A Merrill-Lynch Leader Tackles The Cycle Of Poverty During COVID-19

Dawn Harris Jeffries’ resumé reads “Senior Financial Advisor, Merrill Lynch.” She also teaches management and leadership at Bradley University. But her most important role? That’s as the Founder and Director of Girls Light Our Way (GLOW), a Peoria, IL, based non-profit that provides girls of low socioeconomic status with tools for mental, physical, and nutritional wellness, self-efficacy, and financial literacy.

“My personal goal is to ensure they are tax payers,” Jeffries told us in a 2019 interview. (Read that story here.) “I want them to get to the point in their lives where they do not have to rely on government benefits; those services are being threatened.”

Jeffries and her team of volunteers identify under-resourced girls and connect them with learning experiences that teach life lessons including money management, nutrition, and social skills. Recognizing that the girls might someday be in college with students who had very different life experiences, GLOW provides cultural enrichment opportunities too, including trips to Chicago or New York City, ballet lessons taught by a former Joffrey dancer, a private showing of a premier collector’s art, horseback riding, and lessons in yoga, golf, and other activities.

“Ultimately, when they leave their neighborhoods to go to college, they’re going to be around people who are of completely different backgrounds and socioeconomic status. I never want them to feel is ‘less than’ in any way,” says Jeffries. 

GLOW had a full slate of activities planned for this spring, when social isolation due to COVID-19 became necessary. Many of Jeffries’ GLOW girls found themselves distanced from their friends and school communities, sometimes without enough food or emotional support.

Rising to the challenge: values-driven leadership during the coronavirus pandemic

Not one to sit by while others struggle, Jeffries sprang into action to meet the needs of her GLOW girls and their families. She’s feeding 25 to 30 girls and their families each week with groceries from a local foodbank that she picks up in rented U-Haul trucks and then bags in her garage.

Recently, when the food delivery included a whole chicken, Jeffries hosted a cooking class online to teach them how to prepare the chicken.

“The Zoom sessions give them a sense of normalcy,” says Jeffries. She concentrates on activities that help the GLOW girls and their families face their current circumstances with resilience, and also help them have a little fun.

“We’re doing yoga, Rumbacise, Taekwondo, and Praise dancing, all on Zoom. I am doing the best I can, because I love them and I want them to stay whole.” Jeffries even took the GLOW girls on a virtual tour of historically Black colleges and universities, helping them consider future paths for their education.

On Memorial Day weekend, Jeffries and her GLOW girls held a Family Barbecue, with hot plates of food delivered to the girls and their families. “We laughed, talked, danced, and celebrated all we have to be thankful for,” Jeffries says.

For more on Jeffries and the GLOW organization, visit their website or read this article. Jeffries is just one of the business leaders we’re featuring in our Rising to the Challenge: Values-Driven Leadership During the Coronavirus series. Find more inspiration and insight at this link.

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Trupen Patel

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