About Us

About Us

PEARLS for Teen Girls, Inc. is a dynamic and innovative non-profit leadership development organization serving at-risk, primarily African American and Latina girls, ages 10 to 19 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. PEARLS helps girls achieve in school, avoid teen pregnancy, and use their personal power to achieve their goals and dreams. In 2012, PEARLS served nearly 1,000 girls citywide.

Watch our video and take a look at what PEARLS is all about.

PEARLS believes that every girl is precious with unique gifts and strengths. We also recognize that teen pregnancy and lack of education are huge challenges in Milwaukee that create enormous barriers to girls seeking to reach their full potential. That is why PEARLS has made two important organizational commitments:

  1. To increase high school graduation and college acceptance rates among Milwaukee’s girls of color.
  2. To work toward the goal set by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee to reduce pregnancy among 15–17 year olds by 46% by the year 2015.

PEARLS offers a totally distinct, custom curriculum that focuses on helping girls build leadership skills like self-reflection, critical thinking, sound decision making, goal setting, clear communication and personal accountability. As a result, PEARLS girls develop a true sense of their personal power and potential and their outcomes are astounding!

  • 100% of PEARLS 2012 active high school seniors graduated from high school.
  • 100% of 2012 active high school graduates were accepted to atleast one college.
  • 99% of all PEARLS active girls avoided teen pregnancy in 2012.
  • In the words of a PEARLS: “PEARLS provided me with the support system I need, community involvement, my first job, leadership opportunities, a safe place, opportunities to grow, and my second home. It makes me very happy to say that I will be the first out of my family to attend college.

Mission & Vision Statement


PEARLS Mission Statement

PEARLS for Teen Girls is improving quality of life and strengthening our community one girl at a time by empowering young women with self-development tools, guidance and support to strive for better, brighter futures by living out the PEARLS values: Personal Responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership and Support.

P.E.A.R.L.S. = Personal Responsibility, Empathy, Awareness, Respect, Leadership, Support

PEARLS Vision Statement

PEARLS is rapidly becoming known among girls, funders, and public/private entities in our community as “the program” for girls’ self development. The program provides girls with a safe place, skill development and self-esteem building that leads to better life choices and an opportunity to realize their full potential. PEARLS plans to serves over 1,000 girls within Milwaukee County in 2013. PEARLS serves a diverse group of girls and provides opportunities for all PEARLS girls to mix with other girls who may be different than themselves. PEARLS Alumnae are actively linked to our mission.


PEARLS is staffed by a professional team of diverse, progressive and experienced youth professionals. PEARLS is led by an Chief Executive Officer who brings knowledge, passion and creativity coupled with business acumen to successfully work with girls. The PEARLS Board is informed, accountable and proactively involved in PEARLS initiatives, maintaining a high quality board structure and sustained funding for staffing and programs that remain true to the mission. The organization has an overarching commitment to sustainability in their governance, funding and programming.

The PEARLS program has become the kind of success that when you hear, “I’m a PEARLS girl,” you know this girl is learning how to accomplish her goals and dreams.

Program Overview

PEARLS programs are girls-only, safe-space gatherings that meet once weekly after school, during school or on Saturdays at local schools and youth serving organizations. A typical PEARLS group serves 20 to 25 girls. A typical PEARLS session features a guided conversation led by one highly trained Adult Program Coordinator and an assisting Teen Facilitator. Topics might include school, relationships with family, friends and boys, careers, health or whatever the girls identify as pressing issues for them.

PEARLS addresses the interconnected issues of poverty, teen pregnancy, violence, and lack of educational attainment at their very roots, by working with girls during the critical teen years, when personal choices that are made can have lifelong consequences. PEARLS girls build leadership skills and character traits such as honesty, personal accountability, learning to listen to the viewpoints of others, clear communication, critical thinking about life and its choices and sound decision making. Through PEARLS’ nationally acclaimed Goal Setting Initiative, girls learn a process for setting, working toward, evaluating, and reaching tangible goals. These are all skills essential to success in school, work and life.


