Supporting Young Women

Pretty in Pink empowerment event for teen girls, started by two employees making a difference, is one of the department’s fastest growing programs.

What began seven years ago with one Recreation Assistant and ten young girls has now blossomed into two major events and more than 600 participants. And growing.

That’s Pretty in Pink: Girls Empowerment Conference, expanding to daylong events at two locations (for the first time) April 6 and 13. It’s become one of the fastest growing programs at Rec and Parks.

Reneshia White, Recreation Coordinator, Club Member, who grew up hanging out at LA Parks facilities, started the program at South Park Rec Center in 2009 under the department’s CLASS Parks program. The 10 girls from the club wanted to have a party. They decide to have party, which included “girl talk” sessions. They ate food, listened to music, and made crafts. The girls enjoyed it so much that, in 2012, Reneshia, with Yessica Famoso, then a Facilities Coordinator, decided to make it an annual event in a conference format, with the support of Mireya Coronado with the CLASS Parks program at the time. Over the years the numbers have expanded from 10 to 30 to 100 to 200 and now more than 600 (300 at two separate events). Not only have the numbers expanded, but they also receive support from the Department, the Neighborhood Council, Council offices, the LAPD, and other outside agencies.

Pretty in Pink is a youth conference created with a goal of empowering young girls in the urban community. Pretty in Pink provides a safe space for them to be open and discuss daily life challenges among women who truly care for them. The girls get opportunities to socialize with young girls from other parks/communities. The conference is designed to encourage and empower the girls to achieve their goals and aspirations. They leave the conference knowing that they are not alone with issues that may be occurring in their lives and that they have people that care about them.

One of Pretty in Pinks major event components is the “girl talk” sessions that cover hot topics including healthy relationships, peer pressure, education, hygiene, self-esteem, self-image, anti-bullying, and suicide prevention. In addition, they participate in a rotation of five sessions that include dance, sports, creative art, self-defense sessions, and yoga. The event is free for girls 8-17.

Many of the participants have grown up, gone off to college, or have moved away. Through social media, Yessica and Reneshia have managed to keep in contact with them.

Pretty in Pink: Girls Empowerment Conference

The daylong conference has featured speakers and supporters throughout its seven years, including:

 

Alexis Las from the Harvard park community. She went to USC for her doctorate. She spoke to the girls and donated craft items.

Jasmine Johnson, another Harvard Park community member with a degree in child development, spoke to the girls.

Sgt. Emada Tingirides, born and raised in Los Angeles, came and spoke to the girls about how she overcame her barriers in life and shared her success.

Joe Marrone of the LAPD helped raise funds for the 2017 event shirts. He also has LAPD cadets come to each event to help volunteer.

Tyesha Amy from Have a Heart Foundation has hosted two of our girl talk sessions. She makes the girls feel comfortable about opening up.

Lisa Flenoury from the LAPD 77th Division has donated resources and has held two girl talk sessions.

Commissioner Pilar Diaz, Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners, and Det. II Supervisor Shondie Jackson LAPD, have also supported the day.

 

At Pretty in Pink 2018. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

The Alive! Interview

‘The Dream Is Coming True’

On Feb. 13, Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Reneshia White, currently the Recreation Coordinator at Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center, 18 years of City service, and Yessica Famoso, Facility Director at Trinity Recreation Center, 13 years. Reneshia began the Pretty in Pink as a girls club party. Once Yessica arrived to South Park, they joined forces to expand it and make it into a conference. Both women are Club Members. The interview took place at Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center.

Reneshia White, Recreation Coordinator, 18 years of City service, Club Member

Yessica Famoso, Facility Director, 13 years, Club Member

Reneshia and Yessica, thanks for talking to us about Pretty in Pink today. Is the program centered here at the Jackie Tatum Harvard Rec Center?

Yessica Famoso: Well, now that the program has gotten bigger, this isn’t so much the center.

Reneshia White: The program is us, basically. Wherever we go, the program goes! [laughs]

Got it! But before we get into all of that, tell us about your City careers – how you got to where you are now.

Reneshia: Sure. For me, I was a park kid, so I participated in all the programs growing up. My mom worked for Rec and Parks.

Who’s your mom?

Reneshia: Bernice Young. She’s no longer with the City anymore, but she worked as a Rec Assistant. She would bring us to work with her and turn us into participating in the programs after school – sports like baseball, softball and basketball. We were in childcare. And then from there, by the time I turned 13 or 14, it was like, “Okay, time for you to volunteer, and time for you to get a job.” So at 14 I started working as a Rec Aide, and I’ve been in the department ever since as I continued my education to get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

Yessica, how did you get here?

