Although Mya Williams hasn't reached high school yet, she is already learning the importance of community service through her participation in the Girls Embracing Maturity, Strength and Scholarship program at Claflin University.
Along with 40 other girls in the GEMSS program, the Felton Laboratory student made pillows to give to the homeless and senior citizens last year. Williams said the GEMSS program has instilled her with a sense of service.
"I learned to carry myself as a young lady," she said.
Community service is only one component of the Claflin GEMSS program, which was founded in 2002 by Dr. Vermelle Johnson. The girls learn about everything from wealth management to science experiments.
Dr. Angela Peters, chairwoman of the Claflin Chemistry Department and director of the GEMSS program, said the program is aimed at empowering girls at local middle schools with leadership skills. Peters said GEMSS students meet during the weekends and have a summer workshop annually.
"We have workshops on different modules to help them on their journey to becoming young ladies," Peters said. "We really need to start them at an early age."
GEMSS is housed under the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Claflin, Dean Dr. Verlie Tisdale said. Tisdale, the GEMSS program coordinator, said one of the program's goals is to get the students interested in math and science.
So far, the girls have visited the Myrtle Beach Aquarium, the NASA Center in Columbia and studied fish in their ecological environment. The program has also gotten its students engaged in the voting process. Prior to last year's historic election, the students set up a table and passed out literature stressing the importance of voting at the Prince of Orange Mall.
Felton Laboratory student Meagan Greene cites learning about other cultures and making a collage as her favorite GEMSS activities.
"I enjoy being a part of GEMSS. You meet a bunch of different people and do different things," she said.
Greene said she is planning for a career as either a professional dancer or crime scene investigator.
Recently, the Claflin GEMSS program received a $20,000 donation from the Sunshine Lady Foundation, a national organization that strives to eliminate poverty through the promotion of education while cultivating young women into vibrant leaders.
Claflin President Dr. Henry Tisdale said the donation helps support the program's mission of cultivating girls into visionary women.
"The GEMSS program at Claflin University has yielded remarkable results thus far. It demonstrates the university's long-standing commitment toward making a positive footprint in the Orangeburg community," he said. "I would personally like to thank the Sunshine Lady Foundation for their generosity."
For more information about the GEMSS program, call Peters at 803-535-5447 or e-mail email@example.com.