Strong Women, Strong Girls Pittsburgh is fueled by our volunteers. During each Program year (September-May), hundreds of dedicated college mentors, professional mentors, event volunteers, and others donate their time to make possible the work we do in the community.
But in the summer, for three short months, our programs aren’t in session. During that time, it’s up to the SWSG staff to get ready for the next program year and prepare volunteers for September.
Program Coordinator Raenelle Lowery, who’s been working with SWSG for three years and on staff for two, describes summer at SWSG as such:
“During the program year, you’re actually physically running around everywhere in the city, and the summer is you mentally being in a thousand different places and trying to wrap your mind around everything and thoughtfully plan and develop a comprehensive strategy.”
Raenelle spends nine months of the year traveling to program sites, university chapters, special events, and meetings with volunteers. That’s the part our community sees – Program Coordinators on the ground, working directly with our girls and mentors. But there’s ample behind-the-scenes work, too.
“On the back end of things, something that mentors, girls or other community members don’t always get to see is we’re spending a lot of time figuring out how to improve program experience, how to take feedback, take what we’ve learned, and create a more successful program in the next year,” said Raenelle.
So, when she’s not traveling across the city, she spends time preparing for the current and future needs of mentors and girls, including crafting curriculum, planning trainings and special events, and creating systems and templates to increase SWSG’s sustainability. There’s never true downtime – but that’s one of the reasons she likes the job.
Raenelle was first introduced to SWSG in 2015, when she was part of the AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a national system of service programs. Members are placed at various sites, which may include nonprofits or community organizations, and commit their time to helping their site increase its community impact. In 2015, Raenelle was in her second year as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and SWSG was a great fit for her experience working in women and youth development.
“I felt like SWSG was a great place to learn and to create and to connect with such a large community of constituents and women and mentors,” said Raenelle.
After a year serving SWSG through AmeriCorps, Raenelle was hired onto the SWSG staff in 2016 as a Program Coordinator. Despite the challenges – such as serving more than 1,000 constituents per year with a staff of four – it continues to be a valuable experience for her. Her favorite part about the organization? The only constant is change.
“One thing I really appreciate about SWSG is that one thing has remained consistent – we’ve been open to change, open to innovation, open to always adapting as needed to meet the needs of the people we serve and to make sure we’re providing a quality experience,” she said.
Quality is one of SWSG’s core values, and one that Raenelle carries throughout the rest of her life. For her, committing less than her best isn’t an option; she never wants to be part of something that doesn’t reflect her greatest effort. Even if perfection isn’t reality, it’s always the goal, and SWSG has given her space to work toward that goal.
Beyond her responsibilities at SWSG, Raenelle is mom to two daughters, ages 8 and 6. The three of them love to spend time together, whether it’s playing board games, watching movies, baking cakes, or just joking around.
“I’m making my best effort to connect with my girls and to make sure they have in their home a mentor like the ones we send out to our sites,” said Raenelle. “I’m making sure they have someone they can confide in and look up to, and that they can connect with.”
As she looks to the future, Raenelle is excited to complete a college degree in either economics or international relations, with the goal of becoming a true change agent who can affect conditions in Pittsburgh at a policy level for the people who need it most. Her work at SWSG is integral to that goal – she’s building skills and a foundation to be the difference in our community. In the meantime, Raenelle is spending this summer, as she does all the months of the year, making SWSG’s program the best it can be for the women and girls who count on us.