Personality: Maureen Jules-Perez

Spotlight on Girls For A Change board president

9/1/2022, 6 p.m.
Girls For A Change, a nonprofit youth development organization, empowers Black girls ages 9 to 18 in Central Virginia with ...

Girls For A Change, a nonprofit youth development organization, empowers Black girls ages 9 to 18 in Central Virginia with experiences and resources that help shape their future.

Maureen Jules-Perez became board president of the 20-year-old organization in the spring of 2021.

“We start with our young girls early in Camp Diva Leadership Academy, which gives young girls the foundational skills of culture, life skills, new resources and activities as they grow with us in other programs,” said Mrs. Jules-Perez. A Leadership Academy, Girls Who Code, the Girl Ambassador Program, and an Immersion Lab also are available.

Noting that one of her favorite programs is the Immersion Lab, which guides girls into entrepreneurship, Mrs. Jules-Perez also is enthusiastic about Girls Who Code, which exposes the girls to careers in STEM fields, and the Girl Ambassador Program, which offers hands-on job experience and certification.

“Girls can navigate through different interests they might have by actually trying them,” said Mrs. Jules-Perez. “Learning new skills and applying them provides a lot of hands-on engagement, which is why it’s my favorite.”

To further its mission to “prepare Black girls for the world and the world for Black girls,” the organization plans to raise more than $1 million to help purchase and renovate its current building, a former retail establishment, in North Chesterfield County. An updated facility will give Girls For A Change the physical space to serve more girls. The board and other GFAC supporters are seeking grants and private donations to reach their goal.

Mrs. Jules-Perez sees her role as helping to remove barriers so the organization and its girls can reach their goals.

“Girls For A Change recognizes that there’s a talent pool whose genius is not defined by their zip codes and they need to be given a fair shot – they need the same resources and opportunities given to children in more affluent neighborhoods,” she said.

“Another barrier is that sometimes people think they know what’s best for the girls,” she added. “Actually, it’s the girls who know what’s best for themselves. We need to let young people tell us what they need and want to explore. They have their own internal compass and we need to honor that. My role is to both remove barriers and champion them onto their own paths to thrive.”

Part of what she says drives her is something she learned from her mother, Paula Fils-Aime Jules, by word and example — the firm belief that “one can always change the story for the better.”

After her parents divorced, Mrs. Jules-Perez moved from New York with her mother and four older siblings to inner city Miami, where they faced different financial circumstances from what she’d previously known.

“In a way, I’m grateful for that because it opened my eyes to a whole other world,” Mrs. Jules-Perez said. Being in a community struggling financially and other adversities, she credits one of her teachers, Mr. Joseph Maley, at Miami Edison Middle School for encouraging her to pursue engineering.

“I was going to do hair and become a beautician,” Mrs. Jules-Perez recalled. “Mr. Maley said I had a gift for math and science.”

Today Mrs. Jules-Perez, who earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, is a managing vice president for Capital One.

Mrs. Jules-Perez often thinks about the Girls For A Change participants, and said, “I am one of these girls and they are part of every corner of society. They are amazing, powerful, brilliant and can succeed but often they are misunderstood, misjudged or underestimated – like I was growing up.”

Meet a passionate ally helping Black girls recognize their greatness, Girls For A Change board president and this week’s Personality, Maureen Jules-Perez.

Volunteer position: Board president of Girls For A Change.

Date and place of birth: May 19 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Where I live now: Northern Virginia.

Education: Bachelor’s in electrical engineering, University of North Florida, master’s in information systems technology, George Washington University.

Occupation: Divisional CIO and managing vice president of People Tech, Capital One.

Family: Husband, Juan Carlos Perez, and son Zen, 12.

Girls For A Change is: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit youth development organization aimed at empowering Black girls in Central Virginia to visualize their bright futures and potential through discovery, development, innovation and social change in their communities.

Mission: “Prepare Black girls for the world and the world for Black girls.”

Our impact is: A nonprofit that helps underrepresented girls find their footing in the world and for the world to recognize their genius, potential and brilliance.

When and why Girls For A Change was founded: We expect to change the trajectory of Black girls’lives and increase the contribution of Black girls in the 21st century. We want every girl to be seen, heard and celebrated. They should have the emotional, social and practical skills necessary to overcome obstacles to their advancement. Girls should be able to succeed in school, college, workplaces and their communities, and build the skills that will help them reach economic prosperity and dignity as adults.

Founder: Founded in 2002, Girls For A Change (GFAC) was led by Whitney H. Smith. In 2013, GFAC merged with Camp Diva, led by founder Angela Patton, CEO of GFAC.

Girls For A Change is important in our community because: We stand in the gap for Black girls with our tier approaches that allow us to focus on the unmet needs of Black girls through investing in growing experiences as well as uplifting and empowering our girls in ways that are often overlooked or unavailable to them.

Why I accepted the position: I am one of these girls and they are part of every corner of society. They are amazing, powerful, brilliant and can succeed (life, work, and communities) but often they are misunderstood, misjudged or underestimated – like I was growing up. More specifically:

I am passionate about uplifting and supporting Black girls as well as the digital divide and diversity and representation in the tech industry.

