Konica Daniels’ face lights up with pride when she talks about her two girls, Taneah and Taniya Daniels.
When her two daughters were nominated for Youth Leadership Awards in 2021 and 2022, Konica Daniels — a mother of five children — said she had never been prouder of the young women her girls were starting to become.
She was so grateful for Shareen Baptiste, the 35-year-old president and co-founder of Dream On Purpose, a non-profit empowerment organization for girls between the ages of 11 and 18.
“It was like seeing a different side of (Taneah), like her coming out of her shell more,” Konica Daniels said. “She was different. She almost looked like a little princess.”
The Daniels have been a part of the Dream On Purpose organization for about four years, and Konica Daniels said she saw an improvement in her daughters’ grades, behavior and confidence. The heart of the organization is helping young women who don’t have these resources elsewhere, Baptiste said.
“We empower them and encourage them to dream and to actualize their dreams,” she said.
Baptiste studied entrepreneurship at the University of Florida and has always been looking for ways to connect more with the community around her. She said she thinks the children in this community had stopped dreaming, and she knew she could make a difference in their lives.
In 2015, Dream On Purpose became a reality.
Baptiste co-founded the organization with her sister, JoAnne Karagnara, and close friend Patrice Fletcher in hopes of hosting annual conferences focused on helping young women find their place in the world.
They host several programs throughout the year, their most popular being Cupcakes and Conversations — which is held on a quarterly basis.
The program provides a safe environment for girls to engage with one another in conversation about things going on in their day-to-day lives, and it offers a helping hand to those who feel they don’t have anywhere else to turn, Baptiste said.
“The reason why we came up with Cupcakes and Conversations is we realized our young ladies did not have the proper space and avenue in which they felt comfortable to talk about what they’re going through,” she said.
Although the organization holds multiple events where girls can socialize and make friends, most of the programs focus on providing resources for various life circumstances. Dream On Purpose teaches them about topics like breast cancer awareness and personal conflict resolution.
Jamia Hunt, a 16-year-old student at Newberry High School, has been a part of Dream On Purpose since she was 11. The organization has helped her make friends over the years through events such as a yoga session hosted at the Alachua County Public Library — her favorite event so far. But she said Dream On Purpose plays a larger role than just helping her make friends. She learns lessons her school does not teach.
“I think it’s inspiring. It’s very educational,” she said. “Every time I go to events, I will bring something back.”
Hunt participated in a three-day career launch program that she said helped her clear steps toward her future after high school.
Sabrina Williams, a Gainesville native whose 11-year-old daughter, Daijah, has attended Dream On Purpose programs, said she never had mentorship like this growing up.
“It definitely empowers young women, specifically Black women,” Williams said. “It shows them that they can have a voice, they can be bold, they can be fearless regardless of what society might peg them as. It shows them just how to stand on their own and how to reach for their own dreams.”
As a non-profit organization, all of the funding for conferences and events comes from volunteers and members who want to help contribute to the cause.
Like any new business, Baptiste said, getting started was the hardest part. In the beginning, much of the financial backing came out of their own pockets.
The time commitment is also a struggle, she said. Baptiste works full time as a branch marketing coordinator at ATM, a Geosyntec company. There is no balance, she said, and any time she doesn’t spend at work is dedicated to devising ways to positively impact girls’ lives through Dream On Purpose.
“The reason why we specifically focus on young ladies is we realize the detriment that having lower self-esteem poses to our young ladies and society,” she said. “It causes them to pursue fewer opportunities because they don’t think that they’re worthy of it, and it causes them to inflict harm on themselves, whether that’s cutting or having suicidal ideation.”
Studies show that suicide attempts among people under 18 are higher in women than in men. Young girls are also more likely to experience low self-esteem, which can cause them to doubt themselves the older they get, Baptiste said.
Although the organization focuses primarily on adolescent girls, she said the monthly events are open to help everyone — including young men. In the past seven years, Baptiste said the organization has grown to about 25 girls who regularly attend all the events with new faces that come and go each month.
Daijah Williams said she loves going to each event and has slowly become more confident in herself and her abilities.
“It really taught me how to kind of stand up for myself but also be a better person, in general,” she said. “It just helped me learn how to be more healthy, physically and mentally.”
Dream On Purpose is hosting a celebratory dinner Feb. 11 in honor of seven years of helping young girls throughout Alachua County. Baptiste said the organization hopes in the next few years to expand beyond Alachua County and open a center where the girls feel like they can have a safe haven.
“We can work to build their self-esteem and to let them know that ‘Hey, you matter, your dreams matter, and there’s purpose in you pursuing your dream and being all that you can be,’” she said.