Name: Dianna L. Flett
Business: The Girl Smarts Group, Inc.
Location: Stafford, Virginia, U.S.
Industry: Education & Training
Reason for starting? After retiring from the Army, I became active in my sons’ PTO and really connected with some great children. As the boys matured through elementary school, and I returned to work running leadership workshops with the FBI, my sons came home to me telling me how lost the girls were in middle school. They noticed how dramatically their self confidence dropped and all the difficulty they were having maintaining their sense of self. They basically told me I had to do something. So, I did. That is how Girl Smarts was born. In essence, I took the leadership work I was doing and fashioned them into after school workshops to strengthen 4th and 5th grade girls and give them skills to use during those trying middle school years.
I want Girl Smarts to reach every girl. I want every school to have a program that helps girls feel stronger, more in control and more confident. I want to extend the programs and empowerment workshops into middle school and high school, and give girls tools to stand strong and push back on negative messages they’re receiving. Every young woman needs to know she is strong, smart, beautiful, valuable and tomorrow’s promise. I want to be part of the solution and help women come together to form a team that supports one another to achieve success. Every girl deserves to know she is enough!
How do you define success? I am at a point in my life where I’ve come to understand that being able to recognize my personal talents and couple those with my passions is the definition of my purpose. Having the ability to pursue that purpose with the support of my family, in a way that passes on the things I’ve learned from my trusted mentors and leaders over the years, is a way for me to provide depth and meaning to my life. I truly believe that my greatest impact on the next generation lies in the lessons I’m giving my children and the girls I teach. Those lessons of self acceptance, self importance, self worth and personal value are important. And being able to give skills to help young people move closer to recognizing those things in themselves and to be everyday leaders in their lives for me is the definition of success.
Biggest success: A young girl in one of our programs was a selective mute. She simply would not talk in school and there was no medical reason for her to not be speaking. She came to Girl Smarts with the support of an assistant. In one of our workshops, the girls stand up and speak with a partner about a doll they’ve created. We didn’t want to exclude her, so we all literally held our breath as she came up to the front of the room with her partner and her doll. When the time came, they handed this little sweet girl the microphone and she talked. That’s all… she talked. You could feel the air move as teacher’s heads whipped around so we wouldn’t see each others eyes filling up with tears. There have been many, many emotional moments like that where girls have found their voices. But this example was the most literal and most compelling.
What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? I am not a business woman. I’ve been very intent to price the program in a way that will allow girls to attend but still allow me to attract facilitators who are quality representatives of leadership and who have the skills to keep the girls interest. I’ve gone back and forth in terms of transferring to a 501c(3), but I am not excited about the inclusion of a board and also like the idea of being a for-profit that people can trust. I’m not in this for a huge profit margin, but I do have responsibilities to respect in terms of four children who are college bound, so finding the best way to include all girls while pursuing quality growth is a challenge.
I’m a mom of four boys. When I started the program they were in middle and elementary school, and the early years were all volunteer and took a tremendous amount of time. I really had to have the family’s buy in, the boys and my husband, to pursue making a difference like I am with Girl Smarts. That buy in and support is the only way I can do this type of work. Thankfully, they are very special men and see the value in making our young ladies strong and ready to take on the world. For that I’m very thankful.
Who is your most important role model? I am inspired by selfless servants. Not technically one person, of course, but “that” person is my role model. I think about the work of our volunteers in the Peace Corps, traveling to different parts of the world to help children who have it worse than we do in the United States. I think about our military serving whenever and wherever they are asked to serve and our volunteer men and women who do things for the pure goodness of making a difference. They lift me with their efforts and their nobility. I’ve always admired Jonas Salk and his pursuit of a vaccine to cure polio with no desire for personal gain and our first ladies who work tirelessly on behalf of their causes during their White House years. Mrs. Obama started an outreach program in the White House for middle school girls. That specific action made me think “why not” when I was considering Girl Smarts.
Edited by The Story Exchange