PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After a long career in the fashion industry, Cheryl Wadlington switched her style to service. She founded the nonprofit Evoluer House in 2004 to empower young girls of color in Philadelphia.
“Our mission is to disrupt the high-poverty neighborhoods and to make sure that traditionally underserved girls, who need help the most, graduate high school on time, attend a four-year college and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” she said. “We do it through programming and activities.”
Wadlington started with a single personal development program in the summer of 2004 at the Francis Myers Recreation Center in Kingsessing with 25 girls. Evoluer House now operates programs at 28 recreational facilities in Philadelphia and Camden.
Its signature program is an eight-week personal development workshop designed to build girls’ self-esteem and prepare them for college and adulthood. The programs also teach girls work-readiness and leadership skills for their future careers.
Almost 20 years since its establishment, many former participants have stuck around, like Marmia Day, who serves as an Evoluer House board member.
“Marmia has always been outspoken, and I love that she’s an activist,” Wadlington said. “I knew she had that ‘it’ factor. She has a voice that we need to hear and that can help change and heal the world.”
Day said Evoluer House helped her find that voice — and helped her realize that her voice has value.
“When we had classes, and I would speak up, I wasn’t ignored. I wasn’t patronized,” Day said. “I was given tools to learn.”
Wadlington comes from a family of activists. Her mother was on the front line of the civil rights movement, and her brother fought the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She sees her younger self in girls today.
🎧 related audio
“Now more than ever, programs like ours are necessities,” she said. “Right now, girls of color are dying — literally and figuratively. The suicide rate among Black teen girls rose 183%. That’s alarming. I think every year we get at least two girls who are talking about or taking their own lives.”
More than 40% of sex trafficking victims are girls of color, particularly Black girls, Wadlington said.
“But that’s not the face you see,” she said. “Which is why what we do is so important. And we have a lot of work to do to save our girls.”
Registration will open in the coming weeks for Evoluer House’s virtual summer program.