Grace Wickerson, currently a student at Rice University, started a Girl Scout project in her sophomore year of high school.
Despite all the difficulties and complications that came with college applications, school work and changes in her personal life (she moved to another state during that time), Wickerson stayed committed to her effort and developed her project to a nationally recognized non-profit organization, Kickin’ Violence.
Kickin’ Violence was recognized by National Jefferson Award Foundation and earned Wickerson a spot on Her Campus’s 22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women.
More than a side project, the organization has changed her perspective on life and redirected her plan for the future.
Rebecca Crosby: What were the challenges you faced along the way of creating your organization?
Grace Wickerson: I think the biggest challenges have been recent issues as I’m trying to see what I want Kickin’ Violence to be moving forward.
In high school, I was working on gaining good publicity, but in college, it became more of what do I actually want this organization to accomplish and which impact I see it having.
It was a challenge when moving to college. I had to learn how nonprofits work in my new home, figure out how to move forward and work in a new community. Overall, I learned a lot from it and gained a lot of respect for the Houston community.
RC: How does it feel to be named as one of Her Campus’s 22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women?
GW: Well, I was not expecting it, I will say. You never know how much your work speaks to others until your work actually gets recognized for having a big impact. Deep down I always thought that I felt good about what I’m doing, so it was such a huge honor.
I heard about the recognition so far in advance before it was published, but I couldn’t tell anyone. When it was published, I was featured around the university and everyone figured out what I was doing. I definitely couldn’t hide on campus anymore!
RC: What is your project, exactly?
GW: Kickin’ violence is a nonprofit organization working for anti-violence advocacy among young people through education, service events and martial arts.
We work with schools and community organizations to teach about healthy relationships. We also offer help to domestic violence survivors.
We work specifically with younger students through teaching at a high school level about issues regarding relationship violence. My high school in Florida, where I grew up, didn’t have an education program about sexual assault and relationship issues.
Now, I’m working to get it implemented around the country to make these education classes a requirement. It’s important that this education is realized and that students learn about this in high school before they get to their college campus.
RC: Why do you think this is important in this generation specifically?
GW: I think this is so important. Studies have shown that relationship and dating behaviors develop between the ages of 13 and 18, so high school is a critical time to teach people about relationships and domestic violence.
Also, most sexual assault happens within the first years of college, so it is important that students enter the college process educated about these matters.
RC: Who will benefit from your organization?
GW: We focus on working with schools, specifically the health center and student services on training students to deal with relationships and teaching them how to talk about healthy relationship.
In turn, they start branches of the organizations at their high schools, helping expand Kickin’ Violence around the country.
I also started working with concrete policies and lectures, originally in Florida, where I’m from. It’s so important that this information gets to students before they get to college, so we started working with national nonprofits to amplify service.
In March 2016, we were awarded a National Jefferson Award Foundation for supplying 87,000 care packages for domestic care help.
RC: What inspired you to conduct this project?
GW: I was a Girl Scout from age 7 to 18 and it was a really big part of my life. The highest honor in Girl Scouts is the Gold Award and in order to receive it, I had to come up with a project.
I didn’t know what to do, but my mom suggested that I do something involving Tae Kwon Do, which I have always loved. From that, I developed this idea of raising understanding respect and teaching self-defense and martial arts.
I wanted to make an impact by integrating knowledge and teaching martial arts into self and community protection and violence prevention in order to start a conversation about such matters.
RC: How do you balance running your own organization and focusing on college at the same time?
GW: It’s definitely difficult; I’ve had to learn to build and follow a schedule. I started using Google Calendar to schedule everything: meetings, homework and even time for myself. It really helps to see what’s on the plate.
It also helps me see what I can cut out or when I squeeze in more work. I also have learned that sometimes I have to prioritize school.
If I have a big exam I always let people know that I won’t be as available for the organization. It’s all about balance, really.
RC: How has your life changed since the forming of this organization?
GW: It’s so inspiring as a young person to realize how much impact you can have by raising your voice and taking action. It’s often assumed that our generation doesn’t understand the world. I think it’s sad how often people discredit young people.
Being a young person who fought back against such stereotypes shocked the people I worked with. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and received support from a lot of great adults, without whom it would have been hard to get everything done.
It’s a great example of why we should give young people a chance: they have been able to change hundreds of thousands of lives.
RC: Do you ever feel like people don’t take you seriously because of your age or gender? How have you overcome this?
GW: I feel as if because the topic I work with is very gender dominated, gender hasn’t been much of an issue compared to the age component.
Most people aren’t expecting a sophomore in college to show up to organizational meetings. I’ve learned that I have to be incredibly prepared for everything and it helps to be as mature as the other adults.
I usually consider what it will take for people to look at me and my project seriously because I’m working on a serious issue that not many other groups are. I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. This is important to me and I’m not going to go away.
RC: What’s next for you?
GW: Right now, I’m working on developing our curriculum and rapidly getting it out to a bunch of different schools to see if it actually works. I started in my own community from my own experiences, and now it’s all about seeing what I can do at a larger scale, which I hadn’t really gotten to do before.
I’m working with partnerships with Houston charter school districts. I’ve always wanted to do something with the legislative side as well, such as creating a state policy around dating violence. Long term, I want to work with the student government at Rice as well.
RC: Final words that you have for young girls looking to do something like this?
GW: I would definitely recommend finding a mentor! Find someone who believes in and cares about your ideas. What drove me to found this organization initially was that people believed in me and the benefits of Kickin’ Violence’s program.
It was so helpful to have someone to go to when I was down and needed help, I would definitely suggest this. There are going to be many points down the road where you’ll want to give up but having other people behind you is really helpful to push you to keep going.