“I wanted to be the mentor I never had.”

Rachel, University of Massachusetts, Boston

SWSG afterschool program feature: Thomas J. Kenny School, Boston

In this bright and friendly elementary school classroom, four college women from the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) bustle and arrange desks and materials while waiting for their students. Girls’ voices can be heard down the hallway. Greetings and laughter soon fill the room. Welcome to another day at one of Strong Women, Strong Girls’ (SWSG) afterschool programs.

Each academic year, over 800 girls (grades 3-5) participate in SWSG’s deeply engaging after-school mentoring programs with tailored lessons on identity, peer relationships, and community experiences. SWSG has developed a robust curriculum that focuses on belonging, learning, collaboration, excellence, and impact. Special activities include guest speakers and college campus field trips.

Led by volunteer mentors from local college chapters, SWSG programming serves girls from mostly under-resourced communities and reflecting different countries of origin, backgrounds, and languages. Almost 50% of girl participants have an annual household income of less than $45,000. In the greater Boston area, SWSG currently has nine college chapters and hosts 40 afterschool programs.

Today’s classroom is in the Thomas J. Kenny School (TKS) located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. The school has been a SWSG program site hosted by the UMass Boston college chapter since the 2021-22 academic year. At TKS, four college mentors host the 90-minute, weekly session for 8-12 girls (mentees) per semester, with many mentees returning to the program each year. The spirited UMass Boston mentors are Rachel, Khandace, Keiki, and NAME, joined on this occasion by Maya Correia, Boston’s Program Manager.

The TKS student population is diverse, and the school serves majority Black and brown students, as well as white and Asian youth. Mentor Rachel, a biology student with a psychology minor, notes, “As someone who comes from a multicultural background myself, I know the importance of having representation of different backgrounds, culture, and race.”

The afternoon includes a group welcome, check-ins with mentees, relationship-building activities, a healthy snack, and a Get Active! game, as well as learning about each week’s role model. SWSG’s role models are inspiring women and girls of varying and diverse backgrounds, often who have been the “first” in their professional fields and/or made direct impacts in their communities. Role models include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, United States Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Indigenous advocate Michelle Chubb, Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth Carter, and Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler. The talking, learning, and activity time fosters teachable moments, lifeskills, and increased confidence for the girls as well as group cohesion, communication, and collaboration.

Today’s activity is an art project that invites the mentees to reflect on social issues that are important to them personally. After grabbing paper and supplies, the girls settle in and start to draw while chatting with each other and their mentors. Seated at a grouping of desks with other mentees, one girl comments as she’s painting, “My cause is helping the poor, and my poster says ‘make everyone’s world a little brighter’.”

Khandace, a political science major with an education studies minor, is impressed by the mentees and welcomes this mentoring opportunity as a preview for a career in education.

“What is most inspiring to me about mentoring at TKS is interacting with so many different personalities and younger kids who have knowledge about the world, from around the world,” she says. “I think adults tend to overlook the intelligence of younger kids, and this definitely inspires me to stay engaged with my love of learning and working with young people.”

The mentors share this sentiment, and are grateful for the bonds that have developed between everyone, mentors and mentees alike. And, as the school year has progressed, they note that trust has developed within the group, with mentees being more present during group time, showing vulnerabilities, and sharing their goals and dreams.

As the mentees pack up to leave at the end of this early spring day, they are asked to consider what it would be like to be a mentor to others. After a moment, one girl responds smiling, “If I was a mentor, I would teach my students about people changing the world for women.”


In addition to UMass Boston, SWSG’s Boston chapters include: Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Roxbury Community College, Salem State University, Simmons University, and Tufts University.

Learn more about our Boston and Pittsburgh area college chapters by clicking here.