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Group teaches first-gen college girls to “ignore all the noise”

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio
Left to right: Starneka Johnson, Susan Schooner and Dea Chappell. Schooner is the executive director of Girls Group, an organization that empowers young women like Johnson and Chappell.

Sue Schooner has never taken a social work class, nor has she ever had children. But that didn’t stop her from creating and leading Girls Group, an organization that empowers young women to complete high school and be the first college graduate in their families.

The creation of Girls Group led to a change of heart for Schnooner.

“Until I met the original Girls Group participants, I didn’t even like young people,” Schooner said on Stateside.

Schooner founded and has led the organization for 12 years.  She previously worked as an automotive executive and considered herself well educated in many aspects of life. Working with the young women of Girls Group changed her view of the world, something she sees as the most humbling experience in her life.

“The more time I spent with these young women, I realized that there was so much I didn’t know,” Schooner said. “For the last 12 years, I feel like I’m learning and growing all the time.”

Girls Group provides both one-on-one and group mentoring for students. Topics range from academic management to programs Schooner described as benefiting “social, spiritual, intellectual [and] sexual health.” She believes that students who have access to these resources have greater chances at reaching their goals and taking control of their lives.

"I think the point is to... ignore all the noise around you," Schooner said.

Girls Group participants Starneka Johnson and Dea Chappell also joined us on Stateside. Johnson will pursue a masters in health administration at the University of Michigan this fall after completing her undergraduate degree at Ferris State University. She also has plans to join the U.S. Navy.

“I’m not quite sure as to where I would be today,” Johnson said. “If [Girls Group] would have not stepped into my life at the time in which they had.”

Chappell is finishing up 11th grade at Pioneer High School and is looking at schools like Howard University and Tennessee State University, having received help with college applications from Girls Group.

Both Johnson and Chappell serve as example of what Girls Group can do for the community, and what it means to face the odds and follow the mission that Schooner believes in.

“I think the point is to go down, really deep inside of yourself so that you ignore all the noise around you,” Schooner said. “Ignore all of that, ‘cause if you get really, really deep, then you know you’re capable of doing anything.”

Listen to the full interview with Schooner, Johnson and Chappell on Stateside below.