Girls Advocating Leadership & Strength founder wins TD Bank Young Heroes Award
Sheryl Chen’s non-profit works to create more female CEOs
The accolades keep piling up for a young woman from Bay Ridge who singlehandedly created a community-based advocacy group aimed at empowering young, ambitious girls to pursue executive careers and become the CEOs of tomorrow.
And Sheryl Chen isn’t even in college yet.
Chen, 17, has been named a winner of a National Liberty Museum TD Bank Young Heroes Award. Chen, a recent graduate of Staten Island Technical High School, is headed for the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
Chen is the founder of Girls Advocating Leadership & Strength (GALS), a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering young women to pursue executive corporate positions.
She had previously received a GE-Reagan Foundation Scholarship from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute and GE. Nearly 14,000 students from around the country applied for the scholarship. She will receive $10,000 a year while attending college.
The National Liberty Museum TD Bank Young Heroes Award recognizes inspiring youths who identified an area where liberty was lacking and took action to make positive changes in their communities, according to representatives of the awards program.
Chen was feted, along with 12 other Young Heroes winners, at an awards ceremony at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia on Aug. 10, where she received a certificate of recognition, a medallion and a plaque featuring her life story that will be displayed for one year in the museum’s Young Heroes Exhibition.
“It is really an honor to be recognized for my work,” Chen told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I loved meeting all of the other Young Heroes. I got so many ideas from my fellow winners. There were young people there who work on veteran’s issues, LGBTQ rights and other worthy causes.”
Her cause is female empowerment.
“I’m really focused on gender equality. I’ve heard of multiple instances of discrimination in the workplace,” she said.
She noted that just 15 percent of CEOs in corporate America are female. “Women need to dream big and achieve their goals,” Chen told the Eagle.
She started GALS when she was 14 years old.
GALS is a federally registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has already made a big splash.
Under Chen’s leadership, GALS has held leadership seminars with sponsorships from the Federal Reserve Bank of NY, American Management Association, Costco Wholesale, Walt Disney Youth Service of America and various other businesses.
To date, the organization has raised more than $30,000 in grants. Chen has networked with corporate CEOs, formulated budgets, designed a logo and created a website and a social media campaign for GALS.
GALS is aimed at females ages 13-19. The organization holds professional development workshops and seminars to help young women gain confidence. “We do large-scale events where we invite female entrepreneurs to come and speak,” Chen said.
The organization has started partnerships with major corporations and has won accolades from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton and other feminist icons. GALS was also featured on Michelle Obama’s “Better Make Room” salute
During her high school years, Chen was a member of the Key Club, National Honor Society, track and field team, Model United Nations and the Future Business Leaders of America.
Chen admitted that she didn’t always have a sense of confidence. When she attended P.S. 102 in Bay Ridge, “I was very shy,” she said.
“In middle school and then in high school, I grew a little more confident,” she said. Her confidence came partly as a result of volunteering in a soup kitchen and becoming more involved in her community.
Chen attended Mark Twain Intermediate School for the Gifted and Talented, gaining admission on the basis of her artistic talent.
In Staten Island Technical High School, she directed films and took more steps toward self-confidence.
One secret to her success, she said, is her passion for empowering young women to achieve their dreams. “When you are passionate about something, it shows,” she said.
Chen wants to start her own company someday.
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