I really love hearing the joy in people’s hearts when they have a place of their own to bring their kids.
Success takes many forms for Sydney Ealy, founder and executive director of nonprofit Together We Stand Tall 4 Girls. She sees it in the smiling face of a girl who felt like she had no reason to smile. She sees it in happy, thankful kids who are interacting and trusting people. “I hear stories like, ‘My mentor was helping me with my resume. She’s the one who actually helped me get my job,’” she says.
Success is exposing girls to educational or career opportunities and then watching them pursue those opportunities. Success is enabling mentors to leave a legacy through their mentees.
“Overall, just seeing that everyone involved in TWST4Girls creates this generational impact and has this positive outcome by being involved in our program. That’s success.”
Here is another possible definition, courtesy of NAR. In October, NAR named Ealy one of five judged winners of the 2021 NAR Good Neighbor Award. She earns a $10,000 grant for TWST4Girls. “I am humbled and excited … just really proud and thankful,” she says.
Ealy also won the Texas REALTOR® Good Neighbor Award earlier this year at the 2021 Texas REALTORS® Winter Meeting.
Offering Tools for the Future
TWST4Girls offers a variety of free educational programming for youth ages 11 to 17. It recently held a graduation for its Scholars Program, which provides girls with tools, training, and skills they’ll need to have success and direction after high school. “At the end of the program, the young ladies receive a $2,000 or more grant from TWST4Girls to pursue that. That’s a big relief financially to those girls,” Ealy notes.
The nonprofit offers exposure to possible careers and higher education opportunities for girls who don’t know what they’d like to do, and guidance for those who do. TWST4Girls recently held an event exposing girls to aviation careers. “We had a lot of amazing volunteer pilots who brought their four-seater airplanes to teach the girls and took the girls up in flight. All of the girls loved it.”
Other activities include Camping in the USA, an event about leadership, outdoor survival skills, and teamwork. Night hikes, kayaking, and fishing were also on the agenda. TWST4Girls also offers tutoring, feminine health and sexual education, and self-defense courses. The nonprofit can also connect girls with mental health specialists and counselors to cope with stress and losses.
Ealy talks with stakeholders continuously to hear where the needs are. Then she’ll meet with the programming team and find the resources to implement them.
“For example, we have a lot of parents who say, ‘I can’t focus on anything but my finances. I’m about to lose my house. I’m about to lose my car.’ We bring in financial literacy instructors to teach parents not only how to budget but also maximize and invest their money.” TWST4Girls has offered homebuying and credit strengthening courses.
Lighting a Path to Their Goals
While all of TWST4Girls’ offerings are meaningful to Ealy, the mentorship program is particularly near and dear to her heart.
“We match those girls with women who have walked that bridge to their goals. They lit that path as they reached their goals, and so the girls have specific career guidance to whatever it is that they dream or whatever it is that they aspire to do.”
Mentors and mentees communicate weekly and meet up at least once a month to work on their goals or have fun. The mentors can also be a resource for the girls on topics they might not feel comfortable discussing with their parents or friends. “It’s such a beautiful program. You see them going out and having all of these experiences.”
It’s a program she wishes she had when she was growing up. “I believe if I had TWST4Girls, I would have had the bridge from my dream to my goals,” Ealy says.
Avoiding Pitfalls Growing Up
Ealy’s own challenges growing up informs her leadership of TWST4Girls.
She grew up in a single-parent family with several siblings and few financial resources. She dreamed of being a model and actress but didn’t have the resources or knowledge to follow those dreams. Ealy describes herself as a latchkey kid, returning to an empty home in subsidized housing after school.
She recalls being depressed and sad. Ealy says she didn’t have a father to reach out to for advice or counseling to cope with what she was going through. She was falling behind in school. She ended up being exposed to peer pressure and negative situations. “I fell into a lot of pitfalls growing up.”
Part of the idea behind TWST4Girls is to help at-risk girls avoid those pitfalls: to intercept them before they get there or help them out if they are already there. “Luckily I survived and had major success after those challenges,” she says.
Today, Ealy is a sales agent with Brooks & Davis Real Estate in Houston. She is an Accredited Buyer Specialist and Texas Affordable Housing Specialist with more than
15 years of sales experience.
“I really love hearing the joy in people’s hearts when they have a place of their own to bring their kids. The kids can roam; they aren’t stifled artistically or mentally. They have backyards and they can play instruments. I love to see people grow—that’s one of the really awesome things about helping people find affordable housing.”
Ealy started TWST4Girls in 2014. “After years of having this dream, one day I stopped overthinking it and reached out to a couple of co-workers. I told them my dream and asked if they would like to each place $20 in a fund to purchase supplies and launch TWST4Girls. They all said yes, and we went to purchase supplies.”
Ealy and her team built TWST4Girls from the foundation up, she says. They worked on business consulting and planning, role development, training, financial structures, operational procedures, and recruiting websites. Once everything was in place, they began recruiting volunteers and youth.
She had no trouble finding the first group of TWST4Girls participants. “During my real estate showings, I saw this young girl unsupervised and hanging out in a circle of boys. I asked her if I could meet her mom to tell her about my organization. She took me to her mom, and I told her about TWST’s upcoming event, and her mom was more than enthusiastic about it. She was so excited that she instructed her daughter to go next door to get her friends, and then her friends went and got their friends.”
The first projects were small and simple, such as museum tours and painting in the park. TWST4Girls grew from there.
What’s Next for TWST4Girls
TWST4Girls is working on acquiring annual funding. Ealy would love to see TWST4Girls get its own building, a safe haven for girls to go after school. “Definitely we would like to get some women on staff to help provide financial support and create jobs for people.” Ealy hopes to expand TWST4Girls to other cities where its services are needed.
Ealy says TWST4Girls aims to expand its mentorship program, volunteer force, and pool of recurring donors. “Use the leverage you have as a REALTOR® to reach out and support others, and I believe you’d have an abundant life in doing so,” she advises.