She Connects: mentoring and empowering young women and gender-diverse folks

The volunteer program matches youth with mentors across the country

The four co-founders of She Connects. Leena Parhar, Meghan Dunn, Emily Haugen, and Avneet Sandhu (left to right). (Submitted)

It has been two years since the four co-founders of She Connects, a virtual mentorship program for young women, joined forces to brainstorm how they could connect and support their communities.

Since then, the initiative has brought on 30 mentors across Canada to be available to young women and gender-diverse students close to graduating high school.

“When we were in high school, we kind of all faced struggle, and we didn’t have anyone that we could necessarily talk to about it. So how could we fill that gap? We thought a mentorship initiative might be the thing to do,” says Emily Haugen, one of the co-founders and a student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The four co-founders met each other at Daughters of the Vote, an empowerment event encouraging more women to get into politics.

With 338 delegates selected to represent each federal riding in Canada, Emily Haugen came from Langley, Avneet Sandhu from Surrey, Meghan Dunn from Maple Ridge, and Leena Parhar from Abbotsford.

Together they combined their micro-grants, which they were able to apply for through the Daughters of the Vote initiative, and decided they wanted to help young women and gender-diverse high school students.

The mentorship is judgment-free, built on trust, and catered to support the students with the kind of expertise and mentors they desire.

The mentors are described on their website as “women with varying life experiences who strive to empower other women in their life’s journey.” Haugen says their mentors also come from different post-secondary backgrounds and professions.

“Everyone has such a wide, diverse variety of experiences. Not all of them were born in Canada – there’s just so many ways that they can support women that are in high school,” she says.

Getting through high school can be enough of a challenge in itself, but at the same time, moving from high school to post-secondary or the workforce is also a difficult adjustment.

“I think that creating those connections between people in high school and people who have graduated, it’s so important for when you want to go and enter that post-high-school world, because sometimes you don’t realize that you’re not prepared for it until you’re launched into it. And then you’re there, and you’re like ‘What do I do now?’” says Haugen.

Being part of the mentorship program also allows both sides to connect with someone they otherwise wouldn’t have met, particularly if it’s across the country.

The non-profit’s launch party will take place somewhere in the Greater Vancouver area, likely in Langley or Surrey, on Sept. 12. As long as the COVID-19 timeline stays on track, they will host the event in-person, but they are also ready to stick to a virtual meeting if need be.

Haugen encourages other university students to chase after their extra-curricular goals, even though it might not feel like the right time because of how busy they can be. She Connects is also looking for more young women and gender-diverse folks in high school who are interested in being mentored.

“I think that it’s always worth putting in that time,” Haugen says. “Even though you don’t think that you have the time, you will find the time – whether it’s in the cracks between doing homework and starting work, or while you’re eating breakfast.”