D.I.V.A.S (Determined, Inspired, Visionaries, Attaining, Success)

Idea Leaders:

Donielle Ward, Nexxis Nelson, Shaveh Woolfolk, Nichelle Nichols

Location: Streamwood, IL

Partner Organization: Streamwood High School

Project Summary: Nichelle Nichols, 17 and fellow students wanted to change the climate within Streamwood High School. Partnering with the school social worker, the young female students recruited community members to share monthly presentations and activities highlighting successful women in business, exploring African-American history, and goal setting. 

Looking Beyond Today towards an Inspired Tomorrow

The name DIVAS (Determined, Inspired Visionaries Attaining Success) was created by a small group of students who, at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, made a commitment to improving the climate within the school. Within this group, most did not feel that they had access to caring adults or safe places when they needed them. They sought a forum where their voice was heard and problem solving and leadership skills were developed. With the support of caring volunteers who had a passion for helping students excel in education, Mellissa Ross, Tiffany Henderson, Tammy Jackson and school social worker Kim Berry, this group grew from four to approximately 40 girls.

The girls participated in group discussions, activities, field trips, presentations and developed personal relationships with group leaders and mentors.

One member, Marquiya Watkins, writes, “This group really meant a lot to me.  When I first came, I didn’t think I was going to like it.  But the lady who came made me change my mind.  I was ecstatic because no one has ever come to our school and just picked the root of the problem.”

Another, Nichelle Nicols, states, “This program taught me how to be me but better…my life is in my hands and DIVAS was a jump start.”

Each month, presentations and activities were dedicated to a central topic including integrity, self-motivation, goal setting, family and relationships and community. Students were given objectives to achieve and in turn were eligible to participate in special activities. Objectives were organized into four tiers. Examples of tier requirements included obtaining tutoring, creating a college and career objectives, and interviewing adults with good values and leadership characteristics. 

From this experience, student Destiny Biles commented that, “no matter what you’re going through you, education is still important and you should never push that aside. I want to be a successful, intelligent, beautiful woman of color just like my mother.”

One special event held during the 2010-2011 school year consisted of a panel discussion around the theme of attaining success. This semi-formal event provided candid and personal stories of how these accomplished women overcame their own personal and professional obstacles. 

Panelists provided students’ opportunities to ask questions, obtain individualized guidance and resources to support in reaching their own personal, academic, and post high school goals. Speakers included prominent community leaders and business women including:

  • Joyce B. Lane, OTR/L, PhD, former Chief of Human Resource Development  and Coordinator of Cultural Competence for the Illinois Department of Human Services
  • Dianna Sweeny, certified Digital Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt with Motorola
  • Joyce Fountain, school board member district u-46 since 1993 and Elgin community college sociology professor
  • Twanna Johnson, director of Marketing Analytics and Business Insights at Abbott Laboratories
  • Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque of Community Church of Barrington

On another excursion, held on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, students gathered at school to caravan to the Dusable museum in Chicago.  The day’s events promoted understanding and inspired appreciation of the achievements, contributions, and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs, and activities that illustrated African American history, culture, and art.

Overall, 20 community members volunteered in this program as speakers, mentors and tutors.  The issues that their homes, communities and schools are facing are complex and sometimes difficult to navigate. DIVAS has faced many challenges through the year but continues to learn from them. We have planted the seeds and continue to grow.

One student writes of her mentor, “You have helped me in so many ways more than any other adult in my whole life.  You were always there for me when I was down and out to when I was happy and smiling.  I am just in a little phase where I am trying to find myself.  But either way I know you will always be there for me. Thanks!” 

Joyce Fountain’s words seem to summarize our goal, accomplishments and direction.  That is: relationships are the most important things in our lives. Each of us is more capable than we imagine and each day’s decisions affect the rest of our lives.