While YOUNG WOMEN ON THE MOVE was incorporated in Kansas in 2005 and received its official IRS nonprofit status in 2007, the groundwork began many years ago as Mary Beth Gentry, founder and executive director, searched for her own empowerment, sense of self-worth, and life purpose. After Mary Beth moved to Kansas in 1998, she began to discover God’s plan through her exposure to a holistic understanding of women’s health as shown by physicians and faculty at KU School of Medicine where she worked.
Through her time at the School of Medicine, Mary Beth saw the reality of a broken community failing its children. At the same time, she began to understand that a mother’s health directly affected the health of her family and of her community. And Mary Beth wanted to help these women and their communities grow whole.
Armed with a year’s study and a master’s certificate in Community Health and Development from the University of Kansas, Mary Beth created a plan for an initiative that would help adolescent girls grow into healthy women in mind, body, and spirit. With the help of champions from the community and school district, YOUNG WOMEN ON THE MOVE was founded as a nonprofit in September 2005 to serve middle school and high school girls in Kansas City, KS.
The first YOUNG WOMEN ON THE MOVE program was offered at Argentine Middle School and Wyandotte High School and consisted of weekly in-school life skills programs led by Mary Beth and one Americorps volunteer. In the following years, more schools joined the program: Central Middle in 2006, J.C. Harmon High in 2007, F.L. Schlagle High in 2008, and Northwest Middle in 2010.
In 2008, the program expanded from a school-based program to a combined after school program at Mt. Olive Baptist Church on Wednesdays. This extended period away from school allowed the girls time to work on team building exercises, skills and character development, and to receive life coaching. Also, the continued weekly in-school small group sessions facilitated by trained volunteers and staff created a stronger connection to the girls and school personnel.
As awareness of the program grew, referrals from faculty and classmates rapidly increased, resulting in the need for more staff. Also, many girls seeking membership in YWOM often had pre-existing mental and emotional health concerns that required intensive and long-term intervention. A grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City supported the hire of a licensed social worker to provide counseling and intervention. Social work interns from KU and UMKC began serving 9-month practicums and a program coordinator organized the after school program and maintained communication between the schools, parents, and girls. Many volunteers were recruited to offer life skills training, health instruction, and academic/career counseling.
While YWOM has seen 100% of its members graduate from high school, the need was clear that YWOM must help its members be better prepared for success in college and life. In 2010, the first Job Success Workshop was held. This annual multi-week spring workshop for members 16 years and older exposes and prepares girls with the necessary skills and attitudes for finding and keeping a job, managing finances, and navigating the adult world.
In 2012, YWOM launched the Culinary Academy and garden project to provide experiential learning opportunities in health, cooking, and entrepreneurship for its girls and other community youth. The program was officially launched with the corporate support of Cargill Industries and members of two well-respected chef organizations: Greater Kansas City Chefs Association and Les Dames d’Escoffier International.
Today, YOUNG WOMEN ON THE MOVE serves over 150 girls in six Kansas City, KS schools and enjoys the school district’s full endorsement as its mentoring program for girls.