New Castle’s Diamond Girls

Society today can make it hard for young people to find decent role models and people above them to strive to be like. This type of thing is especially difficult for young women, as there are still a lot of barriers and glass ceilings that have yet to be broken down. 

Luckily there are plenty of people who are willing to step up and fill that void of missing role models, even here in our community! Michele Perelman and Octavia Payne are co-founders of The Diamond Girls in Transition program, which was founded in 2005. This amazing program helps to mentor and support local young women. According to Payne, ¨We use “Diamond” to reference its ability to transform from something simple into something resilient and transcendent. A diamond is molded and tempered by time and patience, the final GEM is strong, sparkling, and many-faceted.¨ 

Perelman says she and Payne were inspired to create such an organization because they ¨saw a deep need to advocate for and to help young girls grow into strong, self-supporting, and self-respecting young women.¨  This program is available to young girls in 5th grade and stick with it until after graduation. The goal is for the girls to remain committed to being drug, alcohol, and pregnancy-free while being in the program. By doing so, the girls get a personal mentor that helps them achieve these goals, learn proper etiquette, and allows the girls to experience things outside of the community that they would not be able to on their own. 

Before the pandemic, the girls would meet on the first Monday of the month at New Castle high school to go over announcements, pray, have a meal, listen to guest speakers, exercise, and meet with their personal mentors. The guest speakers are from local health organizations to talk about personal health, and even from The Crisis shelter to inform the girls about things from personal safety to job or educational skills. This allows the girls to meet other young women who became successful and realize their potential. 

More opportunities that are available to the girls through this life-changing program include; trips to informational places such as Moraine State park, Pittsburgh theaters, the Benedum, and even New York City to see famous locations in the city. The girls also attended cooking classes, participated in fashion shows, science programs at The Carnegie Center, or even just doing volunteer work. These experiences take place one Saturday every month. 

The largest volunteer experience the girls are involved in is the Glory Grille at the First Presbyterian Church. The girls get to prepare food, set tables, greet the elderly and homeless of the community, and do much more. Octavia Payne says this is her favorite experience with the girls because she gets to see just how far the girls have come in all aspects of their lives, and it gives her hope for their future. 

As the girls approach the end of their experience, The Diamond girls get to meet and talk with people about applying to colleges, how to best finance their future education, take practice SATs and other exams, and even tour campuses. This year, the graduating group of Diamond girls has four college tours planned and a trip to Washington D.C. Once a young woman graduates high school, they receive scholarships towards various schooling expenses. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Perelman and Payne´s organization and how they run it. The girls meet via zoom calls and still have weekly contact with their mentor, even if it is not in person. As restrictions have been lifted, the group has been able to get different workshops set up to make up for the lost time. On February 10th, 2021, the girls were able to attend a college workshop that gave the girls information about filling out applications and how to prepare for financial aid. This was their first time gathering in person for close to a year, which was encouraging to the girls, their mentors, Octavia, and Michele. They continue to practice social distancing, masking up, and other precautions to be able to continue having small workshops and events. In March of 2021, The Diamond girls are planning to have an exercise training led by Leslie Sansome for the girls to get certified in the Walk 15 group exercise system.

Over the years, Michele, Octavia, and the mentors have grown to become one big family supporting the girls and each other. The leadership and selflessness of Michele, Octavia, and all the other amazing people involved in The Diamond Girls will forever impact the lives of those they helped. These ladies, in our community, are making such a big difference by being the role models all young ladies need. Their work is shaping the future of our area into a bright one. 

To become a mentor, contact Michelle Swogger at 724-658-4766 ext. 21.  Additionally, to join the Diamond Girls,  fill out the form linked here and turn it into the YMCA.  Other people can help, donate, and learn more by going to the YMCA website and going to the Diamond GIrls page, linked here.

Photo by Edgar Soto on Unsplash

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