Tanya Tillman decided to make an impact on the lives of young girls in Alachua.
A mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 10, Tillman founded Dream Girlz. This is a faith based nonprofit program aimed at teaching girls ages 5 to 18 basic life skills, such as cooking, cleaning and the importance of good grades, all while gaining friends in the process.
The first meeting took place Wednesday, and up to that point 53 girls had registered.
“The local library serves as the ‘summer camp’ every year and the kids really have nothing to do or a safe place to do anything,” Tillman wrote in an email.
Alachua doesn’t have a Boys & Girls Club for children to participate in extracurricular activities and programs. Tillman explained Dream Girlz is similar to Girl Scouts because it promotes sisterhood and working together to accomplish common goals.
“We are different however, because we offer more survival skills for day-to-day life,” Tillman wrote. “We teach proper hygiene, cooking basics, the importance of good grades and college selection.”
Tillman hopes to equip the girls with knowledge and resources to become successful women.
“I want them to know that there is more to life than Alachua County,” she wrote. “There are more options than being a CNA or bank teller. I want to give them the support and tools to become doctors and bank presidents.”
This month, the girls will walk in the Alachua Christmas Parade displaying a banner and passing out candy to the crowd. They’ll also provide dinner for the Ronald McDonald House residents on Dec. 12 and participate in caroling.
Tillman’s long-term goal is to offer after-school care and a summer camp. She wants to branch off with other sites in rural areas to help more girls and eventually wants to offer a “brother” group with similar goals for males.
In addition to providing support for the girls, Dream Girlz will have resources available to help parents as well, such as offering prayer partners and family mentors.
“Kids unfortunately do not come with an instruction manual, and all of us parents are figuring it out as we go along,” she wrote. “Dream Girlz is here to offer support to the whole family.”
LaVon Hathcock is on board as the nurse at Dream Girlz and said she will teach the girls about hygiene and self-esteem. She is looking forward to the experience.
Hathcock enrolled her daughter in the program as a way to get her involved with the community and learn to give back.
“There was no other organization like it in Alachua,” she said, adding that the first registration event made her realize the want and need for it.
Natasha Jenkins, who has two daughters, ages 9 and 14, said she first heard about the program at the end of November. One of her daughters is in Girl Scouts.
Jenkins’ 9-year-old daughter doesn’t like to participate in “girly” things, and when she found out Dream Girlz would offer more activities she would enjoy, like reading and cooking, it made her daughter feel more confident about joining.
Jenkins said there was a need for this organization because there’s nothing for kids to do in Alachua. She said girls just walk around town right now.
Tillman wants to change that.
“I am looking forward to watching my girls grow into confident, successful, and loving women,” Tillman wrote. “I am waiting to fill my wall with copies of high school and college degrees from all of my girls. I want to attend weddings and baby showers and house-warming parties of successful, equipped women that are prepared to take on the world.”