Cloyette Harris-Stoute grew up in Goed Fortuin, on the West Bank of Demerara in Guyana where she lived with her parents. Her father was a member of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF). He later moved his family to Kitty, in the capitol, Georgetown to be closer to the military base where he worked.
In her early primary school years, Harris-Stoute moved to Bachelor’s Adventure on the East Coast where she lived until she migrated to the USA in 1993.
Harris-Stoute added that the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” was really embraced in her childhood in Guyana. “I grew up in communities where everyone knew everyone else. Families and neighbors cared, shared, and looked out for each other, making sure kids ‘behaved right,’ and were protected,” she added.
Most importantly, Harris-Stoute said families were often “sharing what little they had, whether it was food, clothing, fruits, and produce, or simply volunteering to babysit a neighbor’s child at no cost.”
It was these acts of kindness and other life experiences which helped fuel her desire to do charitable work. She was a married mother of pre-teen and teenage sons, and her family had returned to New York after leaving for a few years to live in the state of Florida.
“At that time, everyone was joining Facebook, blogging had become very popular, and I was looking for ways to reconnect with the Guyanese community in New York,” she stated.
She first started with the Guyanese Girls Rock Blog platform in 2012, which is an online platform created to celebrate the accomplishments of Guyanese women in the diaspora. In 2015, she founded the Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation, Inc (GGRF), but did not officially launch the organization’s programs until early 2018.
“In establishing the foundation, I wanted to create a space where girls could feel welcomed to share their common culture and heritage and to offer free programs and scholarships to help defray the cost for them to attend college,” Harris-Stoute continued.
Harris-Stoute said young women are strongly encouraged to do volunteer work, since GGRF often hosts or participates in give-back events for the community, sometimes with other organizations.
Over the years and during the pandemic, young women volunteers at GGRF have given out hampers and food supplies to the community and have volunteered at a local farm. They have also donated coats and personal care items to young mothers and disenfranchised youths.
“We also promote kindness, sisterhood, and respect among our program participants by teaching them life lessons and exposing them to materials, positive experiences, and role models from whom they can draw inspiration and emulate,” Harris-Stoute said.
One thing she’s proud of: Since it launched in 2018, every single college-bound young woman who successfully completed the GGRF Spring Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) program was awarded a scholarship.
The foundation is currently in its 6th year of programming, and has returned to the physical classroom, on a hybrid basis.
According to Harris-Stoute, the biggest success is the Foundation hitting the five-year mark in 2022 and awarding new scholarships. “Though we had to curtail some of our programs due to the pandemic, such as GGRF Honors and Awards Luncheon, we did not miss a beat with our teen program and were able to seamlessly transition from the classroom to an online platform,” she continued.
Additionally, Harris-Stoute states the main challenge remains to be adequate funding, due to the pandemic and a possible recession. Another challenge, she states, “is attracting and retaining ‘unpaid’ volunteers in a struggling economy to help carry out your mission.”
Furthermore, to leaders in the nonprofit industry, Harris-Stoute says you “should strategize ways to operate more efficiently with less, and implement programs that are needed to encourage buy-in and support from the community which you serve.”
Harris-Stoute wishes more people knew that GGRF and its programs existed. “In addition to the YWLA, which is available to high school girls of Guyanese heritage who reside in the New York Metro areas, we recently launched the Young Women’s Leadership Fund (YWLF) during the Fall of 2022 to help transform the lives of college-bound young women in Guyana through mini scholarships,” she stated.
The roll-out for the YWLF this year will be later this Spring and will be open to female high school graduates who reside in Region Four (4) in Guyana.
GGRF is currently midway through the YWLA program this year, and is looking forward to celebrating its graduates and awarding new scholarships in July. The foundation is examining the possibility of extending its programs to also include young women who are in middle school.
Interested people can find more information about GGRF and its scholarships for young women here: https://guyanesegirlsrock.org/scholarship-fund/.
Interested people can find more information about YWLA here: https://guyanesegirlsrock.org/young-women-leadership-academy/. They can find more information about YWLF here: https://guyanesegirlsrock.org/ywlf-gy/.
Young women of Guyanese heritage and at least 18 years old who are interested in volunteering with GGRF can find more information here: https://guyanesegirlsrock.org/volunteer-for-us/.
To support the work of GGRF, those who are interested can donate here: https://guyanesegirlsrock.org/donation/.