PEARLS’ custom-designed Goal Setting Initiative has become a cornerstone of the program and each PEARLS participant has the opportunity to set and work toward at least one personal or academic goal each semester. The full spectrum of the PEARLS program also includes two embedded, evidenced-based curriculums focused on pregnancy prevention and prevention of substance abuse. Additional program elements include ongoing academic support, community field trips, guest speakers, annual College Tour, volunteer Higher Education Coaches and many other unique components.

PEARLS Fall 2014 site partners

Our PEARLS Promise

PEARLS girls recite the PEARLS Promise at each PEARLS gathering:

We are PEARLS girls and we want to be our best selves. All of the girls in this circle are my PEARLS sisters. We are learning how each one of us is precious and unique. PEARLS helps us believe in ourselves by building:

is for Personal Responsibility. I can make a difference!
is for Empathy. I will strive to understand how it feels to walk in your shoes.
is for Awareness. I want to know more about myself and the world around me.
is for Respect. I will value you and your opinions, even if we disagree.
is for Leadership. I want to put my beliefs into action and make this world a better place.
is for Support. I want to help and encourage.

We promise to help each other practice these traits. We want to become role models and powerful women who achieve our goals and dreams.

Thank you all for our precious time together today.

Goal Setting Program

PEARLS Goal Setting Program helps girls build a lifelong capacity to set goals, work an action plan, and achieve goals. It also helps them develop the critical thinking skills needed to assess and understand why or how a goal was NOT achieved, so that plans can be revised and a new course of action set. Most importantly, PEARLS uses its proven effective and nationally recognized Goal Setting program to help girls cultivate the self-reflection and decision-making skills essential to success in school, relationships, work and life. Girls set goals using PEARLS’ custom designed Leadership Compass.

PEARLS Leadership Compass

The compass is a guide that points to the purpose of everything we do in PEARLS. PEARLS girls developed the Leadership Compass as a powerful symbol of their self development (heart, mind, body, and spirit). When we are developing all of the important aspects of ourselves we feel whole and complete, like a pearl! PEARLS 5-point Leadership Compass shows the aspects of our lives that are fundamental to our happiness and well-being:

  • Loving Myself: how we feel about ourselves
  • Building Relationships with Others: how we relate to other people
  • Striving to Achieve: learning throughout life
  • Believing the Sky is the Limit: setting stretch goals, dreaming big and creating successful futures, and
  • Helping Hands in the Community: giving back by contributing to the community.

PEARLS Leadership Compass

College Tour

PEARLS Girls posing William Neal Reynolds Coliseum

College Tour Report

PEARLS believes that education is the key to self-sufficiency and success. We also recognize the critical need to provide girls with a vision of the possibilities that exist in the broader world beyond their schools and neighborhoods. Each year, PEARLS hosts a national college tour trip for up to 20 PEARLS girls. The trip is designed to broaden girls’ horizons and open their eyes to new places, ideas and personal options. To learn more about how PEARLS is inspiring girls to dream bigger and aim higher, View our most recent PEARLS College Tour Report. The report includes photos and writings from the girls themselves.

PEARLS 2010 Tour

In 2011 15 girls participated in the PEARLS National College Tour, a key piece of our educational support strategies.
These girls experienced college campuses firsthand and gained valuable insights at Hampton University, Norfolk State University, North Carolina State University, North Caroling A&T University, Claflin University, South Carolina State University, and Benedict College. Girls spent each evening of the tour with the Program Coordinators leading them through "Nightly Reflections," an open exchange about the day's events. Girls also kept a daily journal highlighting their personal experiences and impressions. Following are some powerful excerpts:

“I learned that I want a college with small class sizes so the teacher will know me, making it easier to ask for help.” — Niesha, 8th Grade

“The trip made me realize that whatever I believe in I can achieve.” — Cathy, 8th Grade

“Being in PEARLS and on this tour has made me notice who I want to become. It has made me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. It has also made me gain more confidence in myself, which I really do take pride in.” — Kourtlyn, 9th Grade