With my corporate executive experience, I can help lead us toward strategic scale and higher yields and also fortify support for GFAC programs. To scale and transform operations in key areas across the U.S. this means redesigning our board, operating structure and strategic committees, and transforming via modern processes, tools and technology.

Angela Patton is one of my sheroes and has an action-oriented vision to help realize the unmet needs of all girls in Central Virginia. Her focus is particularly on what she calls “at-promise” youths who have natural gifts and innate potential where their circumstances don’t define their identities.

Beyond tech, we want to ensure that Black girls have the opportunity and options to be whatever they want to be.

I’m honored to help grow and strengthen the GFAC organization!

Number one goal or project: Buy and renovate our current building. We need to raise more than $1 million to own and renovate our space to better accommodate the needs of our girls. Supporters may donate at https://bit.ly/3jG4Hy9. Over- all, we need to execute newly established strategic priorities, enabling the continued success of GFAC on a variety of fronts: from policy changes in schools to preparing Black girls for the world as entrepreneurs, professionals, technologists, inventors, activists, investors, etc.

Strategy for achieving goals: Having the right board members and board committee— as well as funding structure—are critical to expanding our programming and reach as well as serve the girls. Another exciting piece of our future involves purchasing our current building and adding a second level to the structure, so we can reach even more girls in our community. In order to grow, we need the additional space. We are raising funds to add an addition to our building secure funds to maintain it.

Reason for my involvement: I am one of the girls. I was raised in Brooklyn and inner city Miami (Liberty City). I know what it’s like not to have the resources, access and support as well as to not always feel safe within my own community due to crime or disparity. I also know what it’s like to have someone (or “angels”) champion and believe you, but also the opposite feeling of knowing someone doesn’t think you’re worthy or underestimate you. I’m haunted by the thought that there’s a Black girl or a person of color who doesn’t feel seen or doesn’t think the world wants them.

COVID-19 and Girls For A Change: I’m very proud that Angela Patton and the staff maintained GFAC programs, like Camp Diva, when most other programs closed during a very difficult pandemic period where underrepresented families are still recovering from economic and personal losses. We recognized the critical need and rose to the moment. Angela and her team were innovative, creative and scrappy to make sure we stayed open – for the girls. In some cases, that meant putting a tent up outside and wearing masks, and adding in virtual capabilities and programming. Capital One also helped support us. Girls For A Change has partnered with Capital One since 2017 to “go into the community” and connect with the girls with career, technology and life opportunities for which they otherwise may not have access or insight.

Black Girl Magic is: When a Black girl confidently sees that she is amazing and powerful. Then, she is able to claim her place and space in the world and define her own future, now knowing that she’s empowered (and should be) part of the world. She understands her value and what she has to offer to society.

Girls For A Change partners with: An array of corporations like Capital One, and schools. We love our partnerships with Richmond City Public Schools and Henrico Public Schools. We are open to continuing to grow and flourish our partnerships with whoever can support filling the gaps that Black girls face in our city.

Ways to volunteer: We post all of our volunteer opportunities on Hands On Greater Richmond to sign up. A few upcoming events we have like maintaining our garden, joining a committee, Black Girl Rally and mentorship opportunities with our Girl Action Team training. You can visit our website to learn more about volunteer opportunities and follow us on social media.

Ways for girls to get involved: Registration for our fall programs begin in October, and all of our programs are listed on our website, which allows you to register. All of our programs require registration before attending. We encourage families and participants to join our newsletter and follow us on social media to keep up with our programming. https:// girlsforachange.org/ One of my favorite programs is the Immersion Lab where we address the digital divide and teach the girls critical digital skills including coding, entrepreneurship and career/professional growth.

Upcoming events/programs: We are most excited to start our fall programs such as our Black Girl Rally on Oct. 14 at Virginia Union University, which will be a celebration and collaboration of community and partnerships who are allies of Black girls.

Three words that best describe me: Authentic, creative and inspiring.

Best late-night snack: Chocolate-covered cashews or tiramisu.

How I unwind: I love great storytelling, so films, books or human “library” connections, or loved-one conversations.

What I’m continuing to learn about myself during the pandemic: I am loved and loving, strong, patient, creative, kind, empathetic, experienced and brilliant.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I am ambidextrous and can write backward very well.

At the top of my “to-do” list is: Anything involving my family, especially my son, Zen.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My mom constantly reminded that I was loved and always had unconditional love to give. There’s always an opportunity to turn adversity into a great story – with love, faith (or optimism) and hard work!

The person who influenced me the most: My shero and mother, Paula Fils-Aime Jules, a single mom of five children and immigrant from Haiti. She reminded us we were already beautiful and brilliant and affirmed the power of education and optimism in all of us.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Greatness Guide” by Robin Sharma.

Next goal: Always relates to both taking care of my family and continuing to improve social, environmental and economic outcomes for our community.