Grant to fuel teen's project to help women

Chapel Hill girl to provide feminine products to people who struggle to afford them

schandler@newsobserver.comDecember 9, 2012 

COURTESY OF ANNPOWER VITAL VOICES INITIATIVE

  • WANT TO HELP? You can donate money or new feminine products to Yuyi Li’s Free2bFemale program at www.free2bfemale.org. The site also has information about signing up to get products if you are in need.

Most of the time, people just ignore those ads alongside their Facebook news feed. But one ad happened to catch Yuyi Li’s eye, and her click out of curiosity led to big things.

The ad was for the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, a partnership of ANN Inc. (parent company of Ann Taylor and Loft) and the Vital Voices Global Partnership to offer leadership skills and mentorship for young women who want to change their communities.

“I’ve always been interested in women’s empowerment, and when I saw it I thought it was a great opportunity, so I applied,” said Yuyi, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School.

Over the course of the past year, Yuyi was selected as an ANNpower Fellow, attended a Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., then became one of just 14 of the fellows nationwide to receive a grant to help fund her community project, which provides free feminine care products to girls and women in financial need.

The folks sifting through applications at ANN Inc. and Vital Voices saw a great opportunity in Yuyi as well.

“The way Yuyi was selected was that she represented somebody who was extraordinary and who was really, with her project, able to create positive, sustainable change,” said Maya Babla, program coordinator for leadership and mentoring with Vital Voices. “And we could tell that she’ll be able to make an impact at a local level.”

Yuyi’s program, called Free2bFemale, was inspired by the Protecting Futures program run by Always and Tampax. Her plan is to work with the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service’s Homestart homeless shelter and the Compass Center for Women and Children, both in Orange County, to distribute feminine products to women who have difficulty affording them.

The Protecting Futures program “had a global focus on providing young women sanitary care products,” Yuyi said. “I was more inclined to look at the situation locally, and I thought maybe it would work in the community.”

She gained ideas for implementing Free2bFemale as well as inspiration from the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum she attended this summer as part of the fellowship.

The three-day conference was packed with speakers, group work and mentoring from some influential women who work with Vital Voices. Yuyi was paired with Inez McCormack, a major campaigner for civil rights and women’s rights in Northern Ireland.

The lessons Yuyi learned from McCormack and others at the forum caused a shift in her view of leadership, both in herself and from others, she said.

“After the conference, I realized that leaders are people who help others become leaders,” Yuyi said. “That completely shaped my perspective on how I view people around me and how I approach leadership now.”

Hearing others talk about their experiences, she added, “it was interesting to see how they were able to change and impact others just by starting in their communities and starting small. No matter what you do, you can always impact others around you.”

Even as she was soaking in such wisdom from the forum’s speakers, she was also learning from her peers.

“I definitely learned a lot from them and their perspectives,” she said. “That’s one thing I got back from this forum, it just amazes me how there’s so many awesome people who are giving back to their communities and have that drive to impact others. I was definitely more inspired when I got back to also join that movement to help others around me.”

With the grant from ANNpower, worth a little over $2,000, Yuyi hopes to have a strong start to Free2bFemale, and that’s just the beginning.

When she starts college next year, she wants to continue her work – and then some.

“I think I definitely want to continue this in college, and even get my friends and classmates to help out and make it even a bigger initiative,” she said.

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