Ladies of Distinction

What if every child was confident, affirmed, and encouraged to be their authentic selves as valuable citizens with limitless possibilities?

Photo of Jennell Riddick
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Our Founder often spoke at schools and community events for youth. While those moments were powerful, she was consistently presented with compelling individual stories following the larger group presentations. Young people would share how no one had ever told them that they could accomplish certain goals or that they could even aspire to lives beyond their current contexts. Their voices were often silenced and they wondered why they weren't "listened to" or seemingly considered in many of the plans and decisions that directly involved them. Our Founder yearned to be able to follow-up with these individuals one on one and in small groups on a consistent basis. She wanted them to be empowered through exposure and assisted in developing a healthy self-esteem and strong identities, thus Ladies of Distinction began.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Virginia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Virginia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Suffolk, VA, Southampton County, VA Franklin, VA Chesapeake, VA

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In our context, many youth live in impoverished communities. They don't often see people who look like them achieve educational or social goals. Several of the schools are struggling to meet standardized test expectations. After reviewing significant research we found that 1 in 3 adolescent and pre-adolescent girls admitted to not liking themselves. These problems persist in part due to a lack of resources within the communities, lack community and parental support, lack of exposure, and poor self-images. Our program seeks to empower the child, the parent, and the communities where they live. We seek empowerment through exposure, while giving practical tools to help the children be successful productive citizens. They are taught to develop and maintain healthy self-esteem and presented with new mindsets that set them up for future success.

 Our program addresses the overall well-being and holistic health of the participants. They are mentored to help develop them socially and emotionally, but they also receive tutorial services, physical education, and parental teaching. They are empowered in tangible ways to develop a strong sense of self and purpose. Parents are also instructed and empowered so that they can model positive self-identity and support the continued positive personal development of their children.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

One of our young ladies was extremely shy, timid, and afraid to speak up about anything. She always seemed to shrink into the background as if hoping to not be seen. After becoming actively involved in the program, taught her value, affirmed, and presented with various paths to success, she transformed. This young woman confirmed our research that there is a direct connection between positive self-esteem and one's academic, social, and emotional health. She is now a confident, intelligent, well-spoken leader, who is also a Gates Millennium Scholar.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Last year the program mentored over 400 girls throughout 13 schools in Virginia. 98% of graduating seniors attended college. 65% of participants improved by at least 1 letter grade in core subject areas. 75% of participants received fewer to no behavioral infractions. We consistently receive feedback from parents, teachers, and administrators about the notable difference in behavior, confidence, and overall healthy decision making from participants.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have a consistent and growing individual donor base, and often receive and apply for grant funding. In addition the organization conducts fundraisers and receives financial support from local businesses.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Our program is unique in that it addresses the overall well-being and holistic health of the participants. They are mentored to help with social and emotional development, but they also receive tutorial services, physical education, and parental empowerment. Other programs are doing great work with girls, but typically focus on only one area of development, such as health or academics.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Healing across multiple generations is a new promising trend that seeks to end destructive cycles in communities with children as well as adults. I am also excited to see new methodologies that address the needs and concerns of the "whole" person. This is imperative, as the various aspects of our childrens' lives are interconnected and therefore should not be isolated.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Program Design Clarity

A) Main beneficiary- Primarily African American females ages 8-18, grades 4-12. B) Main Activities- Annual Self-Esteem Walk and Rally, Annual Healthy Relationship Conference, Semester Get Fit Days, Annual Mother/Daughter Conference, Annual Girls Empowerment Conference, Service Projects, Biweekly meetings. C) Larger events occur annually. Get Fit Days and Service Projects are done 1-2 times per year at varying locations (schools, neighborhoods, etc.) Meetings are typically held twice monthly at each school. D) Services by Founder, Jennell Riddick, site coordinators, tutors, and volunteers.

Community Leadership

The individual schools assist with selecting girls, promoting the program, transportation, and providing meeting spaces. Our parenting component not only empowers parents, but also instructs them and gives them tools to strengthen their entire households. Local businesses provide grants and individuals to assist. These activities provide a more equitable environment for participants to learn, grow, and exist as new opportunities are presented.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Our program, which started in one school, has quickly reached to four school districts and 17 schools. We will continue to expand geographically. As we connect with the girls and their parents, we anticipate seeing results within families, schools, and neighborhoods, ultimately helping shape generations. We are currently expanding the present curriculum into a series. Training additional staff is also a top priority as the program grows.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Our model helps children thrive because their holistic needs are addressed. From being affirmed and empowered to have a healthy sense of self, to being part of a larger group, social needs are being met. While being exposed to various careers, community leaders, and opportunities, children are given tools to seek and discover their own unique purpose. We too embrace the power of '"we" and consistently involve parents and teachers in programming.

Leadership Story

My commitment to social change has only been enhanced as I have directly seen the impact of stregthening the total person. Watching participants grow from timid, fearful individuals into confident, well-spoken leaders is rewarding. Seeing someone, who may live immersed in challenging climates, resolve and perservere to break harmful cycles, is priceless. As the program grows I continue to visit each site and conduct as many sessions as I personally can. Additionally, I continue to educate parents, teachers, business partners, and other community members on their role in children's wellbeing.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Star Partner Award (out of 103 agencies and programs that partner with the school system, the top 3 are named Star Partners) The founder, Jennell Riddick, was named the Suffolk VA 2016 Community Service Woman of the Year for her work with the Ladies of Distinction Program.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Janine Jones

Jennell This program is amazing. You have built out a way to support all the needs of the girls. Just reading about it, I can see how transformational is must be. I want to visit!  

Photo of Jennell Riddick

Thanks so much Janine. We are committed to holistic health and well being.  We would love for you to visit  and maybe we can partner because you are doing outstanding work also!

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