Halima Adenegan returned to her alma mater, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, in 2012 — four years after she graduated — to start a mentoring program for girls there. She called it Imara Roose; Imara is Swahili for strong, and Roose is a play on the school’s name. The mentors are female college students who volunteer as big sisters and role models.
Each week, the girls in Imara Roose get together in a large group to discuss various topics that interest them — from physical fitness and healthy lifestyles to social media and self-image. Sometimes, they break into smaller groups, where a mentor in each group answers their questions. On other occasions, there are one-on-one mentoring sessions.
“There are always people that are a little bit shy and more timid and not wanting to speak in front of a large group," Adenegan explained. "It’s a lot easier for them to actually ask questions that need answers and get the information that they really need that they might be more shy to ask in a large group setting.”
Adenegan says the group is a place where girls can feel comfortable discussing common issues, personal problems and the challenges that come with being a teenager.
“I think they just need someone to say I’ve been here, I’ve done that, just follow what I’m doing because I don’t want you to do the same mistakes that I did,” she said.
Justice Davis, who graduated in May, took part in the program and says it helped boost her self-confidence.
"One of the things that I really learned with self-confidence is like when I’m in school and like having a doubt I know I shouldn’t have," she says. "I’ve learned that everyone is different and I am my own self. I learned what I like, what I want to do. So that really helped me a lot.”
Averi Millet, a current mentee, found the discussion on peer pressure especially useful.
“I heard a lot of different comments on how you can positively peer-pressure someone and negatively peer-pressure someone," Millet said. "I thought it was amazing. It helped me through a lot of situations after that.”
Imara Roose's founder says helping high school seniors with their college and future plans is an important part of the group activities.
“Every other Wednesday we have a college meeting," Adenegan said. "In the fall semester, we’re helping them do the college application process, picking your top five schools, resumes, all of that. The second semester it’s more focused on career development. So we have a series of panels. Each one will have a different theme. We also go on field trips. In the past we’ve gone to Baltimore Circuit Court and they had met with the judge. We also had gone to Capitol Hill and met with Congresswoman Donna Edwards.”
A Matter of trust
University of Maryland junior Tinsae Gebriel volunteered as a mentor this year because she wants to give back and help other girls.
“When I come here, I actually enjoy it," she said. "I know that every day they go back home, they are learning ... and I’m learning, too. If you show interest, sooner or later the girls will start to open up to you.”
When girls trust their mentors, she says, they are comfortable discussing difficult issues.
“Like relationships and also like sex education. There are a lot of questions and misinformation. A lot of the information they thought were facts were actually not true. They are relying on some of their friends to answer their questions, and their friends don’t know the answers either.”
Eleanor Roosevelt principal Reginald McNeil supports Imara Roose whole-heartedly, admitting, "I was really excited to have someone who graduated from Roosevelt to want to give back."
He believes the program has a positive impact on his students.
“I think it just broadens their horizon. Most of the students come in and they’re just so narrowly focused because they haven’t been exposed to a lot of different ideas. Being in this program gives them an opportunity to hear from role models. All these young ladies who come back as mentors are in college. They found a way to be successful and they are leading them to the same path.”
Imara Roose founder Halima Adenegan will graduate soon from Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia. She says she would like to see more college students start similar groups to help younger girls follow in their footsteps.