By Tammy Murga
Signal Staff Writer
Katie Geyer, former Santa Clarita Valley resident and Signal reporter, believes there’s power behind writing. From covering the tireless work of local nonprofits to exposing the challenges of today’s homeless population, she saw her words had paved the way for a more educated and engaged community.
Simply put, Geyer said, “Writing can change people’s lives; it can save lives.”
While she no longer covers the SCV, her motto still stands. She didn’t know to what extent it would apply in her new job, however.
In 2012, she started volunteering for WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps girls boost self-expression and creativity through writing. The free program matches over 500 participants — ages 13 through 18 — with 200 women writers who mentor them annually.
Besides writing, WriteGirl also produces dozens of workshops, panel discussions and special events. Their goal is also to help teens finish high school and pursue higher education. Since 2001, according to WriteGirl.org, 100 percent of their graduating seniors entered college, many on full or partial scholarships.
As a mentor there, Geyer was matched with high school sophomore Jacqueline Uy, age 15 at the time.
“She was really hesitant to share her writing with me,” said Geyer. “She was nervous about receiving critical feedback. But we focus on what helps with their pieces and what helps improve it.”
At WriteGirl, critiquing participants’ content comes in the form of positive feedback.
“It’s not only about compliments, but about highlighting their strengths,” Geyer said. “When we give girls that safe place to express themselves, they transform.”
And that’s what she observed with Uy. By the end of the first writing season, she was sharing her work on stage in front of 300 people. Then in November 2013, she was chosen as the mentee to represent WriteGirl at the White House to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the highest honor awarded to such programs. Geyer accompanied Uy, who personally accepted the award from former first lady Michelle Obama.
Uy is attending the University of Pennsylvania and plans to become a human rights attorney.
“WriteGirl has taught me to embrace the uniqueness only I held,” Uy said in a statement. “I’ve had a whole group of people supporting me, believing in me.”
The mentor said this is what the power of writing can do. “I wanted to share with girls who really need to learn to express their voices that writing is empowering,” Geyer added. “When you give a girl some space and tools to really share herself, it’s life changing.”
Now, Geyer is encouraging more volunteers, particularly in the SCV, to hop on board and help mentor teen girls like Uy.
“We have a lot of girls from the SCV, but they travel to Los Angeles for our workshops and events. It would be great to have mentors in the area, so their commute shortens,” she said.
Volunteers, “energetic women of diverse professional backgrounds,” can meet with the girls weekly for one-on-one mentoring. WriteGirl is now seeking men writers, too, for its Bold Ink Writers program, which conducts writing experiences for co-ed groups at schools and incarceration sites.
The deadline to apply online as a volunteer for the Fall 2018 season is Friday, Aug. 31. For more information visit WriteGirl.org or call 213-253-2655.