I didn’t know what to expect when my daughters decided last summer to give away sanitary pads and tampons to girls in need.
But I certainly didn’t expect all of this.
On their own, our twins, Breanna and Brooke, decided that instead of receiving gifts for their 12th birthday in July 2019, they would ask for donations to buy menstrual products and then give them away.
Fast-forward half a year later, and what began as my daughter’s summer project has turned into their very own nonprofit — Women In Training (WIT), Inc. — that has given away hundreds of WITKITS® of menstrual, hygiene and dental supplies to girls and nonbinary youth in the most impoverished parts of Montgomery, Alabama.
Along the way, WIT has received thousands of dollars in donations, and inspired state Rep. Rolanda Hollis to introduce a bill that would require schools across Alabama to provide free menstrual products for menstruating youth.
If that wasn’t already enough, my employer – the Southern Poverty Law Center – has joined a coalition of social justice organizations that are pushing for the bill’s passage, beautifully harmonizing my personal and professional lives.
What’s more, several of my SPLC colleagues have chipped in with generous donations of their time, talent, money and even menstrual, hygiene and dental products.
“It’s great to see such inspiring activism out of our youth,” said Katie Glenn, policy associate at the SPLC, part of the team that is pushing for the bill. “Everyone who believes in a cause should look to Brooke and Breanna as examples of how to take your passion and turn it into advocacy.”
It’s been an incredible journey so far, and it’s just getting started.
In May, Brooke – who came up with the idea for WIT – will be among the honorees at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Washington, D.C., following in her twin sister Breanna’s footsteps. Last year, Breanna won the same award for producing Architects of Change, a 32-minute educational film about the civil rights movement, with her sister.
WIT has also won numerous other accolades from Alpha Phi Fraternity, Leadership Montgomery and Planned Parenthood.
How it began
WIT was initially created in Miami, where we lived before we moved to Montgomery in 2017 so that I could take a job with the SPLC as a senior editor/writer.
There, my wife, Adeyela, was teaching at a school for girls. At the time, I did not know what a global issue period poverty is until some of her students repeatedly came to her classroom to get feminine hygiene products.
My wife kept the pads stored in a special drawer in her desk. Some of the girls were afraid to ask outright. Upon entering the classroom, they would just give her a look and she would nod for them to get what they needed from the drawer.
To keep the drawer stocked, my wife made frequent trips to the store, which Brooke regularly observed.
“I wish there was some way we could provide more girls with what they need … during their period,” she said.
After we moved to Montgomery and my wife took a teaching job at a Title I school, she continued handing out pads to students here.
Brooke figured girls at other schools must be experiencing the same problem. From her research, she learned that period poverty keeps one in every five girls out of school during their monthly cycle because they don’t have the proper protection.
“People often think this is a problem that affects only poor girls in Africa, Asia and South America,” Brooke wrote on her Prudential Spirit of Community Awards application. “However, girls right here in Alabama and throughout the United States suffer, too.”
Breanna, who is much more pragmatic than her twin, had her own epiphany about period poverty after watching a YouTube video about an earlier bill that Hollis introduced to put menstrual products into women’s prisons.
Breanna was horrified to hear stories about incarcerated women using cotton balls, rags, pillow cases and clothing items because they did not have the proper products. She donated $400 of her $1,000 prize money from last year’s Prudential award to help with the start-up costs for WIT.
My wife put in the hard work to get the nonprofit incorporated and quickly assembled a board of directors – all hand-picked and/or approved by Breanna and Brooke – all in just a matter of months. WIT is recognized as a legitimate charity on the nonprofit reporting service Guidestar.
WIT’s board of directors includes some of Montgomery’s most powerful women, all of whom have a personal relationship with Breanna and Brooke, including an OB/GYN, a lawyer, a judge, a school board member, a college professor, a local TV anchor, a dentist – and of course Breanna and Brooke as its co-founders.
To help alleviate period poverty, WIT’s signature program is monthly donations of WITKITS® – canvas bags full of menstrual, hygiene and dental products – to girls, young women and nonbinary youth.
It was Breanna’s idea to include in WITKITS® both menstrual products and self-care items such as body wash, loofahs, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, bracelets with inspiring messages crafted into them, and journals where girls can write down the feelings they are experiencing during menstruation. The point Breanna wanted to make is that menstruation should be an empowering experience every month.
WIT also provides educational programs about menstruation for community members and students, and publishes the brochure, “A Young Woman’s Guide to the Menstrual Cycle.” WIT freely distributes the brochure to schools, places of worship and community organizations.
Since its founding in July 2019, WIT has given away nearly 300 WITKITS®.
WITKITS® have been distributed to girls at several organizations that provide services for young people in Montgomery, including Common Ground Montgomery, a nonprofit, non-denominational Christian community organization that focuses on youth development and leadership; That’s My Child, another nonprofit youth organization; and the after-school program at New Beginnings Educational Center.
Girls who receive products at WIT distribution events continue to receive WITKITS® every month, thanks to volunteers who load up their cars, trucks and SUVs and gladly deliver them.
WIT is truly an organization that represents and promotes the power of women, including young women in training like Breanna and Brooke.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I am extremely proud of my daughters.
Photos by Jill Friedman