While popular trends come and go, University of Toledo student Afreen Alvi’s trend of empowering young
women is here to stay. The fourth-year psychology major received this year’s Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award at the 30th Annual National Philanthropy luncheon for her mentorship program for young women.
Alvi said that as a kid she hoped to create a safe place for younger women to connect and talk about issues relevant to their age group. Her organization, Young Women of Toledo, does just that.
"When younger women struggle, and they know I’m struggling and other people are too, they feel more comfortable and open to share their feelings," Alvi said.
YWOT is a branch of the non-profit organization, Women of Toledo, established in 2014. The group engages, educates and empowers women. While their main goal is to unite young women to learn from each other, the group also advocates for diversity and economic empowerment.
By offering female-focused educational events like leadership development, dialogue and coaching sessions, mentoring and peer-networking services, WOT encourages women to keep moving forward in all aspects of their lives.
Alvi said she initially heard about the group after meeting the founder of WOT, Nina Corder, at a festival where she was doing henna. Alvi joined the group after learning about the group’s mission of creating a safe environment for women to freely express themselves and learn from each other.
“Young women of Toledo is like a small little branch I've created; it’s growing now,” Alvi said. “We have up to 30 young girls that come every month.”
Taryn Knighten, a junior at Toledo School for the Arts, serves on the YWOT's board. After watching everyone’s involvement within the organization, Knighten said joining YWOT taught her leadership.
“This organization really exposes you to a huge amount of leadership and helps you talk and listen to other people in more effective ways,” Knighten said. “It opens up your mind to so many viewpoints of so many people and I think that is especially a skill that everyone should learn.”
Knighten said she is excited about participating in leadership opportunities with other young women next year.
Alvi also enjoys meeting young women in the community and creating friendships with them. She said it makes her happy to see young women looking up to her for advice.
Sharing advice isn’t the only thing the group focuses on. They also offer opportunities for young women to educate each other on cultural differences.
“We pick topics anywhere from fun [topics] about holidays, educating them about holidays in other countries and even topics like self-esteem,” Alvi said.
To encourage the girls to mingle freely, Alvi created a small program called Chat and Chew for two groups, including the Next Generation for girls ages 12 to 17 and the Young Women of Toledo for young women ages 18 to 26. In this program, the two groups of women meet once every month to enjoy a meal and talk about topics important within their age group.
“By the end, our goal is to make them feel comfortable and help them guide themselves, but if they need help, they can also ask for help,” Alvi said.
Due to Alvi’s involvement in mentoring young women, Corder nominated her for the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award. Corder said Alvi has transformed into a great role model for younger women and is a tremendous asset to the organization.
Alvi said she never thought she would get recognized for her work due to her being a young woman of color. She said receiving this award should encourage all young women to continue doing what they love since everything falls into place eventually.
Through her work, Alvi was successful in raising $4,250 to support YWOT programs. She said WOT’s mission drives her to be passionate in educating, engaging and empowering younger women.
“I never thought I would ever get recognized for something that I am passionate about,” Alvi said. “I honestly didn’t know what philanthropy was until I got recognized as an honoree for the award.”
Alvi added when she was younger, she wished something like this existed. Today, Women of Toledo fulfills that dream, encouraging women of all age groups to learn from each other.
"Be confident in yourself and you'll set the trend, and I feel like I've done that," Alvi said.