“The college tour changed my whole attitude. I will go to school every day and do my best on my work. I plan to focus on what really matters and not just on friends.” — Kaylah, 9th Grade

PEARLS Girls posing at North Carolina State University

“The result of this trip made me think about the future more. It made me think about college…I never thought about college before going on this trip.” — Julissa, 8th Grade

“I CAN get into an excellent college if I work hard, learn, and study. PEARLS allows me to step outside my house and still have somebody care about me—like a big sister.” — Tamyra, 8th Grade

“This college tour has changed my life because I usually don't get as close with people in one week like I did with the other girls on tour. I'm more open now.” — Aciana, 11th Grade

“PEARLS' college tour helped me to realize the world is not always filled with negativity. There are a lot of places and people who are positive and helpful...When I saw a PEARLS alum on campus, it made me believe that anything is possible for me.” — Shantee, 9th Grade

College Tour application will be posted in the Spring previous to the tour.

Click here to review the most recent College Tour Report complete with photos and writings from the girls who attended.

Akarah's Experience Statement



PEARLS Girl Applauding

PEARLS was founded as a totally volunteer effort in 1993 by local entrepreneur and Executive Coach, Colleen Fitzgerald. In the early nineties Colleen was working deeply in the area of leadership development and many of her clients were professional women.

The first PEARLS group was launched as an after school opportunity for girls at Jackie Robinson Middle School in 1993. A small group of girls were committed to coming together once a week for honest conversations and to build trusting relationships. A primary focus of the group was to offer the girls, most of whom were facing the challenges of poverty and life in the central city, the opportunity to see and believe in their inherent beauty, power and potential. We wanted them to know that no matter what the circumstances in their lives, they had “precious and unique gifts and talents” to share with the world. PEARLS was about giving the girls a place to express themselves, build their confidence and articulate their dreams.

Creating a Process

As the original group was taking shape, lots of national research was coming out about the serious challenges facing girls in our country and calling attention to the fact that too many communities, including Milwaukee, lacked adequate girl-focused programming. Studies showed that to be effective, girls programming needed to be consistent, girl-only and provided in a culturally sensitive safe space. Girls needed intergenerational support, emotional support, support to build self-efficacy, and the opportunity to have a voice in programming — all things offered by the Jackie Robinson PEARLS group. Meanwhile, the response at Jackie Robinson was overwhelming.

From the beginning, the PEARLS process was unique, because the girls were invited to be true co-creators of all programming. In the groups, girls were expected to be the directors of the dialogue and to explore the ideas, feelings and topics that were important to them. As PEARLS moved from a single-site group to an organization, girls were a key part of the team. Additional impressive and experienced local youth workers joined the effort, including PEARLS’ current Director of Program Services, Gerry Howze. Together, the team began the work of creating and codifying the PEARLS experience. A small board of directors was formed and early and visionary grants from donors like the Richard and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation allowed the work to take off. By 2000 PEARLS was a full time operation and by 2002 PEARLS officially became a non-profit organization.

PEARLS developed a process for truly understanding the impact of its unique approach on the lives of the girls. Dr. Daniel Folkman of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, an expert in youth program evaluation, began working with the team to develop PEARLS distinct Leadership Compass and goal setting process. PEARLS groups were added around the city, including high school groups. PEARLS began to focus on helping girls to envision college and careers and many activities were incorporated to inspire girls to dream bigger.

Gerry Howze

In 2005 PEARLS published its unique curriculum and completed a comprehensive organizational strategic planning process. The plan incorporated input from the girls, staff, board and community leaders and called for the organization to grow from serving 120 girls annually to 500 by the end of 2008.

In January 2006, Danae D. Davis, JD, was hired by the PEARLS board to implement the strategic plan and to lead PEARLS into a new era. Danae brought with her 25 years of leadership experience in the public and corporate sectors, as well as a lifelong passion for helping women and girls achieve their goals and dreams. Under Danae’s Leadership, PEARLS has grown from serving 120 girls annually to 688 in 2008; added critical new program components; and attracted many new sources of public and private funding. Her vision for PEARLS includes serving thousands of girls and building an entire movement of young women prepared to lead Milwaukee, our nation and the world into a vibrant new future.

