Goals for Girls

A nonprofit soccer program equips girls to lead on and off the field

By Annie Breen, USF News Posted Wed, 01/17/2018 - 10:29

Brianna Russell MA ’12 is a former undergraduate NCAA Division I soccer player whose year-round soccer program teaches young women how to translate confidence on the soccer field into leadership in the classroom. 

The Master in International Studies (MAIS) program alumna founded the nonprofit Girls Leading Girls in 2014. Since then, it's empowered hundreds of female students — far exceeding Brianna’s original goal (pun intended). 

What’s Girls Leading Girls? 
We’re a soccer-based, female leadership nonprofit that serves 300 girls
every year from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. One of our main
initiatives is a Brianna Russellfree after-school program for girls ages 7–15 in low-income public schools in San Francisco's Tenderloin, Mission, and Excelsior districts. We provide them with access to a girls-only sports program with all-female coaches and role models who use soccer and volunteer opportunities to encourage them to reach their full potential.

How did your time at USF inspire you to found Girls Leading Girls?
The MAIS program at USF taught me how nonprofits operate around the world, and gave me the tools I needed to become a social entrepreneur: writing, research, analysis, and storytelling skills.  Prior to starting at USF, I was in the Peace Corps for two years on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. I lived a life of minimalism and community service. It was there that I started to understand and find my purpose in life. USF's mission for social justice hit home for me in so many ways.

Was there an "aha" moment when you saw the need for Girls Leading Girls?
In Vanuatu, I joined pickup soccer games — even though soccer there was usually played only by men. Other women and girls saw me playing, so they started to participate too. Eventually, we created our own soccer team and a girls’ youth group, and every week we would practice soccer and then go to my house to talk about life goals, nutrition, health, stress, etc. 

I saw how soccer could be a vehicle for women's empowerment. When I returned to San Francisco in 2014, I created Girls Leading Girls.

What skills do Girls Leading Girls members learn?
Effective communication capabilities, an appreciation of teamwork, the ability to overcome adversity, authentic leadership skills, a community-service mindset, and a deep sense of social responsibility.

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