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Building Powerful Girls

LitShop Nonprofit Will Be Waiting To (Hopefully) Conduct Summer Programs

When St. Louis area schools had to close in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the founder of a young, home-based startup to benefit adolescent girls also had to pause the group's unique, after-school programming. 

Kelli Best-Oliver, founder and executive director of the nonprofit LitShop, launched the skills-building program during February 2019 to provide a time and space for girls ages 10-14 to try carpentry, metal working, print making, fiber arts and architecture so they could experience what working in trades could be like.

As a former St. Louis Public School educator and reading specialist, Kelli says she worries about the pathogen's negative effects on elongating the traditional 'summer learning loss' phenomenon that many students face. 

"As soon as we come out the other side of this coronavirus situation and can conduct classes again socially, we'll be ready to welcome girls with open arms and lot of ideas about how to create their own projects with purpose for their communities. They'll surely will be more than eager to do something hands-on," she says. 

One possible way to contribute to the LitShop initiative is to donate extra tools perhaps found as homebound people clean and clear out their belongings during the extra time on their hands. Once it's safe for people to exchange items, Kelli says she gladly would accept the extra items. 

LitShop provides programming that pairs literacy with building, all while exploring creativity and enabling girls to connect with other girls.

"Our sessions and the type of projects we do foster leadership and confidence that our girls can use through adolescence and early adulthood," says Kelli, who's passionate about literacy and equity in urban education, and believes all students are capable and deserving of rich literate lives.

Her work at LitShop allows her to help girls create their own means of construction and direct their own hands-on learning. By working with other entities, such as Girl Scout troops, Missouri Women in Trades, Thomas Dunn Learning Center, Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls and Women in Architecture, the organization taps into the skills of carpenters, metalworkers, woodworkers, printmakers, fiber artists, architects, or any other folks who love to make and build.

LitShop needs volunteers in workshops, maker mentors, data entry, marketing, events, fundraising and committee assistance. 

"Building and making is at the heart of what LitShop does. Giving girls real tools, materials and guidance through the design process helps them develop an entrepreneurial and DIY mindset," says Kelli. "LitShop gives girls what they need to solve problems in their own lives and their communities, using their own brilliance and ingenuity."

She believes literacy skills are critical to girls' academic and personal development. Students who don’t read proficiently are four times more likely to drop out of high school than their proficient peers, she says.

Literacy skills are critical to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and active participation in global and local socioeconomic communities, she adds.

"In short, literacy empowers girls and enriches their lives. We want our girls to be proficient readers and writers, but more importantly, we want them to be lifelong readers who have rich, literate lives," says Kelli.

  • Kelli Best-Oliver