To watch a video of Danae Davis, click here.

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Staff Contact List

Gerry Howze, Executive Director
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 103

Kathy Barke, Director of Finance & Operations
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 114

Elizabeth Mueller, College & Career Readiness Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 113

Danita Bush, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 118

Jennifer Chang, Data Analyst
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 123

Jessie Lidbury, Events & Communications Manager
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 108

Jocelyn Mason-Saffold, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 110

Jona Moore, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 109

Kari Houghtaling, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 106

Meghan Bennett, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 116

Melissa Blue, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 117

Patricia Lewis, Program Manager
Phone: 414-265-7555 ext. 122

Sarah Beck, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 104

Stacey Jones, Operations Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 101

Stephaine Crosley, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 105

Trenace Fitch, Program Coordinator
Phone: 414-265-7555 Ext. 119

Gerry Howze, Executive Director
Gerry is dedicated to innovative youth programming, holds a Bachelors of Science in Human Services from Springfield College, and has been a recipient of the national Humanics award for her personal and professional achievements. Gerry is a graduate of Future Milwaukee.

Kathy Barke, Finance Director
Kathy serves as PEARLS’ Director of Finance and Operations. In her role, she manages the financial reporting process and oversees office operations. Kathy’s passion for working with non-profit organizations started at Blackman Kallick, a CPA firm in Chicago, IL, where she worked her way up to audit manager in the not-for-profit practice. Her most recent experience was working as Controller for Thresholds, a non-profit in Chicago, IL. She is a CPA and graduate of the University of Wisconsin Whitewater with a BBA in Accounting.

Elizabeth Mueller, College and Career Readiness Coordinator
Elizabeth Mueller serves as the College & Career Readiness Coordinator at PEARLS. With a professional background in higher education, working with students in career development, college admissions, and community engagement, Elizabeth is dedicated to increasing educational access and career opportunity for Milwaukee’s youth. She received her BA at UW-Madison and Master’s in Educational Policy and Leadership at Marquette University. Elizabeth is passionate about empowering young people with the resources, support, and opportunities they need to gain confidence in themselves and achieve their educational, personal, and career goals.

Jessie Lidbury, Events & Communications Manager
Jessie Lidbury comes to PEARLS through her background in community organizing at the state and national levels, experience in social media management, and work in the non−profit development world. She is committed to building a stronger community and supporting the next generation of young women through intentional relationship building and creating a culture of empowerment and action within our neighborhoods. Jessie is a graduate of UW−Eau Claire with a bachelors degree in Political Science and Legal Studies.

Jocelyn Mason-Saffold, Program Coordinator
Jocelyn has a deep passion for ensuring that youth feel empowered, treasured and unique. Her love to create meaningful personal relationships with youth led her to pursue youth development professionally. Prior to joining PEARLS, Jocelyn studied Drama and Psychology at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. Jocelyn served the youth population throughout her undergraduate matriculation in a myriad of organizations and graduated from Spelman in May of 2011. Jocelyn believes that as we empower others, we empower ourselves, and that joy and laughter are two of life's most precious gifts.

Jona Moore, Program Coordinator
As a former PEARLS girl, Jona has a passion for helping youth and making a difference in their lives anyway that she can. Jona graduated from Jackson State University in 2010 with a degree in Biology Pre-Med. She is currently a student at UWM in their certificate program for Pre-Medical sciences. Previously working as the College Readiness Assistant for PEARLS, Jona helped with many tasks focused around helping high school girls with college. Jona's ultimate career goal is to be in the medical field, but at this time she is wholeheartedly dedicated to being a Program Coordinator and giving back to PEARLS, because they have been so supportive in her journey. She wants to be able to help the young ladies of this generation receive the same love and support that she did as a PEARLS girl.

