By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: Teen shop founder Elleanor Jean Hendley speaks to her young ladies at their 25th Anniversary Gala.
(Photo by Mel Epps: Third Eye Productions Inc.)
The meaning of what it is to be a man or a woman is often blurred by the oft-times dysfunctional messages of pop culture, whether you’re talking about music videos or an endless array of reality TV shows.
For many African-American girls, making the transition to womanhood is even tougher considering the negative images in the media, peer pressure and a lack of adequate role models.
Nurturing the goals and aspirations of young Black girls making their journey into womanhood is what Teen Shop, Inc. has been doing for the last 25 years. Teen Shop founder Elleanor Jean Hendley said the purpose has always been to help girls find their own identity and to see themselves in a positive light.
“What we try to do is to create that safe space, that nuturing environment that basically drives home the message that you’re special, you’re unique and stay focused on achieving your goals and all the rest of that stuff doesn’t matter,” Hendley said. “Once you can build up that self-esteem, which results in a stronger sense of confidence, you are less likely to engage in a kind of risky behavior that can prevent you from achieving your goals.”
Recently, Hendley’s Teen Shop, Inc. had its 25th Anniversary Gala at the Bala Golf Club. Hendley started Teen Shop back in 1985 when she was working at CBS-3. In 25 years, the program has grown to four chapters in Philadelphia and one in Los Angeles. It is one of the largest weekend program for girls in the country. Philadelpha School District Superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman was the guest speaker for the Gala.
Hendley said the Teenshop, which takes in anywhere between 30 and 40 girls per year, meets with girls from ages 13 to 18, who are full-time students and are not teen mothers, on weekends from September to June. The session runs from 10 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays. The classes are workshops that focus on a variety of subjects from financial planning to discussing issues that are unique to women.
“During the course of that three hours, we have what we call a Sister Circle. It’s where the girls get together and discuss issues and concerns,.” Hendley said. “It gives the adults an opportunity to stay in touch with what they’re thinking. The program is structured so that there are five standing committees and each girl is assigned to one of the committees.”
For North Philadelphia resident Patricia Abner, whose 15-year-old daughter Jamila has been in the program for the past three years, the Teen Shop reinforces the codes of behavior she has taught her daughter in the home.
“I think a lot of times in today’s times a lot of young ladies have adopted the current culture as far as their behavior in public and they’re not learning how to carry themselves in different venues,” Abner said. “That’s something I stress to my daughter because you should be able to represent yourself no matter what environment you’re in. That’s one of the things that Teen Shop emphasizes. It teaches them how to speak in public, it teaches them how to conduct themselves in a corporate situation. It teaches them the value of community service.”
Abner said the values taught by Teen Shop is something her daughter is not going to get in the school system or from their peers.
Jamila Abner said one of the differences between her peers in Teen Shop and those who aren’t a part of the program is how they conduct themselves in public venues like department stores.
“I see that a lot of girls don’t speak proper English because there’s a time and place for everything and that’s something that they get mixed up with,” said Jamila Abner, who attends the Math and Science Charter School. “A lot of young teenagers only know one thing and they are not well-rounded, so when they learn just one thing, they think that’s just it. They use the same techniques that they learned when they were younger and from other peers.”
In the classroom, Jamila Abner said she has become assertive as a student when it comes to asking and answering questions in class.
As far as being more outspoken and raising my hand in class, I think that has increased,” Abner said. “Some of the girls may be shy or they might think that they’re going to get the answer wrong, but I have more confidence with that now.”
Hendley said the main thing that Teen Shop does is to prepare young girls to be leaders both inside and outside the classroom as they finish high school and head on to college.
“One of things that we’re doing is that we’re preparing these girls for the real world,” Hendley said. “At some point, these girls are going to be members of groups and organizations. By being apart of Teen Shop, they’re experiencing structure. Groups and organizations have committees. Once they’re out there, they will be able to draw on these experiences, so they’ll be successful in everything they do.”
Hendley said the graduates of Teen Shop, Inc. go on to attend college or attain some form of post-secondary education such as cosmotology school. She also said several of their graduates come back to Teen Shop to serve as volunteers in the program.
“We have lawyers, we have doctors, you name it, we have them,” Hendley said. “I think that what’s so gratifying is that we have young women in the program who have graduated from the program and gotten their college degrees and serve as the chapter leaders. In our chapter in Germantown-Grace Teen Shop, all chapter alumna.”
Hendley said Teen Shop, Inc. gets funding in the form of grants from the Department of Human Services and from the Urban Affairs Coalition. Additionally, Teen Shop has received funding from various state legislators as well. Hendley says ultimately she would like to get some major funding on an on-going basis.