Where the Vans Go: Project Girl Mentoring Program

Where the Vans Go: Project Girl Mentoring Program

As we kick off Pride month and as communities prepare to celebrate Juneteenth, Community Transit is grateful for the opportunity to spotlight an organization serving local youth with intersecting identities. Project Girl Mentoring Program has been serving young women of color between the ages of 11 and 18 in Snohomish County for more than a decade. Why young women of color? Class, race, immigration status, sexual identity, and other identities intersect in the lives of girls of color, driving unique disparities, and Project Girl works to combat those disparities and help young women thrive. 

“We’re really just trying to provide a space for them to be the awesome young women that we know they are and providing them with the environment they need to thrive,” says founder and director Olympia Edwards.

The Mission of Project Girl Mentoring Program is to foster the advancement of young women of color to make positive life choices and to maximize their authentic potential. Over the last decade, Edwards has grown Project Girl from a passion project that operated out of her garage to a nonprofit that has served teens and tweens throughout Snohomish County.

“Teens need a space for themselves to deal with whatever they are going through. I wanted to create a space where they can be themselves and feel heard — where they have someone to listen to them,” says Edwards. 

Project Girl was awarded a 7-passenger van in 2022 through Community Transit’s Van GO program, and the vehicle has quickly become a vital tool in the services they provide. 

Vans reaching the end of their service life with Community Transit’s Vanpool shared commute program can get a second chance to make a difference in the community by being awarded to local nonprofit organizations. Community Transit’s Van GO competitive grant program launched in 2000 and has since awarded 158 vans and wheelchair lift-equipped paratransit vehicles to qualified 501(c)3 organizations throughout Snohomish County. In 2021, 42 nonprofit groups submitted applications. Recipients were chosen based on how they proposed to use the vehicles to serve their communities.

Project Girl’s Immersion Lab Program teaches mentees the skills and tools they need to make a positive impact on their health and wellness. Mentees explore interactive activities, art therapy, movement classes, wellness,  sisterhood, and more. Since 2012, Project Girl has had more than 95 cohorts of girls and over a thousand mentees.  

For Edwards, the van offers another way for her to help remove barriers for the young women her organization serves. During the pandemic, it was especially helpful as they navigated new barriers.

“At first, the pandemic stopped everything,” says Edwards. “We were operating at six different schools, and we were an in-person program. When after-school programs were shut down, we had to figure out what we were going to do. We knew the girls that we were working with were some of the most vulnerable. They needed a voice — someone to look after them — and we knew how important it was to provide a space for them. Thankfully, we were able to acquire a few grants and partnerships, which enabled us to have a space of our own for the program in Lynnwood. We moved into our new space in May of 2021.” 

“Sometimes the girls we serve don’t have the transportation they need to get to our program. Now we are able to pick them up and bring them back home safely. We also try to bring girls out of our area to see different things and have different experiences. We don’t have to rely on parents to drive. It removes another barrier to experiences and outings.”

Edwards encourages anyone who is inspired by the work that her org does to consider volunteering, donating, or even sharing the info with a girl who could benefit from the programming. Learn more at project-girl.com.

“As a mentoring program, we know we can't do it alone. Our program succeeds because of the efforts of our entire community and its supporters,” she says. 

Community Transit plans to grant more vehicles to local nonprofit organizations later this year. Do you know of a local organization doing important work in our community? Share this opportunity with them so they can apply when we begin taking applications:  visit communitytransit.org/vango to learn more.

Tags: Van-GO, van-go-2021