Image credit: Andrew Neel | Unsplash Image
This week we have Michelle Shegda in the She’s Trending interview corner. Michelle founded Girls PACT in Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that tackles “stuff” to combat unplanned pregnancy among young women ages 15-24. Her motivation and secret to success are listening to the everyday stories of young women who are striving to be better in life. With Girls PACT on the rise, you’ll see why Michelle is breaking barriers with institutions and making an impact in the local community.
Q: Who is Michelle Shegda, what do you do, and why?
A: Girls PACT is a non-profit organization in Los Angeles, California that inspires positive personal values, teaches sexual health, develops assertive communication skills and promotes healthy relationships among young women between the ages of 15-24. We focus on the facts. I started Girls PACT because of my personal journey growing up and feeling insecure about who I was at the time. I realized then and now that no matter where you are, there’s always the same problems no matter your location. It’s up to you whether you are going to address and create change for your city. I’m inspired by the stories I hear every day from my girls and that’s what inspires me to do what I love.
Q: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My family was constantly on the road. Having a twin brother definitely impacted my upbringing as I was growing up. As a twin, you have a natural connection with your sibling, and you see yourself as their equal. This is slightly different when your twin is the opposite gender because in certain scenarios whether it’s a teaching moment in sports or a family event, people automatically assume gender stereotypes. As a young kid, I didn’t understand, but as I got older, I recognized these moments as I can recall my dad teaching us how to play baseball and playing on the same soccer team as my brother. These are the moments that made me strong. Because of my unique twin experience I was able to assess equality in gender roles at a young age and now I can intelligently speak to Girls PACT with a personal passion and understanding behind my mission.
Q: You have an amazing background that consists of your current job which is National Director of Literacy programs for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, Director of Programs for the Boys & Girls Club Venice and Marketing Development Director for SoccerKidsUSA. Often times people look at the bigger picture and don’t understand the life story and how you’ve come to earn these positions over time. Can you talk about some of the in between moments within your journey and how you are able to lead now?
A: In my household as a little girl, I grew up catholic. During high school, my twin brother fathered a child our senior year, and it never made sense to me that these issues were not addressed in the household. Sex was never talked about in the home. I didn’t understand and felt like I was sheltered due to my parent’s religious beliefs. Because of this, during college, I was finding myself and seeking answers from the wrong places. It not only affected me but my friends who were dropping out, getting pregnant and having abortions. Eventually, I tackled my “stuff”, which wasn’t easy but I did it. I had various odd jobs along the way like a paper route, temp agency and folding fabric. Needless to say, I was never afraid to work hard and not let a job define me in the midst of my journey. I was never scared to get stuck in a situation which has led me to where I am today. I am transparent with the girls and how far I’ve come. As much as they need me, I need them. Being real and connecting with them on a personal level earns their respect, and I am thankful because they listen.
Q: In 2010, you started Girls PACT, courtesy of AT&T & America’s Promise grant for targeting the dropout crises. In 2013, you formalized the program and operated under the fiscal agency of the YWCA of Santa Monica and Westside. Then, in 2016, officially organized Girls PACT as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is focused on combating unplanned pregnancy among young women ages 15-24 by revealing the power of self-confidence. What was the turning point in your life to start this organization? Did you have any mentors to help along the way?
A: A friend of mine that’s on the board of Girls PACT really pushed me in the right direction. It’s because of her confidence and enthusiasm that the organization is able to maintain on its own. Also, there’s a book called “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero that my sister surprised me with while I was in the beginning stages of building the organization and going through a tough time. The book was a perfect combination for getting me out my situation. It was simple but yet easy to understand the realities of leadership with prime examples like Henry Ford that I could connect with. Reading “You Are a Badass” made me realize that all of my hesitations were based on the fear of failure.
Q: Girls PACT often emphasizes the word “stuff”. What does “stuff” or #rockurstuff mean according to your organization?
A: The word “stuff” has a negative connotation to the meaning. The definition of “stuff” is a proper substitute for any other word; everything that you want, don’t want, love, kinda like, hate, sorta hate, annoys you, can live without, can’t live without, bugs you, or love to death; may refer to something sexual. When people talk about their insecurities, they often cover it with the word “stuff” covering their true feelings. At Girls PACT, we encourage you to #rockurstuff by changing the perception of the word. We want young girls to embrace the meaning by owning up to their stuff. When one of the girls is sharing information within a group, I challenge them to explain the “stuff” they are talking about. It encourages them to explain their emotions, while being a better speaker in general. Addressing this one word definitely changes the mood and creates a safe haven for the girls to feel comfortable. They know who I am and the community that surrounds them at Girls PACT, which makes them feel safe from a judge free atmosphere.
