We had the good fortune of connecting with Synthia Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Synthia, every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Soon after becoming a teacher back in 1995, I knew I wanted to have some type of program working with youth…I knew I didn’t want to teach forever…I just didn’t know what type of program I wanted to start. It wasn’t until years later, much longer than planned, that I gained clarity on exactly what that program would be when I was completing my Master’s degree in Counseling Studies at Capella University. When doing some research for a project, I stumbled upon a short-term curriculum book called Sisters of Nia by Dr. Faye Belgrave, et. al.. This is a 14-week curriculum specifically for African American girls. When I found it, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do, except that I wanted my program to be longer. This is where the idea for a 3-year rites of passage program was born. I fell in love with the curriculum name and decided to name the nonprofit Sisters of Nia, Inc. and this curriculum became the foundation of our 6th grade program. As an adolescent, specifically beginning in 6th grade, I had lots of personal challenges, but did not have an outlet to comfortably express myself in a setting where I felt safe to do so. As a result, I made many poor choices as an adolescent and teen on into my mid twenties that could definitely have been avoided. Perhaps, had I had a program such as a Sisters of Nia, maybe I would have made better choices during that time. When I found the curriculum, I knew I wanted to work with African American girls to provide them with a safe and comfortable space where they can express themselves. I wanted to create a sense of sisterhood beginning at an early age for girls who looked like me. I wanted to be able to be an example, a mentor, and an overall support for adolescent girls in middle school and I set out to do just that. Sisters of Nia, Inc. was born in September of 2009 and has been going strong ever since.
What should our readers know about your business?
Sisters of Nia is a very unique program…there is not other program like ours anywhere in the country that I know of. Sisters of Nia, Incorporated is an organization dedicated to serving adolescent girls in grades 6, 7, and 8 living in urban communities. Through the teaching of Afrocentric values, our program aims to reinforce and bring out the natural strengths of girls, while encouraging them to live their live with a purpose. Our mission is to empower socially and economically disadvantaged adolescent girls by providing cultural and educational programs designed to instill strong social skills, leadership development, and academic excellence in our young ladies. Our vision is to inspire, encourage, and empower girls to reach their fullest potential and live their life with a purpose. Adolescent girls are at the stage where developmental changes coincide with other transitions, more specifically the transitions from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school…not only are their bodies changing, but their lives, goals, behaviors, and personalities are in transition as well. Sisters of Nia sets out to help girls strive during these difficult changes by providing a 3-year curriculum in which girls are supported, nurtured, and empowered. Each lesson is based on Afrocentric principles and are grade level specific. I’m most proud of the fact we have been in existence for 12 years now as a grassroots program surviving on a very small budget with volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to the success of Sisters of Nia. I am proud of the tremendous support we have gained from the community…without it, there would be no Sisters of Nia. I am proud that our alumnae girls want to come back and volunteer with our program, that they want to stay connected, and that anytime we ask for their help, they always oblige, if able. Overall, I am extremely proud of the success of Sisters of Nia and all the girls who have come through our program. This has been a long, challenging road to get to where we are today. Many sacrifices have been made, but ultimately, we stayed focused, united, and committed as a team to overcome whatever challenges came our way. One of our ongoing greatest challenges has been in gaining grant funding, however, we have been very fortunate to provide a plethora of programs and activities despite our small budget. There was a time when we had to take a step back and stop accepting new girls in the program for a couple of years…this was done as an effort to move from one school campus where we could only service girls from that school to a site where girls from all over the Sacramento area and beyond would be able to participate. Today, our program is functioning at full capacity and accepting new girls in the program each year. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take two steps forward. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned along the way is to never give up and to stay focused on your goals and dreams. Sisters of Nia was a dream, a vision back in 2008 and now we are 12 years strong. No matter the obstacles that come your way, stay focused. Also, it is incredibly important to surround yourself with people who support your goals and dreams and can help lift you up during your challenging times. I want the world to know Sisters of Nia is here to stay! I want the world to know Sisters of Nia is the up and coming “Girl Scouts” for African American girls…this is our goal…to become a household, world-renown organization. We anticipate being able to offer affiliations very, very soon. Look out world, here we come!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are several people I’d like to dedicate my shoutout to, the first person being my husband, Terrence Smith. I appreciate him tremendously for his constant consistent support, encouragement, patience and understanding in my endeavors to make Sisters of Nia a reality and a sustainable nonprofit organization. He encourages me to keep going when I feel like giving up, is always willing to listen when I have a story to tell, and is my number one supporter. There would be no Sisters of Nia without his support. I’d also like to give a huge shout out to Dr. Malika Hollinside and DeNita Johnson. Dr. Hollinside has been by my side as our Creative Director and Facilitator since the beginning of the program. Her energy and vision have helped Sisters of Nia to grow into what it is today. DeNita has been with Sisters of Nia for about 9 years now and is our Family Services Director. Her calm spirit and wisdom is a tremendous asset to our girls. Sisters of Nia could not exist without these two ladies. Finally, I’d like to acknowledge our Board of Directors who work hard behind the scenes to ensure we continue to provide quality programs and activities to our girls. I’d specifically like to recognize Donna Berry, our current board president, who has been a board member since the beginning. There are many other people who have provided support, mentorship, love and encouragement…too many more to mention. I appreciate everyone who has contributed to the success of Sisters of Nia, Inc.