“I am Strong Woman because… I always strive to find happiness.”
~ Maya Correia, former college Chapter Director and current SWSG Program Manager, Boston
College is a busy time with coursework, friends, activities, and Maya Correia knew she also wanted a purposeful community engagement project at the University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMass Boston). Finding Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) was the right fit!
Identifying as a Black and first generation Cape Verdean woman, Maya found her passion for racial activism and social change growing up in Florida. While in high school in Quincy, Massachusetts, she founded the POC Student Union to challenge racism and gender bias as well as create a safe space for student expression. And, she knew then that she wanted a diverse and inspiring campus life in college: “Having exposure to different kinds of people helped me feel a sense of community and was very important to me.”
In college, major societal issues–the COVID-19 pandemic, issue-based politics, and racial injustice–stirred her brewing activism, leading to an academic change. Originally a Nursing major, Maya found inspiration in her hands-on SWSG mentoring work to shift instead to Sociology with a minor in Human Rights, adding, “I wasn’t doing right by me or my kids. It helped me understand where I wanted my energies to be.”
The Generational Link
As Maya notes, Strong Women, Strong Girls college chapters are the “generational link” in the organization’s mentoring model, both giving and receiving. SWSG college chapters are currently located in Boston and Pittsburgh, and the college women serve as the volunteer leaders of the many, local SWSG after-school programs for girls in grades 3-5. These women are also recipients in the mentoring cycle, partnered with local Strong Leaders, professional women who provide guidance, encouragement, and support in the transition into the stages beyond college.
For Maya, the SWSG afterschool program provided the unique opportunity to dig into the real work with her girls: personalizing planning and lessons for her mentees as well as gaining their trust, which proved, overall, to be an invigorating and energizing experience. She notes, “The kids are inspiring you and propel you through the week; they’re looking up to you. They are so excited for the future.”
During her tenure as the UMass Boston’s SWSG Chapter Director (May 2019-December 2022), COVID-19 shut everything down. What was going to be a few weeks of closure in Boston turned into months; her college classes moved online and the after-school programming stopped. As justified social upheaval added to the stressors in her life, Maya harnessed her energy into increasing SWSG’s visibility on campus: posting promotional materials and collaborating with other student organizations, especially NAACP, Latinx, queer networks, antiracism groups.
Maya leaned on her own SWSG Strong Leader mentor for support while changing her major and for related personal development questions: “‘What am I doing with my life?’ She supported me in re-aligning my path. That helped give me a better understanding of myself.”
Maya has now made the unique transition from college to her professional life with SWSG. In her new role as Program Manager in the Boston office, she is eager to apply her lessons learned more broadly across chapters, program sites, curriculum development, and training and facilitation. She’s especially interested in creating more inclusive environments for college and afterschool participants, including diverse perspectives, gender expansiveness, and bilingual materials.
And, during the organization’s celebratory 20th Anniversary year, she’s eager to grow with SWSG. She shares the wisdom of what she’s learned for herself and what she hopes to share with her others: “You have to be a lifelong learner. You have the capacity to be teachable. Remain humble, remain teachable.”