Tequila Pennington-Calwise recognizes the stressors faced by middle school students. As a teacher at Euclid Park School, she sees their struggles every day firsthand. For the past 14 years, Pennington-Calwise has been helping students navigate everything from homework to college choices, the pressures of making friends, and more through her group, Lady Bound.
Lady Bound is a nonprofit group that aims to create an environment where girls can be successful in their actions and thinking, enabling them to plan for their future and gain experiences that will broaden their world.
“Being a teacher, I realized that middle school girls didn’t quite have their voice,” Pennington-Calwise says. “It all started with some girls coming to my classroom to just talk — to express themselves and their daily frustrations and accomplishments. I realized this was a need, and what started as a bonding experience turned into an afterschool program for these girls.”
That small group of girls in a classroom inspired an organization that has now helped approximately 1,000 girls in the Cleveland area find their voices. With three active chapters, Lady Bound hosts weekly meetings at Euclid Park School, Brush High School, and Collinwood High School. Class sizes range from 50 to100 girls each academic year
The weekly meetings, though, are just the beginning.
Lady Bound’s students participate in community service, travel opportunities, community conversations, mentoring, and more: “Anything and everything that I can plan for them to help expand their world, to broaden their reach,” Pennington-Calwise says. “I just want to give them experiences that help them see how big their dreams can be.”
While participating in the group provides Lady Bound students the opportunity to travel to places like Detroit, Dayton, Toledo, New York City, and — a trip they are currently fundraising for — Washington D.C., some of the most important lessons take place at home.
In their weekly meetings, the girls discuss important topics like self-esteem, self-control, and relationship building. The group keeps a large focus on literacy, incorporating both book and street smarts into the Lady Bound lessons. Other opportunities, like volunteering at the Mayor’s Food Basket Giveaway and other local events, allow the girls to showcase the skills they’ve acquired.
“When we talk about these skills and then put them into action, I see things change in the girls. They learn self control, and they also learn self worth,” Pennington-Calwise says. “That makes my heart smile. You start to see the girls carry themselves differently, which makes them begin to work harder. They then start to think differently, start to demand more of themselves and of others. It’s amazing to see their development.”
The three chapters combine for various chapter events, allowing the girls to interact with Lady Bound members at different stages of their lives and who live in different parts of the city. By the time girls graduate from school and Lady Bound, they not only walk away with important life skills but with a sisterhood.
And wherever they go, their Lady Bound shirts make it easy for them to identify their sisters.
“I intentionally don’t sell my merch because I want my girls to know that if they are out in public and see a woman in a Lady Bound shirt, there is a 99% chance they are Lady Bound, Pennington-Calwise affirms. “My girls know, no matter where they are — that woman is a safe sister.”
To learn about volunteer opportunities with Lady Bound or to make a donation, visit here.