"It’s deeper than the dress. The dress was what the girls needed, but what they also needed was a space for their confidence to be boosted." —Jennifer Daniel, Founder of Princess Chambers, Inc.
Jennifer Daniel knows the importance of empowering girls to thrive during their every day and the unexpected. In 2009, she founded the Brooklyn-based initiative Princess Chambers, Inc. to ensure all young people in her community could experience prom despite their economic situation. The organization has since grown to offer college scholarships and mentoring opportunities, in addition to providing free dresses and a “princess experience” to over 800 students.
Throughout her work, Jennifer offers guidance and support to the girls and young women Princess Chambers serves. This is particularly true of the nonprofit's scholarship recipients, who reach out to her for advice while navigating the unfamiliar and often stressful realities of college life.
"There was one scholarship recipient who used to call me all the time," Jennifer recalls. “She went to her dream school, but she also grew up in a homeless shelter, [and] she was having issues with her roommate. Whether it was a conflict or the roommate using her stuff, these are just certain things that you may not be taught. That was a need that was identified.”
Maintaining Connection During Crisis
Princess Chambers originally piloted a mentoring program in 2017, but the onset of the pandemic forced the initiative to “pause, take a step back, be innovative, and reimagine how we connect with and engage students,” Jennifer said. Like so many youth development programs, she witnessed students struggle to adapt to remote learning and the accompanying feelings of sadness and social isolation. Girls displayed a more limited attention span during virtual meetups than in person, prompting Jennifer to shorten their sessions and introduce techniques to nurture mental health.
"Our goal was to curate enriching safe spaces that felt sisterly and empowering, virtually," she explains. "Also, we realized it was crucial to incorporate aspects of self-care and mental wellness as students coped with the realities of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and the implications of the pandemic."
Recreating Safe Spaces for Girls
Today, Princess Chambers is planning to build back better than ever. The nonprofit is utilizing MENTOR NY’s free custom support service to relaunch a hybrid mentoring program this spring — and the need couldn’t be greater. According to recent data from the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), teen girls are confronting the highest levels of sexual violence, sadness, and hopelessness ever reported to the survey. In 2021, three in five girls said they felt persistently sad and hopeless (a marker for depressive symptoms), with more than one in four reporting that they had seriously considered attempting suicide. "Now, even more so than ever, we need mentorship," Jennifer affirms. "We need spaces for young people to feel safe."
Building Back Together
Many smaller organizations like Princess Chambers are unaware that free support is available to help them expand and bolster their services to young people. Since “letting her curiosity get the better of her” and reaching out to MENTOR NY’s Erica Friedman-Coburn, Jennifer is confident they can relaunch a robust mentoring program that offers additional enhancements, such as career-readiness training for first-generation college students.
"Erica’s been supporting and helping to make sure that the framework of what we’ve established is stronger, and making sure we’re aligned with state policies or the needs that have been seen overall in the mentorship community when it comes to this demographic,” Jennifer explained. “I know what I've been told or see, but I think it's also important to have expertise involvement.”
Positive relationships can have a profound impact on a young person’s life. If you think you could help build girls’ confidence and empower them to reach their fullest potential, consider becoming a mentor today. Are looking to rebuild a mentoring program or enhance your existing services? Talk to our team to see how you can get started with tailored, no-cost support.