Kari Houghtaling, Program Coordinator
Kari is a native of Duluth, Minnesota, and a graduate of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She originally came to Milwaukee as an AmeriCorps member with College Possible, and after spending two years working with high school students on college preparation and enrollment, Kari transitioned into her role at PEARLS. She has fallen in love with the city of Milwaukee and its people, and she is grateful to continue important and meaningful work in the community. Kari is thrilled to be part of the dynamic team at PEARLS and to witness the growth of the incredible PEARLS girls.

Meghan Bennett, Program Coordinator
Meghan graduated from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and family social science with an emphasis on community engagement. During her undergraduate studies she worked as a member of the youth development staff for the YMCA, connecting with youth and teaching literacy. Meghan holds the belief that each individual has a unique potential to contribute something powerful to the world, and is committed to the process of growth, the importance of consistency, and the transforming effects of trusting relationships. Meghan is filled with joy to be able to serve as a support and encouragement to young women as they celebrate the freedom that comes from the cultivation of self-appreciation, love, and hope.

Melissa Blue, Program Coordinator
Melissa Blue is an artist that is enthusiastic about using her gifts to empower youth and the community. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Africology from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee in 2006. After working in both corporate and nonprofit sectors she ultimately found her passion in working with young women. Melissa firmly believes that a community can rise no higher than its woman. Therefore, she aspires to apply her creativity at PEARLS to help to enrich our girls and, ultimately, our community

Patricia Lewis, MSW, Program Manager
Tricia Lewis has a background in positive youth development and has been involved in nonprofit youth programming and clinical social work to empower children and families at the individual and community levels. She graduated with her Master in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University and Bachelors in Sociology and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Tricia has served youth and their families at Boys and Girls Clubs, through City Year in Miami, as a Mental Health Clinician at ChildSavers Guidance Clinic in Richmond, Virginia, and at multiple other nonprofit youth programs across the country.

Stacey Jones, Operations Coordinator
Stacey Jones joins the PEARLS team as the Operations Coordinator. Receiving her undergraduate degree at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and graduate degree from Cardinal Stritch University, she brings diverse experience in business, human resources, and education. Her passion is to make a difference in her community by contributing to areas that are most in need. Stacey hopes to provide a high level of service to the organization while collaborating with others to achieve organizational and developmental goals.

Stephaine Crosley, Program Coordinator
Stephaine Crosley is a Milwaukee native who used her precious gifts to earn herself a basketball scholarship to Cleveland State University where she graduated with Bachelor degrees in Social Work and Communications, May 2010. Stephaine is currently working on a master's degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point where she spent the last year as a graduate assistant coach for the women's basketball program. Her passion for working with people and her determination to make a difference in the community in which she is from has brought her back to Milwaukee after 5 years. Stephaine is committed to the PEARLS program and to the progression of this community.

Trenace Fitch, Program Coordinator
Trenace Fitch graduated from Alverno College in May 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. She served as the President of the student group Black Students United, which gave her the opportunity to organize and implement different events promoting cultural tolerance. Her work was not just limited to her campus, but she worked diligently with youth throughout the community serving as a Youth Supervisor and Youth mentor for multiple church organizations. She’s excited to expand her experience and welcomes the growth she will gain as a member of the PEARLS team.

Board of Directors

  • Meg Brzyski, Development Co-Chair – Marquette University
  • Deirdra Copeland-Gonsalves – BMO Harris Bank
  • Ricardo Diaz, Board Chair – United Community Center
  • Denise Greathouse – Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
  • Tawanna Jackson, Marketing & Communications Chair – PEARLS Alumna, Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Kadie Jelenchick – Foley & Lardner LLP
  • Maureen Kolb – Cr8ive Energies
  • Christie Krugler, Board Secretary & Development Co-Chair – Community Volunteer
  • Lisa Long, Finance Chair, Board Treasurer – Pricewaterhouse Coopers
  • Michelle Nettles – MillerCoors
  • Ninveh Neuman – Rockwell Automation
  • Vinita Paul, Board Chair – Heartland Advisors
  • Shontra Powell – Johnson Controls Power Solutions
  • Tori Termaat – Harley-Davidson Motor Company
  • Steve Zimmerman, Governance Chair – Spectrum Nonprofit