Yessica: I wasn’t a City park kid, but I was into different sports. I actually didn’t know that this was a major or a career until I nearly graduated from UC Santa Barbara. I was actually a psychology major, but I didn’t want to get a Master’s. I saw that there was a coordinator position, so I applied.

How long have you two known each other?

Yessica: We met at South Park [Rec Center].

How long ago?

Yessica: Like 10 years.

Reneshia: Wow, 10 years already!

From left: Yessica Famoso and Reneshia White talk to Alive! editor John Burnes about Rec and Parks’ Pretty in Pink conference program.

The Program

So tell me very broadly about this program that you’ve started and are now developing.

Reneshia: Pretty in Pink started at South Park.

Whose idea was that title?

Reneshia: Mine. The program was based off a small group of girls with about 10 members.

What year was that?

Reneshia: 2009. Valentine’s Day. When it started with maybe ten girls, nobody knew about it.

Yessica: It started like a teen program. It was just for that park itself, just for those girls.

Reneshia: And we talked about maybe just one topic. I think it was peer pressure, and we had food, crafts and games.

Yessica: They did their nails. They did a lot of girlie stuff.

So let’s step back for a second. What does it do? What’s it all about?

Reneshia: It’s a day full of girls and young women participating in different activities. We always start off with some type of entertainment. We’ve had dancers; we had cheer. We also have guest speakers, and these are women that are influential in the community. They come out; they talk to the girls. Maybe they’re lawyers or judges or police chiefs. We want the girls to see that people who look like them can achieve these things. Then after that, we break them out into sections like self-esteem.

Yessica: Hygiene.

Reneshia: Right. What else have we done?

Yessica: We do active sessions. Self-defense.

Reneshia: Yes. We’ve done soccer, so we’ll have the girls do some drills, but then they’ll play human foosball, so we add some fun components in there.

We’ve done vision boards and different things like that. Throughout the day, they’ll get at least five sessions of different activities. Some are physical; some are more sit-down, self-thinking or thinking about their life and what they want. And some are empowering, to build up their self-esteem for years to come.

Yessica: The purpose is to empower – Reneshia and I have always worked in parks in economically struggling areas, so we see a lot of kids who don’t have role models. Basically we’re the role models. Our aim is to empower those girls to feel special and know that somebody cares for them. They’ll see that behind us there’s a bunch of support groups, and we’re basically here for them. It’s a day to show them that somebody cares, and even those from the hood can make it.

At Pretty in Pink 2018. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

Wow, great. And this is a one-day event?

Reneshia: Yes, once a year here. But this year we’re expanding into a second park on a second day.

Got it.

Reneshia: It’s a lot of work!

I’m sure.

Yessica: For Rec and Parks, the City is divided by regions. This year, there’s going to be a second event, in the Valley. There will be two this year. We hope soon to have one in each region in the City.

Go ahead and repeat the dates.

Reneshia: April 6 here in the Pacific region. And April 13 in the Valley, at the David. M. Gonzales Recreation Center in Pacoima.

And are you in charge of the one in the Valley, too?

Reneshia: We’re advising. We set the foundation of the program and what it is and what it stands for, and they’re implementing it.

Reneshia: We want to expand it to each region.

Yessica: So we can reach more girls.

What’s this year’s theme?

Reneshia: Unicorns.

Yessica: Anything related to unicorns. Our slogan is, “Believe in YOU-nicorns”.

 

History and Growth

When you started this in 2009, how many young women came to that one?

Reneshia: It was really small, maybe 10 or 15 girls. It was a teen club. We knew them before.

And then the next year …

Reneshia: I believe that’s when Yessica came.

Yessica: When I came in, then I really liked the idea, so then I thought we should open it up to other parks so we could get more girls and then more topics. We wanted to emphasize hygiene –

Reneshia: Mainly! [laughs]

Yessica: So we did that, and we did self-esteem at the core. And we gave away little goodie bags. That second year we got maybe 30 girls. And then for the third year, we opened it up to the whole region, not just the South Park Rec Center.

Did Rec and Parks come on board?

Reneshia: Yes. In the beginning CLASS Parks has always been a part of it by donating the arts and crafts or the hygiene packages. CLASS Parks is Rec and Parks’ teen program.

Yessica: When we started opening it up more to the region, more and more people started noticing, and then the support of the Supervisors and our upper management started. The more they saw, the more they got behind it.

The first year we did it here at Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center maybe two years ago, I noticed a lot more people knew about it, and came out to support us.

Reneshia: And they’re giving us extra funding now to make this event possible.

At Pretty in Pink 2018. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

Great!

Reneshia: A lot, actually. In the beginning, we had just minimum help.

Of course.

