Like many people, when Dr. Verna Price returned from a 10 day trip to Kenya in early February, she felt changed. “It changes your perspective on everything: how you think, see the world, interpret different situations, your gratitude levels,” she told me. The founder of Girls in Action, a nonprofit that mentors young girls into promising leaders, Dr. Price was in Kenya to visit one of two chapters of her organization based outside of Minnesota (the other is in Guatemala). Girls in Action has had enduring success in Minnesota since its establishment in 2005 and now boasts 12 different school sites in the Twin Cities, with 350 girls enrolled in the program.
Since 2015, Dr. Price has been partnering with Light of Hope, a Kenyan nonprofit to put young girls through the Girls in Action program. Among other things, the program engages girls in advocacy and social change through service-learning and in positive cross-cultural interactions and communication. Based in Naivasha, Light of Hope is a home and school for rescued and vulnerable girls with a “self sustaining model,” Dr. Price tells me.
“The girls get food clothes, health, education and they get love, spirituality, and a safe home.”
Its founders, Sandra and Boniface Karanja, also have ties to Minnesota, where they met and discovered their shared mission before moving to Kenya. While Light of Hope houses approximately 90 girls, the Girls in Action program is available to about 45 of the girls, who are enrolled in grades 5-8. For her visit in 2016, Dr. Price had brought along her husband, this time she visited her oldest daughter and son, aged 14 and 23, so she could share the experience with them. She tells me that they each brought something they could share. Her daughter, a gymnast, taught the girls art and gymnastics. Her son, recently graduated from college, taught reading and piano. He also brought along his skateboard to teach the girls how to skate. Something she admits was hilarious to see the girls get into.
Dr. Price tells me that what stuck with her as she interacted with the girls at Light of Hope was their self-motivation. “Their sense of personal motivation was so high. The girls are so happy to be in school. That really impacted me and how incredibly brilliant they are.” Dr. Price is intent on building similar levels of motivation among the girls in her US chapters, “No excuses, no complaints.”
Kimberly Smith-Moore, a Girls in Action Advisory Board member and also a Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo travelled with Dr. Price. Smith-Moore taught the girls about service leadership and couldn’t help but be amazed by their positivity. “I learned so much,” she tells me. She felt instantly connected to the young girls, who welcomed their guests with songs upon their arrival. “These girls truly need us…our time, resources and most importantly love.”
Light of Hope was not Dr. Price’s only mission visit while in Kenya. A graduate of the Girls in Action-Kenya arranged for her to give a talk at her college, the Rift Valley Institute of Science and Technology. A motivational and public speaker interested in developing personal power among individuals, Dr. Price spoke on the seven dimensions of power, and how to use them to create positive change. The reception to her talk was astounding, she tells me. For many people, “it’s the first time in their lives that someone has ever said to them, ‘you are powerful.’ And that right now, you have the power to change your life.” Dr. Price recalls having conversations with students afterwards about their career goals and what drives them.
She also visited the Naivasha prison as part of a program targeting incarcerated men and women, which she runs through her Power Leadership Institute. When her and her husband visited in 2016, they held a seminar at the prison. This time she returned alone and gave a talk to approximately 200 incarcerated men on how to positively change their lives. “My work is to inspire them to be adders, not subtractors,” she tells me. Through all her efforts, Dr. Price is determined to inspire individuals, wherever they are in their lives, to be positive leaders. When I ask Dr. Price about her plans to visit Kenya again, she tell me with a laugh, “I don’t know when I’m coming back but I get a feeling that it’s gonna be real soon.”
To sponsor a girl at Light of Hope and “Educate girls to Change the world,” visit their website at lightofhopekenya.org.