Think events like bridal or baby shower, but instead of giving gifts to couples getting married or having babies, the celebration is for high school graduates about to start an equally exciting chapter of their lives: college.
Organizers at Girls Inc. of Santa Fe have planned a virtual “college shower” Thursday for three teens, members who finished their senior year this spring: Isabella “Izzy” Willard, Leevee Martinez and Brianna Garcia.
Because the novel coronavirus pandemic has canceled most formal graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020, organizers of Girls Inc. — a nonprofit meant to inspire girls between 5 and 18 years old “to be strong, smart and bold,” according to its mission statement — said they hope the event provides a similarly symbolic sense of closure and empowerment as the young women transition into adulthood.
“I think it’s really important that the girls have these types of rites of passage moving from one point of life to the next,” said Kim Brown, the organization’s president and executive director.
Girls Inc. staff started planning a way to honor grads before COVID-19 arrived. The plan was to host a luncheon with an emphasis on fundraising, Brown said. Once the pandemic spread, staff started brainstorming an online celebration.
Brown and others at the nonprofit reached out to Willard, Martinez and Garcia in April, asking what types of items they needed most before moving away to begin college. They then opened a registry with Target, where people could buy essentials for the trio.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 160 items had been purchased for the girls, including bedsheets and comforters, laundry detergent, miniature vacuums, calculators and toiletry carriers. Using donor funding for the shower, organizers were able to also buy larger items, such as laptop computers.
For the girls, the shower aims to alleviate financial stress, said Brown, noting that by having these necessities, they can “focus completely on what they’re doing, which is going to school.”
For example, Willard, a St. Michael’s graduate who was named Girls Inc. of Santa Fe’s Girl of the Year in 2019, said her only financial obligation is buying textbooks.
“It definitely helps me financially not to have that stress [of buying dorm room necessities], because college is already expensive,” said Garcia, a Santa Fe High graduate who plans to attend New Mexico State University in the fall and pursue a degree in nursing. “It’s another safety net for us.”
The virtual shower will begin at 4:30 p.m. Thursday over the video conference platform Zoom.
“It’s really special, in a sense, to know they care about us that much. It’s really heartwarming,” said Garcia.
“It shows me how much they care for me to grow outside of Girls Inc.,” said Willard, who plans to attend Colorado State University in the fall to pursue a degree in zoology.
Willard has participated in Girls Inc. programs since she was 8 and recently served on its leadership council. Garcia joined when she was 13.
And Martinez, a Santa Fe High graduate who will attend the University of Arizona and pursue a career in criminal justice, came to Girls Inc. when she was 6.
Each of the girls agreed that they’re prepared for whatever lies ahead because of the years they spent growing into better versions of themselves at Girls Inc. “One of the lessons I’ve learned is to take a safe risk, to put yourself out there,” Willard said, adding the organization “has helped me become more confident and easy going. I’m not so nervous around people anymore.”
“It’s important to teach girls to love who they are,” said Garcia, adding that “being equipped with confidence has made [preparing for college] less scary for me.”
No matter what, Brown is certain Willard, Martinez and Garcia will continue to inspire other girls “to be strong, smart and bold” — just as they’ve always done.
“They’re going to go out and change the world,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to see what they do.”