From 2002 to 2009, Kylie Schuyler of Laguna Beach was helping to set up schools in Cambodia. As the schools opened, she noticed that the classrooms would fill up but with male students only.
Locals told her that girls were kept home to work.
So she and fellow community service workers began paying the girls' families $10 a month so they could afford to have their daughters leave work and attend school.
Schuyler eventually moved back to Orange County but longed to help more girls develop social-emotional and life skills.
So in 2011, she established Global Girls Leading Our World, also known as Global G.L.O.W., to help girls from low-income families in vulnerable communities, perhaps where gangs and drugs are prevalent, gain literacy skills and consistent mentoring relationships to develop self-esteem and resilience.
It's at the organization's worldwide headquarters in a cozy, reconfigured home in downtown Santa Ana, where girls in grades 5 to 12 — and mentors, recruited from local universities — meet after school and participate together in writing poetry and other works, playing music and delving into photography and art.
"I knew those girls in Cambodia weren't the only ones who needed help," Schuyler said one afternoon in the G.L.O.W. home. "I knew I could help here."
She and the mentors hope to help the girls, ages 10 to 16 and largely from Santa Ana, find their voices, their hidden talents and their inner strength.
During a recent visit to the Laguna Beach venue [seven-degrees], six teens from Global Girls Leading Our World, at the invitation of the women's wellness retreat Mindful Her, read poems they had written.
The girl-power spirit was palpable.
"One day I will surprise you."
"One day, I will own the spotlight."
"One day I will conquer my fears."
In beginning her group, Schuyler, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, reached out to the executive director at El Sol Science & Arts Academy of Santa Ana, a dual-immersion charter school located across the street from the G.L.O.W. house.
She shared how she wanted to offer a structured after-school and out-of-school mentoring-based programs that gave girls an outlet for creative self-expression in a place where they could connect with and respect one another.
Last fall, the house extended its programming to Santa Ana residents from El Sol Elementary, Bowers Kidseum, KidWorks and Carr Intermediate School, among others.
Orange County's Second Harvest Food Bank joined the effort by providing healthy meals at the house.
Shalom Reguerin, 18, of Santa Ana is a Global G.L.O.W. mentor. The Santa Ana College student said that during her senior year of high school, she was shy and had not been involved in too many school activities. After learning about Global G.L.O.W. and visiting the house, she said she was inspired to work with girls who could benefit from added guidance.
"It was kind of scary because you get this sense of responsibility," Reguerin said of becoming a mentor.
Today, the center that Schuyler founded to empower at-risk girls who have limited resources, operates throughout the U.S., Africa, Asia and Central America. The organization also is in collaboration with its New York-based nonprofit partner LitWorld, through The HerStory Initiative, which helps improve the lives of girls around the world through storytelling, literacy and mentorship.
Next for 25 of the local Global G.L.O.W. girls and mentors is a United Nations event in March, where women will share their stories of discovering their life's meaning.
"I just realized the way things are done is saying, 'Yes, let's figure it out,' " Schuyler said. "Let's just say 'Yes.' Whatever you decide to do and put your mind to it, it can happen."