By Eva Hofmann
Kourtney is thinking about a law career. Kyreanna wants to be a pediatrician. Sabrina already is working on her journalism career after just two years of college. These confident, forward-thinking young women exemplify the 1,000-plus girls who have participated in Ladies of Virtue (LOV), a mentoring program for girls aged nine through 18. The mailing address is 1245 S. Michigan Ave. LOV personnel see girls at Perspectives in Bronzeville and Crane Medical Prep High School on the Near West Side.
“A lady of virtue is not a perfect woman, but she strives to be the best that she can be in every aspect of her life,” said LOV founder Jamila Trimuel.
History of LOV
Trimuel launched LOV almost nine years ago to fulfill her own passion. “Growing up, my dad used to say, ‘You are an African girl, and you can do anything you put your mind to,’” said Trimuel. “I realized that not everyone had positive role models to encourage them. In high school, I realized that these positive role models can literally change the trajectory of your life.”
Trimuel began mentoring in college and continued while earning her master’s degree in healthcare administration. She continued mentoring girls during the evenings and weekends, even after landing a job at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
During that time, Trimuel developed the idea for Ladies of Virtue, which she launched in October 2011, while still working full time. “I felt it was my calling and purpose to mentor girls,” said Trimuel. “It was all I could think about.” So she eventually left her job at Northwestern and pursued the Broad Residency in Urban Education, sponsored by the Broad Center at Yale University, which allowed her to travel the country for two years to identify the inequalities in America’s educational system. “When that program concluded in 2016, and with the blessing of my husband, I ended up going full time with Ladies of Virtue,” she said.
How LOV has helped Black girls
Over the past nine years, LOV has served 1,000 girls and been designated as a Gold Star mentoring organization established by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
Today, some 165 girls and young women participate in LOV, with 30 girls in the fourth through eighth grade program, 100 in the high school program, and 35 in the LOV 4 Life Alumni program.
Kourtney, who joined LOV four years ago, just completed her freshman year at Lindbloom Math & Science Academy. “When I joined, I realized it’s all supportive, and you feel nothing but love, and everyone wants the best for you,” she said. “It helped me step out of my shell.” Kourtney is interested in law and said she has built bonds with her peers and developed confidence in speaking up and dealing with conflicts.
Aspiring pediatrician Kyreanna, who just graduated from Crane Medical Prep High School, joined LOV as a sophomore. She said it has helped her be more confident and outspoken. “LOV has opened me up, and I participate and speak out and voice my opinion,” she said. “We do group discussions and work on supporting each other and being open with each other.” The program also has taught her how to stay focused on her goals and prepare for college, she said, noting she plans to attend Malcolm X College.
After participants finish high school, the LOV 4 Life Alumni program mentors and supports participants until six years after graduation. One such participant is Sabrina, who just completed her sophomore year at Harold Washington College. She is transferring to Columbia College Chicago in the fall as an English major.
Sabrina joined LOV as a high school freshman. This summer, she is interning with Free Spirit Media. “I will be an environmental health and wellness reporter covering the South and West Side of Chicago,” she said.
“At first I didn’t feel I was good enough for Free Spirit Media, but once I dived in,” she said, she found she could do the job. “That’s how I found confidence—by just doing what I’m passionate about.” She credits LOV for bringing out her confidence. “They allowed me to take on different roles and projects, exposed us to different opportunities, and took us on trips,” she said. “They made us feel valuable and feel like we have so much to offer. “
The summer of LOV
This summer, LOV is recruiting participants in its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Beauty and Leadership program to promote self-love, confidence, and beauty while increasing exposure to STEM careers. The virtual (for now) program serves girls in grades six through eight and focuses on the science of beauty.
LOV programs will remain virtual until Illinois lifts its coronavirus (COVID-19) mandates. Sessions have focused on topics such as leadership, mental health, systemic racism, and Black history, with another session featuring a day party with live DJ. “The girls picked the topics,” said Trimuel. “We even had a topic on how girls could talk to parents about sex.”
A recent virtual session, “How the World has Hurt Black Girls,” focused on participants’ responses to the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests. “They just had a conversation about how to be an ally,” said Trimuel. She is proud of the fact that two of the girls involved in the session participated in peaceful protests, as civic engagement is an important part of the LOV experience.
“Our citizen engagement program allows our girls to identify their passion,” said Trimuel. “They take that knowledge and present it to the community. We teach them how to engage in community, how to uplift community. We’ve had girls working on human trafficking, mental health, and bullying.”
Fall programs, staff, and volunteers
In the fall, LOV offers a Saturday program as well as an after school program one day a week. During the nine-month program year that begins in the fall, participants complete 35 hours of leadership development training. They also have the opportunity to tour colleges; earn 12 or more service hours to research, plan, and implement a project that is beneficial to their community; and partner with a mentor who is devoted to their success. In addition, LOV places girls 16 and older in summer jobs and internships.
Mentors help girls navigate the practical considerations of preparing for college. “Each one of my staff members is assigned to students one on one to understand financial aid gaps, research schools, prepare for scholarship opportunities, navigate the verification process, and identify what items they need for college,” said Trimuel. “In fact, we recently launched our College Relief Fund to support college students whose parents have been affected by COVID-19 or the recent unrest in Chicago.”
Mentor Tikisha Buford is nearing her eighth year as an LOV volunteer. In her professional life, she is assistant vice president of underwriting for a Fortune 500 insurance firm.
“I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if someone had not taken the time to pour into me and give me advice along the way,” said Buford. “I’m from the West Side and come from the poorest neighborhoods, so I didn’t want to become a statistic.
“I want the girls to know that their lives don’t have to end up where they are now. Chicago is very segregated, so many people don’t leave their neighborhoods. When you get out of your neighborhood it changes your worldview. I want to expose the girls to things they wouldn’t normally see in their neighborhood and to see other options.”
Buford encourages more women to become a LOV mentor. “Our mentoring staff is diverse,” she said. “It’s not only African Americans who volunteer as mentors or in other capacities.” That diversity applies to gender as well. “There is one father who assists with College & Beyond, which helps our seniors with college, scholarship, and financial aid applications.” In addition, participants sometimes have opportunities to shadow men on the job or male speakers will come in to talk to the girls about project management.
To donate to the LOV College Relief Fund or learn about and apply for the fall STEM program or LOV’s nine-month leadership program, go to www.lovchicago.org or call (877) 565-7121.