You know that feeling you have when you meet someone and think, “wow, you are a wonderful person, what you’re doing for teenage girls is incredible!” That’s how you’ll feel after you learn more about Jen Dean. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with Jen earlier this year and as I have been getting to know both her and All Girls Considered, I am becoming more blown away by her mission and what she is accomplishing. I hope you’ll be as inspired as I have been!
“I think about the power of knowing that life is a journey rather than a destination; that everyone’s path looks a bit different; and that when we share our stories with one another, we all learn and grow.”
Sierra Bailey: It has been such a joy meeting you and finding out about the amazingness of All Girls Considered. Please share what it is and how it came to be.
Jen Dean: All Girls Considered is a national nonprofit organization that connects girls and women through the power of story sharing, mentorship, and experiential learning. We are all about girls seeing, and hearing, the many different pathways to success, and then defining success for themselves.
I started All Girls Considered as a middle school English teacher at Leander Middle School just northwest of Austin. As a teacher I saw the negative effects of societal systems telling girls who and what they should be. I also heard girls’ very limited definitions of success as something that is monetary, linear, and without error – much like my own when I was younger. After hearing these limited definitions and seeing girls struggle to find their identity and voice, I looked outward into the community.
“It’s important for girls to see all of the pathways to success that exist between mom and Beyoncé”
I saw a lot of great organizations that were cheerleaders for girls, but I didn’t see any options where girls could connect with other girls and women, while also creating their own definitions of success through these connections. Because I think it’s important for girls to see all of the pathways to success that exist between mom and Beyoncé, I decided to create opportunities for them to connect with a wide variety of women and produce podcast episodes about these conversations.
All Girls Considered began with four girls in my classroom after school in Leander, Texas and we now have twelve chapters in Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri! I am often amazed at how fast we are growing and how girls are spreading the word about us across the country.
SB: You have not always been in the non-profit space. What was your career up to this point?
JD: Well, I’ve actually been in the nonprofit space for a long time, I just didn’t start one until recently. My career began in finance and HR at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, a place I dreamed of working as a child. I interviewed for a part-time position there when I was almost finished with my undergrad and did not get it. Shortly after, they called and said the reason I didn’t get that job was because they wanted me for a bigger and better position.
I was finishing my degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish, and had worked multiple part-time jobs in the creative and finance fields (simultaneously) throughout college. The Kimbell position wasn’t my dream job, but it was a dream organization and I learned a lot about managing people and relationships within an organization as well as how to balance budgets, reconcile accounts, and not be afraid of money.
“There is something really powerful about knowing you’re helping girls create their own success and that every gift we receive goes toward making that happen.”
After about five years at the Kimbell, my husband and I moved to Northwest Arkansas where he helped to open Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. The move disrupted the trajectory I thought I was on, but in what turned out to be a really great way. On a cold winter day about two months after moving, I was watching Dave Eggers’ TED Talk about 826 National in San Francisco, and I had an epiphany – education was a field where I could utilize many of my talents and interests. I woke up the next morning, contacted the University of Arkansas about applying to grad school, and tweeted 826 National about an internship.
Within a couple of months, I started grad school and began working as a researcher for 826. At 826 I created logic models, wrote and analyzed surveys, and read almost every piece of research written about project-based learning, arts integration, and John Dewey. This work led me to want to apply my knowledge in a classroom, so I went and taught middle school (and some high school) English within the public education system for six years.
SB: Up to this point, what has been the biggest hurdle?
JD: There have been many, but there are two career challenges that stand out the most to me. The first is when I decided that I wanted to become a K-12 classroom educator rather than work in academia or the research sector. A lot of people said that was a foolish idea. Many people told me that “smart people don’t teach” – a really infuriating assertion, especially from people you love and respect. However, I knew that applying my knowledge from the research sector in the classroom was the logical next step for creating larger change.
I was committed to my goals and I learned what it was like to teach teenagers by showing up every day for six years and actually doing it. I learned their needs, their capabilities, and their desire to create meaningful change. Furthermore, I would not have had the opportunity to lead, work alongside, and learn from some really amazing educators.
The second challenge is more recent. I left a career in the classroom to do something I felt was even more important – serve as the Executive Director of All Girls Considered. There are about one hundred girls across the country that currently benefit from our programming and there are many more that could. It’s my job to make sure this organization grows and thrives so that our girls can as well. It’s an exciting challenge!
SB: What has been your biggest win so far?
JD: The amazing members of All Girls Considered! I just spent a week in Central Texas talking with the girls in our chapters, listening to and learning from them. There are two things I’ve heard from them consistently over the past three years: I feel safe in this space to share and explore who I am; and my voice is important. During this recent visit, Jasmine, one of our members since 2017, also said, “You don’t have to have it all figured out. There’s a misconception that people have it all figured out. These interviews have taught me that no one does, and that’s ok.” And all the girls emphatically nodded their heads yes.
I think about the power of knowing that life is a journey rather than a destination; that everyone’s path looks a bit different; and that when we share our stories with one another, we all learn and grow. Hearing the girls’ testimonials and watching them develop the confidence to actively create their own success feels like a massive win.
SB: What are you hoping to accomplish in the next 1-3 years?
JD: I’ve always known that this organization was about more than podcasting. It’s about creating spaces where girls like Jasmine (above) can listen to and share stories in order to define and embody their own success. Our girls will tell you that podcasting is just the beginning. They are interested in sharing their work through authorship and filmmaking, and by leading the expansion of All Girls Considered.
To fulfill this vision, over the next 1-3 years we need to: hire full-time staff to create and implement plans for sustainable expansion and student engagement; revise our curriculum to focus on girls’ success; and create opportunities for girls across regions to work together. All of this while expanding and engaging our community.
SB: What is the one, under $100 purchase in the last year has been life-changing in your business or life?
JD: Well, it was a bit over $100; however, one of the most useful gifts was when a donor wrote us a check to become a member of Nonprofit Connect, an organization that connects Kansas City nonprofits to education, resources, and networking. I attend an average of two workshops a month, have connected with others in the nonprofit community, and have expanded my knowledge and expertise about nonprofit leadership exponentially. Nonprofits don’t always talk about the less exciting parts of the organization, but these are the parts that keep the organizations growing, leading, and serving so that they can then share the exciting parts with everyone.
SB: If we could do one thing to help you get to the next level, what would that be?
JD: If everyone who listened to the podcast, read this piece, and/or knew someone who was positively impacted by AGC gave just $10 a month, that would be transformational for us. It takes a lot of time and financial resources to create and run chapters throughout the country, to continuously refine our curriculum, to provide training for girls and sponsors, and to consistently listen to and let girls lead. As a young organization, each new gift is a celebration for us.
There is something really powerful about knowing you’re helping girls create their own success and that every gift we receive goes toward making that happen.