Most people can relate to this song lyric from “Ooh La La” by Faces: “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.” Except maybe alumnae of a program established by Shantina Knox, associate director of graduate admissions. Called Treasure Our Daughters Academy (TODAY), the nonprofit equips girls age 10 through 12 with the confidence to navigate issues related to self-esteem, family relationships, friendship, and finances.
“I want to help young women avoid wasting time and money on things they can conquer with the right knowledge at an early age,” Knox said.
Cohorts kick off each August, last approximately nine months, and comprise participants from metro Atlanta. In addition to meeting monthly, groups engage in mentoring, read an assigned book, and complete a community service project. For example, the pilot cohort wrote letters to children in a Children International community.
Eight young women graduated from the first cohort in spring 2023, and recruitment is underway for the next class. Knox has used her own hindsight and feedback from participants’ caregivers to tweak the curriculum.
“I distributed a survey to parents and grandparents, and a lot of them noticed an increase in their daughter’s or granddaughter’s confidence,” Knox said. “They also witnessed their loved ones come out of their shell and learn to speak up.”
Based on those comments, Knox will introduce a public speaking component. She grappled with shyness as a child, further explaining her emphasis on encouraging TODAY students to value their intelligence and find their voice.
At the end of every session, Knox provides participants with “treasure cards” recapping the topics discussed. During the final class, students complete a quiz and, based on their score, receive fake money to be redeemed for items like bracelets, necklaces, and inspirational young adult books. If the young women demonstrate absorption of the material, they will have a greater chance of carrying their new wisdom with them into adolescence and beyond.
When it comes to mentoring girls and women, TODAY isn’t Knox’s first rodeo. For the past 11 years, she has volunteered with Destiny’s Daughters of Promise, a nonprofit offering leadership and life skill development programming for teenage girls. She serves as a mentor at its annual Girls to Women Leadership Symposium and worked as project coordinator for its new Black history curriculum. In 2012, she graduated from Georgia State’s Executive Leadership Academy for Women (ELAW), a professional development initiative open to university staff, She later was invited to sit on the ELAW advisory committee.
“I wanted to start my own program so the young women in my community won’t make the mistakes their predecessors made,” Knox said. “I’ve always had that desire.”