ACT for Women and Girls has been both a force for empowering young female leaders in Tulare County and a champion for reproductive justice for over 10 years. Through their mission to engage women of all ages in leadership opportunities that will promote social and personal change, ACT has worked tirelessly to ensure all members of the community have safe, reliable access to reproductive health products and services; that women are equally represented in governing bodies and hold leadership positions; and that health policies reflect the needs of women and girls.

ACT prepares youth for leadership positions through several programs. In 2005, ACT was founded with the creation of the Female Leadership Academy (FLA), an 8-month leadership development program for self-identified women ages 15-25 in Visalia. The goal of this program is to expand participants’ leadership potential while teaching them about women’s issues and intersectional feminism, with a direct emphasis on reproductive health and justice. Another program, Student Health Advocates for Peer Empowerment (SHAPE), runs throughout the school year for males and females ages 13-20 in the rural farmworker community of Woodlake. SHAPE builds leadership skills through a focus on health access, race, and economic intersections of reproductive justice.

A third program, Teen Success, Inc. (TSI), is a weekly program held in two communities within Tulare County for pregnant and parenting young mothers. The program aims to expand their support network, provide resources, and enhance their life and leadership skills. The fourth program offered by ACT are its ACTion Teams, short-term projects implemented to respond to local reproductive justice needs to engage and activate youth and community.

ACT members pose outside a Rite Aid. The group visits pharmacies and drug stores across the Valley and gives them “report cards” based on their knowledge of and access to various forms of birth control.

ACT has been working for years to decrease levels of teen pregnancy through advocacy and education. In 2016, ACT’s efforts in Woodlake saw an overall decrease in teen pregnancy rates by 50%. Working with Woodlake Unified School District, ACT was very successful in leveraging access avenues, building relationships, and increasing knowledge of issues impacting young people in rural areas. Their work has impacted thousands of individuals and families; for more information on ACT’s work in Woodlake, please click here to view their logic map.

Currently, ACT is emphasizing the work of the SHAPE program and campaigns to support young people in understanding sexual health, informing their peers, and mobilizing the community to raise awareness. Jessica Reynoso, 18, had this to say about her participation in a SHAPE ACTion Team program:

“SHAPE has directly impacted my life by allowing me to discover my values and my voice. I became a part of ACT’s program in 2012 and was trained to speak to the school board about the injustice of keeping my peers uneducated about their bodies. Board meeting after board meeting, we achieved our goal of convincing the school administration that we needed sex education. In October 2013, a comp sex education policy was adopted, but we noticed there was more to do in Woodlake! SHAPE began exploring the root of problems our small, predominantly Latino town faced, such as the lack of access to healthcare, reproductive services, and a low voter turnout.

I grew to love our mission for justice from the moment the school board approved the sex education curriculum. It empowered me to create awareness in my community and advocate for change. ACT allowed me to grow into a more confident individual. Being a member of SHAPE has provided me with opportunities I would never have imagined. From registering voters in Woodlake, having the courage to speak to peers and teachers about the very unpopular topic of sex education, and speaking to my legislators at the state capitol – ACT has allowed me to do all of this.

SHAPE pushed me to challenge my understanding of the world around me, and made me feel that Margaret Mead was right—that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Members of ACT pose with Senator Dianne Feinstein at the CVCF-hosted luncheon event on June 1, 2017. ACT was a guest of honor at the Senator’s table.

 For more information on ACT’s work and how you can support their mission, please visit their website at: http://www.actforwomenandgirls.org.

The Central Valley Community Foundation is proud to support the work of our grantees, ACT for Women and Girls. For more information on grants from CVCF, please visit the Grants Overview page on our website.