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I Have the Right

Posted by Sally Gillis

Taped to the back cover of her neon pink binder, the Dating Rules and Responsibilities are in plain sight for her classmates to see. They serve as a sense of armor, protecting Michelle.*  Classmates often stop and ask, “Hey what’s up with that? What do those mean?”

I have the right to be treated passionately, thoughtfully and lovingly. I have the responsibility to love myself.

I wasn’t in the greatest place. My family life can be hectic, I mean now I live with a foster family in Kirkland, but I used to live with my grandma and before that my mom.

At the time I was fourteen and already in the juvenile system. There I was part of a group of girls talking about sex and relationships. People seemed impressed with my honesty as I spoke. For once I felt knowledgeable. It was one of the first times I felt smart.

They suggested I become part of DYVAS. Not Divas, like you think, but DYVAS which is a summer girls group through Powerful Voices. It stands for Develop Your Voice and Speak.


I’m not going to lie, the fact that I would get paid to be part of the program was appealing. I had to follow all the rules, which was sometimes hard. But I made the commitment. I wanted the money, I wanted to learn, and I wanted to be part of something.

I had been getting into trouble, easily following what others were doing. I was always the nice girl with lots of friends, but I didn’t know how to say no.  No to classmates wanting help with school work, friends needing money for something, boyfriends too. I always had boyfriends, many who weren’t nice. I was always the one giving and normally the one who got hurt. I didn’t know who I wanted to be. Although I was smiling on the outside, I had a pretty low image of myself.

In DYVAS, I learned to be confident. It was the spark. I learned to think for myself. I learned to stand up for myself, not just follow. If you love me, you love me, if you don’t, you don’t and you’re missing out. I learned to be o.k. with people not liking me.

Now I have learned to put myself first. Now I take care of my school work before helping others. I pay my bus fare before paying for someone else. Now I have self respect in relationships. I know I deserve to be treated right. I don’t let boys, friends or my family walk all over me. I speak up.

We had internships, where people depended on me. We had the chance to be creative, to be honest with each other. The girls you see on TV aren’t real, instead Powerful Voices taught me about real successful women. Realizing that was big. I now have real role models.

It’s not easy, I don’t have the support system others at my school might have. I don’t live with my real family, I rarely see my siblings. My friend group is smaller, and I’m ok with that, because I trust them all. I have people I can depend on. I have true friends. I know that I can call anyone at Powerful Voices whenever I need to. I know that. I appreciate that.

Powerful Schools by Gary Voth

Most importantly, I have dreams now.  I know that I want to go to school and be a good person. Powerful Voices taught me to dream. They taught me things are possible. I want to be a lawyer and help youth.  I want to go to college.

How Does SVP Fit In?

Michelle’s story is not exclusive.  She is one of over 400 young women in Seattle that attended one of the many empowering social justice training programs provided by Powerful Voices in the last year. In hopes of instilling leadership, Powerful Voices pushes girls to realize their dreams, engage in their communities, and help shape a better world.

SVP Seattle funded Powerful Voices for five years.  In that time we provided over $200,000 in unrestricted funding and more than 500 hours of volunteer consulting.

Here are a handful of the consulting projects:

  • SVP alum Susan Loosmore worked with Executive Director Tanya Kim to strengthen Powerful Voices’ financial management system so they could weather the recession and continue to provide programs like DYVAS.  (Learn more…)
  • To fuel growth, SVP helped Powerful Voices develop a fund development plan and  establish a database reporting system to attract more donors and participants.
  • Volunteer coaches and facilitated learning sessions for staff provided support during a leadership transition from Powerful Voices’ original founder to a new director.
  • With the help of SVP funded consultants Powerful Voices created a new strategic plan and crafted a theory of change to help analyze opportunities for replicating their curriculum.

Thank you Powerful Voices for an amazing 5 years!  And thank you to all our Partners who make this work possible.  The path between your contributions of time and treasure, and the lives of young women like Michelle, may be circuitous – but you absolutely make a difference.  Thank you.

*The name in this story has been changed.


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