Olivia S. and Grace D., both members of the Class of 2022, have had an interest in service learning since middle school. As ninth graders they joined Hewitt’s Student Service Board, where they had the opportunity to research and develop service learning initiatives that felt meaningful to them and their local community. Inspired by their shared interest in womens’ healthcare, in November 2018 Olivia and Grace created Confident Healthy Women, an organization dedicated to supporting women in need in New York City. Below, Olivia and Grace talk about founding and running Confident Healthy Women and share how Hewitt has inspired and supported them as they grow their organization.
Why did you want to create Confident Healthy Women (CHW)?
We believe it is every person’s right to have access to the personal hygiene items that many of us take for granted. After learning about hygiene poverty, we were inspired to spread awareness about how millions of women and girls globally lack access to items such as deodorant, toothpaste, pads, and tampons. In addition to educating our peers about period poverty, we also wanted to organize donation drives to collect toiletries for guests at the New York Common Pantry (NYCP), an organization Hewitt has partnered with for many years.
How has Hewitt’s mission to inspire girls and young women to become game changers and ethical leaders who forge an equitable, sustainable, and joyous future prepared you to lead your organization?
Attending Hewitt for the past 13 years has made us into strong, vocal leaders who take risks, make connections, and always strive to be fair and respectful. We are lucky to have learned about ethical leadership within the Hewitt community, and feel that we have been given the necessary tools and experiences to walk out into the world and start important conversations about the things we feel strongly about. Growing up at Hewitt has made us who we are today — adventurous, determined, and passionate — and taught us how to use our voices to confidently communicate our opinions and advocate for others.
What connections do you see between the kind of learning you are engaging in at Hewitt and your desire to solve the real, local issue of hygiene poverty in New York City?
Many of our Hewitt classes focus on understanding the real-world issues of gender and social inequality. Our classes also encourage us to research topics we find interesting, ask questions, share our opinions, and create possible solutions to existing problems. Many women in New York City struggle to obtain hygiene products due to factors that are rooted in systemic inequities, and through our work leading CHW, we have discovered that a lot of people are not even aware that this problem exists. Many people don’t know that this issue is rooted in sexism in the healthcare system and that some lawmakers and nonprofits are working to improve access to feminine hygiene products. This is in part because there is a stigma around period poverty that keeps this conversation from happening.
As leaders of CHW, we are applying what we have learned at Hewitt about addressing real-world challenges to our organization’s mission to spread awareness about period and hygiene poverty. We are taking action to ensure that women in New York City have access to the hygiene and menstrual products they both need and deserve.
In 2020, you were named Riley’s Way Foundation Call for Kindness Fellows. How has that fellowship supported your work with Confident Healthy Women?
Coordinator of Experiential Initiatives and Student Service Board advisor Stephanie Dore introduced us to Riley’s Way Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to build empathy, kindness, connection-making, and leadership in young people. We applied to be Riley’s Way Call for Kindness fellows because we wanted to develop new leadership and networking skills, learn how to successfully lead an organization with kindness and empathy, and connect with teenagers across the country who are working to make the world a kinder place.
As fellows, Riley’s Way is also helping us think about how to prioritize diversity, equity, inclusivity, and access (DEIA) in our organization. For example, in one of our Riley’s Way sessions, we deconstructed and examined words like patriarchy, homophobia, anti-homophobia, racism, and anti-racism. After developing a better understanding of these concepts, we began to contemplate how, as individuals and leaders, we can address microaggressions and help educate people about these topics. As founders of an organization whose main goal is to address inequities in our healthcare system, educating ourselves about DEIA work feels especially critical to our role as leaders of Confident, Healthy Women.
The fellowship program also included a grant of $3,000, which we feel very lucky to have received. We used part of this money to purchase reusable toiletry kit bags with our logo printed on them. These bags were not very expensive, but they have allowed us to spread more awareness of our organization. We plan to use the rest of our grant money to host educational events with experts who can help us spread awareness about period poverty and the challenges of accessing hygiene products in low-income communities. We want these events to be open to all Hewitt students, teachers, and families, and if possible, to peers at other schools.
How have you engaged the Hewitt community in CHW’s work?
At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, we formed a committee of Hewitt students who were interested in our cause. We began by educating ourselves about local and global hygiene poverty and examining the ways different countries have dealt with this crucial issue. Before hosting our February 2021 toiletry drive, committee members led conversations with the upper school about how we can individually and collectively work to combat hygiene poverty and advocate for women who do not have access to the healthcare products they need.
This year, our committee has grown into the Women’s Healthcare and Education Club, a space where Hewitt high school students discuss current events relating to women’s healthcare and gender equality. Students can also take on CHW leadership positions to help us manage our social media, build relationships with organizations that share similar missions, and network with brands that can support our work through product donations.
What kind of planning goes into hosting a donation drive?
For our February 2021 toiletry drive, we began by working with Ms. Dore to create a preliminary outline of our plans and develop a budget for spending a portion of our grant money. Then we set up a Zoom call with the volunteer coordinator at the New York Common Pantry to discuss what hygiene products their guests needed the most. It was really important to us that we target the specific needs of NYCP guests rather than assume we knew what they needed. The NYCP staff sent us a list of products their visitors found essential, including shampoo, soap, and menstrual products. We used this information to create a virtual toiletry drive via AmazonSmile and encouraged our friends, families, and classmates to donate.
We felt a lot of support and kindness from the Hewitt community during our drive, and we are excited to be planning CHW’s fourth feminine hygiene drive for January 2022. For this drive, we plan to package hygiene items and write meaningful letters for guests of the Bowery Mission and the Food Bank for New York City’s Woman to Woman Campaign, which are both organizations we learned about through our work with the Student Service Board.
How have your experiences leading Confident Healthy Women helped prepare you for college, your future careers, and life beyond Hewitt?
Thanks to support from our Hewitt teachers and Riley’s Way mentors, we are learning the tactics and tools one needs to build and lead a business or organization, and we will leave high school as strong networkers, connectors, communicators, and public speakers. Through our work with CHW we have developed greater empathy and understanding for people whose life experiences are different from our own, and we have grown into kinder and more confident leaders who know how to stand up for change and advocate for equality. Leading Confident Healthy Women has shown us how grounding it is to be a part of something that is larger than ourselves or our school community. This experience has taught us how important it is to be conscious of the world around us and motivates us to want to continue making positive contributions to society.
Interested in Learning More?
To learn more about the impact of hygiene poverty, the founders of Confident Healthy Women recommend the following resources:
- Changing the Cycle: Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis via the University of Michigan School of Public Health
- Food Bank for New York City’s Woman to Woman Campaign