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Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

EmpowHer Institute: Harnessing Education to End Generational Cycles of Poverty

Betty LaMarr was pregnant when she crossed the stage to receive her high school diploma and received public assistance to help her as she attended college as a young single mother. She graduated with her BA in business administration from Cal State University LA and later received an MBA from Pepperdine. She fought barriers as she built her career as a Black woman in the technology industry and became Director of Worldwide Sales Operations for HP and DEC and then served as SVP of Sales and Marketing for a major medical device manufacturer.

When a friend started a company in South Africa to help build up Black-owned businesses, create jobs and help Black South Africans develop entrepreneurial skills, Betty left her successful tech career to relocate there and run that company. This work inspired her–she saw women there moving out of poverty as a result of the business skills they acquired and wondered what a similar concept would look like in the United States.

When she returned to the U.S., she brought together her own network of friends, colleagues and connections to start a EmpowHer Institute (a 501c3) in 2003.

The primary focus of EmpowHer Institute is to end generational cycles of poverty by providing the skills and resources that disrupt the systemic barriers that challenge girls and women of color from reaching their fullest potential. Since its beginning, EmpowHer has trained 1000+ volunteers to help the organization in supporting over 4,000 Black and Brown girls, ages 11-18 years old, from marginalized communities, access the support and resources they need to navigate middle school and high school and become college- and career-ready.

The program has achieved great success. Every middle school participate successfully matriculates into high school and 100% of its high school participants graduate and are accepted to college. As she retires from her role as CEO of EmpowHer Institute, after 17 years of leadership, the organization is excited to honor Betty and her contributions to the lives of so many young women.

For the girls who EmpowHer Institute serves, 96% live at or below the poverty line and 100% are people of color who live in marginalized communities, including Gardena, South LA, Inglewood and Watts. EmpowHer Institute is the only nonprofit in LA County that partners with Title I schools to offer a social-emotional class during the school day and one weekends. The program includes weekly trauma-informed, culturally inclusive, social- emotional learning curriculum in a safe, gender-responsive space, that includes group and individual mentoring, and an annual Girls to Greatness Teen Summit that inspires girls to boldly break ceilings by exposing them to college and careers where they have historically been underrepresented. Its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) initiative aims to expose girls of color to STEAM careers and integrates social justice and STEAM to solve local community challenges. EmpowHer Institute delivers its services through a social justice framework aimed to support girls in developing the necessary skills each individual girl uniquely needs to embrace the power of their voice, make informed decisions about their bodies and futures, break generational cycles of poverty and contribute to the creation of an equitable society.

The impact of COVID-19, EmpowHer quickly adjusted, providing its curriculum, programs and mentoring virtually. At the height of the pandemic, more than 100 parents reported they had lost jobs due to the global pandemic. In response, EmpowHer developed an emergency relief fund which is used to help families pay for food, PPE, health and hygiene needs—ranging from fresh vegetables to sanitary napkins, and pay bills. The organization is poised to grow and expand its services to meet the ever-changing needs of its girls in this new environment. None of this could be possible without Betty’s vision and leadership.

To learn more about EmpowHer Institute visit its website at EmpowHer.org or email info@EmpowHer.org.

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