Reneshia: The hardest part was trying to get that support, trying to find sponsors, trying to get somebody to donate bags. That was a lot of work.

Yessica: Getting the food, too.

Reneshia: Directors from other centers helped a lot, and we appreciate that. They would come to us and ask, “What do you need?” That allowed us to be able to tap into creativity, rather than worry about the little details. We thought, “We got this help, and now we can expand.”

How many are you expecting in April at each one of the two?

Reneshia: 300.

At each one.

Reneshia: Right. So 600 for the two sites.

Incredible. What are the ages?

Reneshia: 8 to 17.

You’ve grown from just a handful to 600 girls and young women.

Reneshia: Yes.

That’s amazing, and it’s just the start. Is this one of the fastest growing programs at Rec and Parks?

Yessica: I don’t think it’s been the fastest, but maybe one of them.

Reneshia: It’s really taken off. A lot of people want to be a part of it; a lot of sponsors want to get involved.

Pretty dramatic.

Reneshia: Yes.

Yessica: A part of our growth I think is because the mayor’s office started focusing on programs for girls.

Reneshia: Yes, pushing the initiative for girls to be more involved.

Yessica: That’s when people started noticing a lot more. We were doing that kind of program.

Reneshia White and Yessica Famoso. Alive! photo by Glenn Marzano.

Right. Is there any charge for young women to come to Pretty in Pink?

Reneshia: No, it’s free. Everything is free.

Who are the other people who are part of its success?

Reneshia: Our supervisors – Kimberly Simonet and Leslie Perez. The previous director, Austin Dumas. We had a coordinator here, too – Daniel Nunez.

Yessica: Mychal Lynch, the previous Facility Director at Denker Recreation Center.

Reneshia: Right. Denise Stansell, Benita Dixon. Lisa Fluenory. Love Rainey. Joe Morone at the LAPD’s PAL program, and the LAPD’s CSP Officers. The Empowerment Congress Central Area Neighborhood Council. And the CLASS Parks Supervisors, like Chinyere Stoneham and Elaine Phia.

Yessica: Brian Cox. Francesca Castillo. Vicki Israel. Randy Kelly. Carolyn James. And Girls Play Los Angeles – GPLA, the Rec and Parks program that’s focused on girls’ fitness and classes.

Pink, and More

Who came up with the title?

Reneshia: I did. I think it just went with the theme of Valentine’s Day.

That was the title from the beginning.

Reneshia: Yes. A lot of people think, “Oh, everything ‘s gotta be pink.” No. It’s Pretty in Pink, but it holds more weight than just a color.

Yessica: We added the subtitle “Girls Empowerment Conference.”

Nice.

Now’s the Time

Why is it necessary now? Why is this program so important for young girls now?

Reneshia: I grew up in the LA parks, so I know what it means to have someone who cares about you. It’s like another family. Sometimes the kids or the girls who I’ve come in contact with, they go through many challenges, whether it’s suicide or not having the support at home. I realize in our position – I’m sure Yessica has experienced the same thing– that we’re roles models to these girls. They look up to us because they may not have it at home, for whatever reason. I felt like it was really vital to come up with a program like this and stick with it, because it’s really needed – not just here but across the whole community. We really feel like it’s a program that’s needed, and I think that’s where the passion comes from.

I understand some girls have low self-esteem. I didn’t experience that, but I want to encourage them that this is not the end-all for your life. You can do better. You can reach your goals outside of the community that you live in.

Yessica: The girls could have a solid foundation in their home, but we know they’ll listen more to us than their parents at that age because they think we’re younger and more connected than their parents are to some of the issues they face. They’ll be more likely to listen to us and to their own peers, because now they’re talking among other girls. It’s not just girls from broken homes. We can be a mediator between the parents and the girls to send out the message.

Sure.

Yessica: And now since we have good support and funding, every year we can focus on different themes we should use to approach the girls. This year, we’re focusing on suicide, because the previous year we saw a lot of it in Hollywood movies and TV, especially 13 Reasons. We wanted to address that. We wanted to bring in somebody who could talk to them about it.

And then we wanted to do something active, too. We thought yoga, where we could teach them techniques so they don’t get to that point of feeling frustrated or that may lead to the suicide. We included programs on bullying, because it was really big before, so we hope that by us bringing somebody else in to talk about it, it’ll click with them.

So that’s the platform this year. And we’ll have “girls talk,” and we’ll ask them how they feel.

Reneshia: This program, as far as I know, is different than anything that we’ve had in the City or anything that’s been long-lasting, maybe because we talk about those sensitive topics that maybe people don’t want to touch on. But they’re teens, and our girls are experiencing this in the community, so I think it’s really important to touch on them and have them come in here in a safe place to be able to talk about them.

