is receiving the encouragement she needs to regain inner-strength and a sense of optimism. With a highly skilled WOW counselor to help guide her through tough times, Diamond is improving academically, connecting with her peers and gaining the confidence she’ll need for future success.

Achieving womanhood is hard work. The WOW program offers young women like Diamond a bridge from fear, frustration and doubt to positive choices, emotional intelligence and hope. At Youth Guidance, we believe that when a girl works on womanhood, there is no limit to the positive influence she can have in the world.

*Name changed for confidentiality.

About WOW…

For many girls, the journey to womanhood—and opportunities for future happiness and prosperity—can be a struggle due to emotional wounds, low self-esteem and other challenges. In 2011, a group of female social workers, led by its Director Gail Day,  at Youth Guidance joined forces to help young girls from Chicago’s toughest schools achieve personal and future career success.

Today, WOW is a multifaceted, school year-long group counseling and clinical mentoring program. WOW works to improve social-emotional competencies for girls in 7th-12th grade exposed to traumatic stressors in high risk and under-resourced communities. Launched in 2011, the school-based program runs throughout the academic year and currently serves about 2,400 students in 40 Chicago schools. WOW is currently undergoing a study by the University of Chicago Urban Labs to evaluate mental health and academic outcomes of the program.

Using a Trauma-Informed approach, WOW targets young women with significant risk factors for dropout or delinquency such as: teenage pregnancy, trauma, drug or alcohol abuse, self-harm, gang involvement, fighting, academic failure and discipline referrals. Many WOW girls have also been victims of sexual or physical abuse. Participants are identified through referrals by teachers, school administrators and parents. To read more, click here: Working on Womanhood (WOW): A participatory formative evaluation of a community-developed intervention

Too many young women in Chicago don’t have the tools or support they need to thrive. The struggles that girls face outside of the classroom — witnessing or experiencing violence, working to help pay the family’s bills, or helping to raise younger siblings — directly impact their ability to focus and learn in school. We believe that no matter what challenges a young woman faces, they are more likely to succeed when they have additional caring adults in their lives. WOW offers programs in more than 30 of the most challenging schools across Chicago that guide young women through their education, and set them on the path toward a healthy and successful life. We meet girls where they are — physically and emotionally — to help them recognize and reach their full potential. WOW Counselors provide counseling and support to the students who need it most, helping them transform their lives. The work we do with girls in schools to help them overcome educational and life challenges creates a foundation which translates into a lifetime of opportunity and success.

WOW Program Assessment & Evaluation

selfawareYouth Guidance’s Research and Evaluation Department is continually learning from qualitative and qualitative data to make process improvements and strengthen WOW’s program model. To better understand the social-emotional needs of young women, WOW implemented a number of new evaluation tools during the 2014-2015 school year, including: the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, the Adolescent “Patient Health Questionnaire” Depression Index, The Child and Adolescent Trauma Symptom Scale and the Reactive-Proactive Aggression Questionnaire. These clinical tools formally assess WOW students’ exposure to trauma and mental health needs at intake.  Findings revealed that the vast majority of WOW participants have experienced trauma and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

  • 84% of WOW students reported 5 or more lifetime exposures to trauma.
  • 82% of WOW students have had someone close to them die.
  • 67% of WOW. students have been slapped, hit or punched by someone.
  • 30% of WOW students have seen someone else being shot at or shot with a real gun.

Research shows that students’ levels of depression and aggression decreased during WOW program participation.  On the Patient Health Questionnaire, 72% of WOW participants reported some degree of depression at pre-test.

After one year of WOW intervention, 67% of those participants experienced a decrease in depression, with the greatest drop being among those with “moderately severe” or “severe” depression indicators at intake.

Partnering for Innovation with Lurie Children’s Hospital & Northwestern University


In 2014, WOW and Lurie Children’s (LC)/Northwestern University formed a partnership to work towards a community-engaged WOW program evaluation.  Through the support of an Evergreen Invitational Women’s Health grant, the partnership has developed into a unique collaboration between grassroots providers and academic experts to build upon WOW’s effectiveness in addressing behavioral health problems in at-risk girls. Youth Guidance and LC plan to embark upon a curriculum and training refinement process that involves a community and academic advisory committee and work group, as well as enhanced counselor training. This project will emphasize best practices and links between program goals and theory to increase WOW’s ability to impactfully serve even more young women in the years ahead.

P1030238_PortraitIMG_2631According to a 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, high school aged girls in Chicago were more likely to attempt or seriously consider suicide, use alcohol, and engage in risky sexual behaviors, as compared to their male counterparts.  Girls need a sense of life’s possibilities, the capacity to make positive decisions, and a solid understanding of the biological, emotional, and social forces that accompany the road to womanhood.

WOW students learn to set realistic goals and gain confidence in their ability to achieve them. The program cultivates Five Core Values in young girls to help safeguard their future success.

Self-Awareness: I have power. I know who I am. I accept who I am. I inspire others to become who they want to be.

Emotional Intelligence: I am resilient.  I recognize and use all of my emotions.  I respond in healthy ways to other’s emotions.

Healthy Relationships:  I respect myself and others.  I maintain healthy boundaries in my relationships. I communicate my needs and wants. I advocate for myself.

Visionary Goal-Setting: I have goals. I am motivated. I overcome barriers. I work on my goals every day.

Leadership: I am a leader. I set goals. I am accountable. I seek mentors to show me the way. I take a role in improving my community.

Kametta Clark, WOW Counselor

Length of time at Youth Guidance – “I have been working for Youth-Guidance for the past 10 years.”

A Very Proud Moment – “My success story stems from a family that were unaware of Counseling, and were against it initially. I eventually received buy in from not only the student, but her mother as well. The student began to embrace the process, which made her mother interested in what interventions was making such a change within her daughter’s behavior as well as within her academics. This was a very proud moment for myself looking at the effort it took to get the student to that point.”

Best part of the day – “The best part of my day is when a student comes to my office, and is reflective about what she has taken from the WOW process.  I am inspired by the constant change that I see around and within my students. It drives me to stay positive and  consistent in my day to day work ethics as well.”

WOW H.S. Grads!

Supporting WOW means supporting the awesome potential of young girls. By giving, you help increase Youth Guidance’s capacity to deliver transformative outreach and resources that help girls forge more realistic and hopeful pathways toward womanhood.  

Every gift has the power to change a life!

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