Danielle Craddock is the founder and director of Girls Inspired & Ready to Lead, Inc. (GIRL), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and preparing today’s girls for tomorrow through promoting academic achievement, career preparation, leadership development, community service, and a positive self-image. Since 2010, GIRL has hosted monthly workshops; career conferences and career field trips; performed community service, including hosting Dr. MLK, Jr. Day of Service events benefiting young survivors of human trafficking in 2015 and Women Giving Back in 2016; and published a book of girls’ writings, Pearls of Wisdom for Girls by Girls. As an advocate for STEM education for girls, Danielle has partnered with George Mason University College of Science STEM Accelerator Program to create FOCUS (For Girls of Color and those Underrepresented in STEM), a STEM summer camp for middle school girls, which grew from 18 girls in 2014 to 92 in 2016. Danielle has received many honors including, recognition as a Northern Virginian of the Year 2014 by the Northern Virginia Magazine, 2015 Fairfax County NAACP Community Service Award, and a Leadership Arlington’s 40 Under 40 2015 honoree. Danielle earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from Old Dominion University and a Master of Arts degree in higher education-student services from George Mason University. For more information about GIRL, please visit http://www.girlsinspiredinc.org.
WashingtonExec: How did you become passionate about empowering young girls?
Danielle Blunt Craddock: I became passionate about empowering young girls while I was in college. I tutored and mentored a girl during her fourth and fifth grade years at an elementary school located across the street from the college campus. During that time, I realized that she was experiencing difficulties in school because of her home environment. At the end of the school year, she was more confident in herself and was performing better in school. The school counselor commented that she took pride in how she dressed and participated in class with more confidence. Because of my mentee’s progress, she and I were selected to be featured in a video on mentoring produced by the Norfolk Public Schools. After seeing how my mentoring helped my mentee, I realized that young girls need a caring individual who will listen to them and help them envision their future possibilities. Girls need someone who will inspire them and help them realize their worth, give them confidence that they can do and be anything they desire and that girls have the power to be leaders and make an impact on their communities and the world.
WashingtonExec: Why did you found Girls Inspired & Ready to Lead, Inc.?
Danielle Blunt Craddock: After I graduated college and returned home to Fairfax County, I began mentoring middle and high school girls, meeting once a month at a local community center for “Girl Talk.” Listening to the girls describe their experiences in school, I discovered the challenges that they faced and wanted to find a way to help them cope with those challenges. Many expressed concern about girls’ low self-esteem, bullying, drugs in the school, and exposure to negative images of women in the media. I decided to create a non-profit in order to provide more organized programs that addressed these issues.Through an organized program, I could assist girls academically, socially, and emotionally with support from women in community organizations and businesses. My experience working in the nonprofit field had shown me the impact that nonprofits can have on improving the lives of people in the United States and around the world.
WashingtonExec: Why do think more kids should be involved with STEM?
Danielle Blunt Craddock: More kids should be involved with STEM so they can be prepared to obtain a 21st century job. According to a study by Georgetown, there will be 2.4 million job openings in STEM through 2018, and 8.2 percent of Virginia’s jobs will be STEM related (Pulitzercenter.org). Our youth need to learn the skills for these careers at an early age because they are the future of the workforce who will solve the world’s engineering and science challenges. Being involved in STEM also helps kids develop creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.
WashingtonExec: What have you learned about young girls from serving as the Director of your non-profit organization?
Danielle Blunt Craddock: I have learned that girls have dreams for the future – they want to be engineers, entrepreneurs, researchers, lawyers, and other professionals, and when they see a woman, and especially a woman of color, in that career, they are encouraged to continue pursuing their dreams. They are also passionate about helping people in need and have performed numerous community service projects, such as collecting and donating holiday food baskets to the Alternative House: The Abused and Homeless Children’s Refuge, collecting school supplies for back-to-school projects, making Christmas cards for residents of a local nursing home, preparing care packages for young survivors of human trafficking, and donating clothing to Women Giving Back. I am pleased that some of them want to become social entrepreneurs.
WashingtonExec: What’s the best part about being an advocate for STEM education?
Danielle Blunt Craddock: The best part is showing girls possible STEM careers and hearing them say that programs like our FOCUS STEM camp or career conference helped them discover a career they did not know about. A parent told me that her daughter didn’t know what career she liked, but came to the FOCUS camp for two years and has decided on pursuing a STEM career. Hearing a girl say that she is in college pursuing a STEM career is also one of the best parts of being an advocate for STEM education. One girl who is now attending George Mason University (GMU) studying electrical engineering told me, “I found out about the GMU Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) at a Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead (GIRL) conference in Fairfax while I was a high school student. I am grateful to GIRL because it provided information about the ASSIP Program, and encouraged me to challenge my intellect and feel empowered to succeed in the future.”