|| Marjorie Kaufman
Marjorie Kaufman considers herself fortunate to have been
raised in an environment where gender wasn’t an
obstacle to her ambitions. She wants to let girls know that
with determination, hard work and support they can achieve
anything. "You should never let somebody tell you, 'Oh no, you
can’t do it because you’re a
girl,’" says Kaufman, a partner and head of
marketing and investor relations at New York–based
activist hedge fund firm
Barington Capital Group. "Any time I’ve heard
that in my life, I’ve always said,
'That’s just ridiculous.’"
So in 2007, Kaufman joined the board of the Young
Women’s Leadership Network. YWLN began in 1996
with one girls-only school in East Harlem. The organization now
runs five Young Women’s Leadership Schools
(TYWLS), all part of New York City’s public school
system. There are also 12 affiliated schools around the U.S.,
including seven in Texas. YWLN also runs the coed CollegeBound
Initiative (CBI), which will be in 35 New York City public
schools by next year.
YWLN students come from environments where a college
education for men or women is far from a given. Many are
low-income, immigrants or first-generation Americans and the
first in their families to go to college. Their parents are
often unfamiliar with the bureaucracy of college admittance and
unaware of available scholarships.
"We’re going to put you on the path to
college," says Kaufman, 54. "Once you get to college and get a
degree, you’re going to have opportunities that
wouldn’t be available to you otherwise."
The schools begin with the sixth grade. Students apply to
the program, and parents must sign statements committing to
support their daughters while they are enrolled in a TYWLS. The
schools reflect the city’s population, says
Kaufman. Their students aren’t necessarily high
achievers, but they share the desire to attend college. TYWLS
and CBI graduates have gone on to a range of colleges,
including several Ivies. YWLN counselors know which schools
have support systems that will help their students succeed.
They also lean on their own alumni network and match freshman
YWLN students with enrolled students who act as guides through
the obstacles of college life.
To create resilient young women, TYWLS institutions practice
holistic academic and personal development they call the
whole-girl approach. Kaufman says girls-only schools allow
students to become leaders and have their voices heard in a
supportive setting: "I think it’s important to
inspire them early on and give them an environment where they
can flourish without all those subtle and sometimes not so
subtle forms of discouragement."
The schools also host semiannual "Cool Women, Hot Jobs"
days, when professional women from a broad range of industries
talk about what they do. At "Brag Day" events girls learn how
to talk about their achievements without "feeling
self-conscious and self-undermining," says Kaufman.
The CBI program grew out of YWLN’s college
admissions success rate. The group was approached by city
agencies and nonprofits that wanted to replicate its methods.
CBI funds (along with the New York City Department of
Education) a separate, trained counselor in select high schools
who focuses on creating relationships with students and getting
them into college. "What was working with our program was the
fact that there was a person who was involved one-on-one with
each kid," Kaufman says. "That’s really the magic
Ann Rubenstein Tisch, YWLN’s founder and
president, calls Kaufman a wonderful listener who gives
excellent advice, makes YWLN a high priority and has been
generous in connecting the organization with her network:
"Marjorie is a team player and has been a great friend to this
organization and an important part of it."
Kaufman is also a founding board member and chair of Hilltop Cares,
a nonprofit begun two years ago that provides funding for
therapy to Horace Mann alumni who were victims of sexual abuse
at the school. Kaufman was part of the first
girls’ class to be admitted to the previously
boys-only private school, a place for which she still has fond
memories. Hilltop Cares’ founders saw a need for
financial and psychological support for those who have been
dealing with the aftermath of abuse their entire adult lives.
The group hopes to expand their reach to help more people,
including the victims’ families.
"It’s been the beginning of a healing process, to
be doing something good and helpful in the face of a lot of
harm," Kaufman says.
Meanwhile, helping YWLN girls fulfill their promise is one
of the best things she does, says Kaufman: "I love this
organization. It touches the lives of so many girls, and
it’s so meaningful."
At a Glance: Young Women’s Leadership Network
Annual operating budget: $9.4 million
Current student enrollment: 2,300 (15,000 including CBI)
States with affiliate schools: Illinois, Maryland, Missouri,
New York, Texas