At Pretty in Pink 2018. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

Proud of Making a Difference

How do you feel about the success of this program?

Reneshia: Proud! I don’t have any kids, so to me, this is my baby. Especially having started with 10 or 15 girls to what it is now, I’m just really proud of the program and its growth, and it makes me happy. I get happy when the girls say. “Oh, my God, Pretty in Pink is coming up,” and I get more excited about that than a pat on the back from a supervisor. They come up to me and ask, “Can I wear my shirt from last year?” and I tell them, “No, you get a whole new shirt!”

Yessica: Even on the day of the event, their faces look like they’re saying, “Oh, my God, this is awesome.”

Reneshia: They see the decorations. There’s going to be goodie bags. But we want to make sure that they also know that in the sessions they’re going to get something that will resonate with them, we hope for the rest of their lives when they leave this event.

Yessica: Sometimes it’s shocking what’s happened. But I would say the same as Neshia: I think very proud. It’s good to see that all your hard work is helping. Because it’s a lot of work. It doesn’t help that we’re both control freaks. We haven’t managed to learn to delegate.

Reneshia: “We can’t possibly do this in 40 hours. I just don’t think it’s possible!” That’s when you really have to have the heart and the compassion for it.

Yessica: Seeing the result is the rewarding part.

Reneshia: We have parents ask if they can come. We say, “No, it’s for girls only.” Parents tell us they never had anything like this when they were a little girl. It’s a good thing.

At Pretty in Pink 2018. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

Stories

Tell me some stories that have really touched you that show you the difference that you’re making right there in front of you because of this program.

Reneshia: I’m close with some of the teens here to the point where I have heard of them talking about maybe suicide or how they felt like they were ugly or how they felt that no one cared about them. I remember one particular story. It was about a girl of darker complexion. She said, “I’m ugly. Everybody at school thinks I’m ugly.” Because one person said that she was ugly, she just took it as the whole school said she was ugly. And when we had this workshop at Denker [Rec Center], one of the classes involved self-empowerment where she talked about it, and she opened up about how she felt about herself, her low self-esteem. An instructor gave her an art project with wordings for self-empowerment. I know it really helped her.

Yessica: After the event I asked the Parks and their Rec Assistants to do little videos, asking the girls who had been to the program questions like, “Did you like the Pretty in Pink event? What did you learn?” At first I thought, “Well, they’re just going to say the fun part or the bags or whatever.” But when I watched the videos, some of them actually liked the more serious topics like bullying and the self-esteem talks. They met other girls who felt the same way they did, so they didn’t have to feel they were alone. That they were normal. I was surprised how many actually liked the serious topics. Kids don’t usually want to sit through them.

A Passion

What do you love about what you do?

Reneshia: I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I just like working with children and teens. One day you think you’re coming in to do something, and then something else happens. I like it because I’m able to tap into my creativity. Even in a coordinator position, I can take that creativity higher. I can create programs. That’s what I love about it, that I have that freedom to tap into my creativity to touch so many other people with it – not just the kids but adults, too.

Yessica: I would say the same thing, the flexibility of just creating anything. I like that it’s not a box. I like that we just didn’t stay with one thing that first year. It’s many possibilities. It is a very unpredictable job.

 

Rec and Parks staff at Pretty in Pink 2018, which carried a Rosie the Riveter empowerment theme. Rec and Parks photo by Stephanie Chitica.

Are you worn out when you get home?

Reneshia: Sometimes, but I don’t know how to describe it. It’s rewarding, too.

Yessica: We’re already planning for 2020.

Reneshia: Right. Even though it’s overwhelming, when I have free time, I say, “Let me work on Pretty in Pink!”

I love what I do. There’s a message behind what we’re doing, so I think that’s what pushes us forward, to continue to keep going and working the long hours.

What are you dreams for this program in the future? Where do you hope it goes?

Reneshia: The dream is coming true – it’s expanding. We have other jobs at Rec and Parks, so we do other programming. The conference is one of those things that many people are impressed with, therefore they would want to implement in their region. I want to see it continue to grow. I’d love to see it expand to maybe 1,000 girls some day.

You’re on your way.

Yessica: I think the same. Our goal is to run something that will hold maybe 1,000 or more girls – a big, one-day, event. I don’t know if it will happen, but there it is.

I think it will. Reneshia and Yessica, good luck on your two events in April, and thanks for your time today.

Reneshia: Sure.

Yessica: You’re welcome.

…BEHIND THE SCENES

Alive! photographer Glenn Marzano captures Pretty in Pink founders Reneshia White, Recreation Coordinator, Club Member (center), and Yessica Famoso, Facility Director, Club Member.

 

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