Kristen Greenwood didn’t set out to lead a local girls’ empowerment movement, but that’s exactly what she’s doing as executive director of GirlSpring, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower girls through a web-based platform and community events. She studied art history in college and went on to work for the Birmingham Museum of Art for 15 years in the education department, where she worked with teens interested in the arts. But she wanted to do even more to make a difference in the lives of girls. We are delighted to introduce Kristen Greenwood of GirlSpring, today’s FACE of Birmingham.
For people unfamiliar with the organization, can you tell us a bit about what GirlSpring is and how it serves girls in Birmingham?
GirlSpring is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that was founded by Jane Stephens Comer in 2010. Jane was invited to Gloria Steinem’s 75th birthday party, and all the guests were charged with doing something big in the name of simple justice. Jane decided that she was going to start an organization to empower girls ages 9 to 18 in Birmingham, recognizing that girls are “our greatest resource, and by investing in them, we are investing in our future.”
The idea for a web-based platform was always part of the strategic plan for GirlSpring, but since the website launched in 2016, it has become the hub of our programming. We serve 10,000 girls, ages 13 to 18, each month on the website, which offers resources on “tough topics” and serves as a platform for creative expression as girls submit original content for the site in the form of writing, artwork and poetry. Girls also have the opportunity to interact by commenting and sharing content with other girls their age, so they can receive feedback and know that someone is looking at their work. Girls from anywhere in the world can access the website. Locally, we have a teen leadership group that really drives the website and is our main team of content creators. We also have public programs, such as films, lectures and seminars, that address issues relevant to girls in our target age range.
What all does your job entail?
A lot! Big picture, it entails audience development, outreach, PR and marketing, and fundraising. On a daily basis, I am recruiting girls to get involved with GirlSpring, serving as liaison to our Springboarders teen leadership group, doing a lot of outreach to schools, supervising interns, communicating with donors, working with our board members and developing public programs.
How did you get interested in this position?
Like most great jobs, I did not actually start out planning to be an executive director of a girls’ empowerment organization, but here I am! My background is in art history, and I worked at the Birmingham Museum of Art for 15 years in the education department. I started a group called Teen BMA at the museum, which I loved, and I really enjoy working with this age group. My own preteen and teen years were difficult, and I know firsthand all of the things that teen girls have to deal with, so when I heard about this job from a friend, I knew it would be a perfect fit and that it would be something that could really make a difference in girls’ lives.
How can girls get involved in GirlSpring?
There are lots of ways to get involved. Our website is the easiest way to find out more about GirlSpring. Girls can participate by reading and sharing articles, by submitting articles and sharing their work or, for a more involved role, they can apply to our teen leadership group, Springboarders, whose members help shape the website by creating relevant content for their age group and by advising us on what they would like to see on the website. Springboarders also help plan public programs for preteen and teen girls, and work together on service projects. The time commitment for Springboarders is minimal. It requires a monthly meeting, plus the time it takes to submit content to the website and optional volunteer activities. Girls can also attend any of our public programs, like our Wonder Women lecture and mentoring series that starts in January.
What can women who want to help GirlSpring do to get involved?
We are always looking for women to serve as guest speakers at our monthly Springboarder meetings, to volunteer at our public programs and with our new Wonder Women lecture and video-mentoring series. We are looking for women to share and educate girls on various career paths. We always need more inspiring female role models to help girls navigate the teen years, so they can discover the path that’s right for them, in a career and life in general.
What are some things you would like to see happen in Birmingham or changes you’d like to see to make this a better city for girls?
When girls see women in leadership positions, whether corporate or in the political arena, it is easier to see themselves in those roles. Our city has made a lot of strides in gender equality, and there are a lot of women in top leadership positions in Birmingham, but we still have a long way to go. In the South, especially, our mothers and grandmothers have often taught us to be polite, to not speak out of turn, and as a result, girls and women may not ask for the things they deserve. I’d like to see that change. I’d like to see girls have the confidence and self-esteem to go after what they want and the knowledge to know what is available to them. Again, in the South, women are steered into traditional roles and careers, even now, and I want girls to know that there are a million career options available to them, whether that be CEO, doctor, lawyer, welder, mechanic or teacher — they have the freedom to choose what they want in life.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working? What are some of your favorite places in Birmingham?
One of the newest things I’ve discovered is the baseball games at Regions Field. I just went for the first time last year and loved it, and I don’t really even like baseball! It has brought a vibrancy to downtown, and outside of the game itself, it’s great people-watching and energy. I am also a little biased here, but the Birmingham Museum of Art is still one of my favorite places to go. The collection is outstanding, but there are also a number of public programs that are educational and entertaining. This doesn’t really fall under “fun,” but to unwind I go to MPower Pilates. It is the Lagree Method on the megaformer machine, and it is small group classes, so it’s like a little community.
Do you have any personality quirks that readers would be surprised to learn about you?
People think I am shy and soft-spoken and assume I want to be in the background, working behind the scenes, but in reality, I love talking to people and public speaking.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given or the best advice you have to give?
The best advice I have ever been given and that I also give out is to never settle. You won’t get what you want in life if you don’t ask for it.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My iPad, my sunglasses and Netflix
Thank you, Kristen! Learn more about Kristen’s work empowering girls at girlspring.com.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for today’s beautiful photography of Kristen.