The Washington Redskins Charitable foundation welcomed 75 young women from Fairfax County and Loudoun County Public Schools on Tuesday, teaching them about social entrepreneurship and encouraging them to explore their passions.
Since launching the ASPIRE initiative in October of 2017 in partnership with Visa, Inc., the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation has aimed to empower young women from Fairfax County and Loudoun County Public Schools.
Accomplishing that objective has manifested itself in several different ways. Through panel discussions, breakout sessions and team-building exercises, the Foundation has inspired these young women to be their best selves.
On Tuesday, 75 seventh graders from Fairfax and Loudoun County Public Schools in the 2018 - 2019 ASPIRE cohort attended the spring summit, held at the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park. It served as an informative and compelling event, teaching the young women in attendance about social entrepreneurship and encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
"The women who have spoken at our summits over the past two years have come from a variety of backgrounds, many had to overcome significant obstacles to achieve their goals," the Foundation's Executive Director, Jane Rodgers, said. "That's something we want the girls to hear is that it's not where you start, it's where you finish in life, and that you have as much control over that as anyone does."
The ASPIRE initiative, created for 7th grade girls, focuses on inspiring, educating and building confidence in young women from Loudoun County and Fairfax County Public Schools. The spring summit allows returning students to hear from influential women from a variety of career paths and backgrounds, and will focus on social entrepreneurship and channeling your passion into something greater. Students will enjoy lunch in the team dining facility before dividing into two breakout sessions to continue the summit, and then will come together in the indoor practice facility to participate in a team building fitness exercise.
Carol Maloney, a former NBC Sports anchor who now covers the Washington Nationals on MASN, cherished her time at the fall summit in December so much that she returned to kickoff the spring initiative at Redskins Park.
Following a brief question and answer session regarding inspirational figures in the students' lives, Maloney gave way to a captivating performance from keynote speaker Maria Rose Belding. She's a senior at American University but also the executive director and co-founder of MEANS Database, a non-profit food rescue platform based in Washington D.C. It was only a few years ago that Belding was in the same position as her audience.
Belding explained her arduous road from her middle school years to where she is now, detailing her longtime bout with depression and her fight to gain acceptance from others. She offered tidbits of advice, both to build a business and to build a life. Join in, work hard and team up, she explained. Learn to live life on life's terms, she preached.
"She was very inspiring and she hit me really hard," said Ava Sawi, a seventh grader at Key Middle School in Springfield. "How even if you have problems, that does not stop you from being what you want to be and trying to be successful in the world."
"You decide your dreams and what you want to do," Belding said, "and you're not defined by what anybody says or does to you or about you at this age."
Following a nutritious lunch at the team dining facility, the students divided into two breakout sessions with Alise Dixon, the quality improvement director for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Adriana Skinner, a partner and wellness consultant for the House of Skinner and Nadia Feimster, the founder of Npowered Fitness. Afterwards, they congregated in the Redskins Indoor Practice Facility for team-building fitness exercises with special appearances from Redskins players Caleb Brantley and Tim Settle.
Between Belding and the other speakers, students met successful women pursuing their passions in fields that have at times been male dominated. They've given their young counterparts a new perspective, one they can spread to their respective classmates moving forward.
"You've got haters out there who try to bring you down, and you need to block them away and focus on yourself," Sawi said. "[Belding] was talking about self-love and how it's a process, so I feel like you need to start the process young. Don't start it old because you can't teach an old dog new tricks."