Q: When you are not being CEO or founder of Girls Pact what are some of your favorite activities and shows to watch?
A: I love living by Venice beach and enjoying some of the everyday activities that the city has to offer. There are some cool concerts that happen periodically that I like going to. Besides the concerts, I enjoying reading at the beach all day. There’s a sense of peace that I feel when I read, and I love it. I can literally read up to six hours and not even notice how far the day has passed. Every once in awhile, I invite the girls to take a hike with me to enjoy the day. Girls PACT is pretty much my world so I do my best to balance my life while instilling healthy ways to be the best person I can be.
Q: If you could entitle the movie to your life story, what would it be and why?
A: Hmmm. I think my life story would be called Exception to the Rule. It may not make sense to everyone, however, I always felt that I was the exception to the rule whether it was applying to a job or in process with an initiative I was working toward. Typically, it takes people about 90 days to get a job or hear back with a confirmation. In my life, it’s 6 months or more. I guess it’s just me, which makes me the exception to the rule.
Q: Staying healthy is definitely important to you and maintaining your lifestyle. What are your top three go-to soundtracks?
A: Well, as my number one I like “Lose Yourself ” by Eminem because of the song’s tone and vibe. Second is “None of your business” by Salt N’ Peppa as they were feminist before their time. Last but not least “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys. This is my go-to song every time I’m in the moment, and it conveys exactly what I am feeling at that time.
Impact Your Community
Q: What’s one of the most impactful stories that have inspired you from Girls PACT?
A: I met a young lady in the 6th grade that spoke to me the very moment I met her and twin sister. Like her, I also had a twin and could relate to how she was feeling. One sister was funny, and the other was studious as she was always into books and reading. They were raised by their grandmother and aunt who are extremely awesome inside and out. As I got to know the twins, I immediately connected to the one who was more studious because I was once the same girl. After getting to know the twins over a few years, Girls PACT was slowly able to unveil the issues they were dealing while revealing their confidence. I realized the impact of Girls PACT on their lives when the quiet and shy twin did a presentation on the organization at Culver City High School. Because of her, Girls PACT is on campus at Culver City High School, and I couldn’t be any happier. Fast forward to today the once shy girl who is still studious is pursuing her degree at Johnson & Wales University which she will complete her degree in three years. I believe going away to Providence, Rhode Island along with finding purpose in her life manifested into who she is today. A brilliant young woman who is on her way to accomplishing great things. This is just one of the many stories that empower me. Everyday I hear and see something in these young girls, which motivates me to keep pushing because I want them to achieve and be their best.
Q: Who are some of high schools that you’re currently working with in the local area?
A: Currently, I am active in four high schools which are Culver City High School, Venice High School, Santa Monica High School and Animo Venice Charter. This is just the start for us at Girls PACT. We plan on being on campus at Santa Monica College and West Los Angeles College this fall.
Q: How can the community help your initiative?
A: First, connect with us on Instagram. This platform really showcases our “Rock Ur Stuff” movement. You can visit our website here: www.girlspact.org and contact us directly to get involved as a participant, volunteer or donor. Last, check us out on Facebook @girlspact to stay up-to-date on events and news.
Q: What’s next for Girls PACT, how can others get involved?
A: This summer we launched the Girls PACT Junior Board Like a Boss Workshops. The purpose of the 8-week program is to develop leadership skills among current participants so they can tackle some of the tasks involved in our expansion goals. It’s a great way for them to build their resume with 21st century job skills and it helps me reach some organizational goals. . It’s a perfect solution and a fantastic opportunity to maintain the support and interest of my college population. Along with expanding our reach, Girls PACT is looking to establish a headquarters as the place to go for meeting, events, workshops and more.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring leaders?
A: Just do it. Don’t worry about failure as it will make you strong. Associate yourself with people who will make you great.
Q: What does your family think of you now?
A: Well, I am visiting family this summer and bringing along two young women from Girls PACT. I’m excited to introduce them to my family because they make all of my work real. My family will see first hand the young people that I am impacting. It’s like, the girls are witness to my energy, passion and goals and can share this with my east coast family and friends. Besides hanging at the Jersey Shore, we are also going to New York. It’s the first time that these girls will be traveling to New York, and I’m so proud to be sharing this opportunity with them. Creating lifelong memories and seeing their expressions will be the most rewarding part of the entire trip for me.
Q: With all of our interviews, we like to sign off with by saying thank you! We know that you’re trending, which is why we chose you to be one of our featured guests. In honor of our tradition, we would like you to finish this sentence…. My name is Michelle Shegda Founder of Girls PACT. I am trending because…
A: I'm trending because I’m inspiring, encouraging and motivating young women to #RockUrStuff.