Young women off Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW), which hosted their annual High Tea and conducted a student panel under the theme, “My Voice Matters.” (Courtesy Photo)

By Briana Thomas
Special to the AFRO

More than 100 teen girls from Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County school districts gathered on April 22 at 6 p.m. for a virtual community conversation about the impact of COVID-19 on the area’s youth.

Crittenton Services of Greater Washington (CSGW) hosted students and community members for the nonprofit’s annual High Tea. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event was virtual and the conversation centered on empowering young women through the effects of COVID-19.

Siobhan Davenport, president and CEO of CSGW, was one of the adults who participated in the High Tea. Davenport told the AFRO that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges that students of Crittenton already face.

“We as an organization have many conversations on how the inequity in healthcare, and housing and in education have risen to the top because of the pandemic,” Davenport said.

According to a CSGW news release, a February needs assessment showed that out of nearly 400 students surveyed, 63 percent of the students feel more stressed than usual and 43 percent are worried about their futures.

Siobhan Davenport, president and CEO of CSGW, poses with young women of the program. (Courtesy Photo)

The event included a main session that was hosted by NBC reporter Juliana Valencia and featured appearances by the Mayor of Somerset, Md., Jeffrey Slavin, and Crittenton Honoree Catherine Leggett.

After the main session, the teen girl participants were placed into several small groups or breakout rooms where they had an open dialogue with one another surrounding the pre-chosen theme: “My Voice Matters.”

The AFRO spoke with two student-leaders, Yanica Mejias, a junior at Gaithersburg High School and Naomi Conteh, a sophomore at Clarksburg High School about the breakout room conversations.  The students both expressed the need to have youth-guided conversations during the High Tea about mental health issues, the stress of finances and the importance of feeling empowered and knowing one’s self-worth.

“It makes you take something back with you,” Conteh said. “It makes me feel like we are building a better society step by step because of the little conversations that we are having, inspiring young women.”

Davenport, who has served as the 132-year-old organization’s president since 2019, explained that the young ladies of Crittenton have to know that they are being seen and heard and that’s why events and programs like the annual High Tea are of value.

She explained how the girls say they feel that they are talked down to by adults or judged for the way they wear their hair or clothes, but Crittenton strives to create a friendly community to show the young ladies that they matter.

“It is imperative that we empower our teen girls that they matter, their voice matters. What matters to them, matters to us. I think so often girls, and in particular girls of color are left out of so many discussions,” Davenport emphasized.

CSGW supports more than 600 girls with other programs such as the SNEAKERS group that helps women in grades 8 through 12 navigate the challenges of approaching adulthood like, relationships, health and fitness, sexuality, school and career choice.