DETROIT — Empowering the next generation of women is all in a day’s work for Jill Harris.
Since June 2016, Harris has served as the executive director for Women of Tomorrow Metro Detroit, a non-profit organization that provides mentoring and scholarship opportunities for at-risk high school girls.
“We help young women turn into mature and responsible members of the community,” Harris said. “We help them know that where they are right now doesn’t dictate what their life will be.”
And now, the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank are concluding the Women’s History Month portion of this year’s Game Changers series by proudly celebrating Harris for making a profound difference in youth education.
“Jill’s approach to inspiring girls as the next generation of leaders and innovators is what led us to celebrate her as a Game Changer during Women’s History Month,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “We’re honored to share the story of Women of Tomorrow with our incredible fans who, like us, continue to seek impactful ways to support this important work.”
Women of Tomorrow Metro Detroit is a subset of the Women of Tomorrow nonprofit program, which was founded in Florida in 1997.
“Our mentors help girls stay in school and improve their academic performance,” Harris said. “This is very important because these girls tend to get lost in the system.”
Harris said that more than 80 percent of Women of Tomorrow Metro Detroit participants are from low-income families.
“By partnering these professional women with small groups of at-risk girls, we are providing access to beneficial relationships,” Harris said. “They can obtain knowledge and experiences that they would never have access to otherwise.”
Organizing career-focused field trips and college campus tours are two key ways that Women of Tomorrow Metro Detroit helps high school students dream big.
“The girls love it,” Harris said. “They experience something they’ve never been able to do before. It helps them focus on a career that they might not have ever known was out there. Showing them what is out there, as well as introducing them to women who have gone through different obstacles to get to where they are now, is a very uplifting and positive experience.”
Harris said Women of Tomorrow Metro Detroit is unique because of its small group-mentoring model, which reinforces life skills in a highly structured setting.
“We have mentoring sessions that cover career choices, college readiness, interview skills, financial literacy, conflict resolution, abuse prevention, personal responsibility and health & wellness,” Harris said. “They can see that there are possibilities outside of where they are right now.”
For Harris, being named a Game Changers honoree by the Red Wings and Tigers is one of her “greatest honors.”
“I am so honored and so thankful,” Harris said. “You can do this type of work for years, but this really validates our program. I’m proud to be making a difference in the community. We also need others to help make that difference possible.”
“We run on a very short staff,” Harris said. “There’s just three of us in the office. But what we count on is our community of volunteers. We have over 100 mentors that volunteer and that is something we always welcome.”