My Daughter’s Keeper

BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — The world of young black girls can sometimes be a minefield to navigate through. It is a world that can spin out of control with substance abuse, teen pregnancy, the staggering statistics of absentee fathers and low self-esteem.

Many of the responsibilities for raising these girls are left to either the mothers or family members that have been thrown into the roll of a substitute caregiver.

These caregivers, who are attempting to communicate with the girls, are sometimes saddled with their own past demons and inadequacies. Some of them have issues such as previous sexual abuse and relationship problems that are still impacting their own lives and now the lives of the girls.

Donna Welch, Founder

Donna Welch, Founder

My Daughter’s Keeper (MDK) is the brainchild of Donna Welch, who launched the program back in 2008 to provide a safe haven for young ladies to express themselves while offering a lifeline of assistance to help to their anxious caregivers.

They presently have 25 young girls who meet weekly to voice their concerns in their own words. Words that are filled with raw emotion, uncovering deeply buried issues.

“This is a program of prevention,” stated founder and President Donna Welch. “The program was designed to be gender specific, increase social awareness and promote positive changes in a young girl’s life.”

The program endeavors to instill in its participants that self-love and respect is the first character trait that unlocks the door to overcoming life’s unfair circumstances.

The girls must believe that they are worthy of the best things in life, and must realize that all negative situations can be overcome by their attitude and the support of other women who have traveled the same path.

Welch, who is married to Pinellas County Commissioner Kenneth Welch, feels that the difference in her program and others is that it requires the caregiver to be involved.

“We work with our mothers/caregivers listening to what they are faced with in raising their daughters, granddaughter etc.,” she stated. “We listen to their concerns, so we know what to work on during our sessions with the girls.”

Welch feels that the program is an opportunity for the caregivers and girls to learn to work together. She further stated that girls have unique needs. “They feel that they’re not heard or understood,” she explained. “A lot of them feel that they’re just existing.”

The program consists of group discussions and workshops on subjects such as character traits, social and professional etiquette, goal setting/career planning, relationship building, bullying, boys, health and wellness, beauty within and self-image, self-respect, leadership, role modeling and exploring the pitfalls of social media.

MDK has a range of guess speakers to come in and talk to the girls on relevant topics such as Valerie Miller from the Are You Safe Organization speaking about domestic violence and sexual abuse; Metro Wellness and Community Centers on the subject of HIV and health wellness and representatives from the Pinellas County Health Department on sexual transmitted diseases.

“We view our girls as diamonds,” said Program Assistant Martha Henderson. “We’re not here to judge but to show love and compassion and to give them the tools to be successful and become shining lights to others. It takes a village to raise the girls and share knowledge. We have to step up and stand out for the young girls.”

Welch is a firm believer that where you’ve been does not define where you’re going. “There is a way out. You can’t change the past but you can change your future. They have to believe in themselves,” she stated.

Other members of MDK are Vice President Laverne Roberts, Treasurer Darlene Herring, Financial Advisor Liz Dingle and Program Assistant and Secretary Martha Henderson. Welch said she is also thankful for the additional marketing and web design support she receives from Crystal Hall and NaKena Cromartie.

MDK is a 501(c)(3) organization, but have had limited donations. Most of the funds have come from the board members and volunteer staff. They hope to expand the program to develop a Caregivers Connection support group and to have in place a 50 Plus Inspiring Mentors and Coach Initiative.

MDK meets at The Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd Ave. S., St. Petersburg, on Thursdays at 6 p.m. For more information, please call (727) 422-6827 or log onto mdktampabay.org

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