Jessica Van Tuyl is the Executive Director of the Oasis For Girls organization, located in San Francisco.
The Oasis For Girls program partners with girls and young women from under resourced communities to help them cultivate the skills, knowledge and confidence to discover their dreams and build strong futures.
You’ve worked with Oasis For Girls since 2008, starting as a program manager, and moving up through the ranks to eventually become Executive Director in 2010. What is it about this organization and this work that inspires you and has kept you engaged for the past 8 years?
Oasis For Girls is a really special place! We’re constantly evolving to meet the needs of the girls we serve, which has provided me with consistent opportunities to be challenged, learn, and grow. Given our small size, I’ve been involved in every aspect of the organization- operations, fundraising/finance, human resources, community partnerships, and programs, so no two days are alike! But most importantly, I have had the pleasure of working with really amazing staff, board, and girls who consistently inspire me to be the best version of myself I can be!
We live in a digital age. Often in the media we see characterizations of the youth-digital relationship as negative – cyber bullying, sexting, cyber stalking, etc. In what ways do you think we can use digital to help a mission like Oasis’ that serves to support, empower and teach youth?
At Oasis, we’re supporting our girls in becoming good digital citizens- not only protecting themselves online, but also using the digital world to educate, support, and empower themselves! For example…
Educate/Support: Our program team maintains an active Facebook page that provides articles and events about issues affecting young women for our girls.
Support: This page has been crucial in helping to maintain our girl centered community, building a sisterhood among girls from incredibly diverse backgrounds from across the city.
Empower: Inspired by their own knowledge of college resources, participants in our ENVISION program created a Blog sharing their college resources with their peers!
In a lot of ways, the work that Oasis does is about fostering connections and community to build confidence and skills. Why are connections so important to empowering youth? Do you find that youth continue to build connections outside of the program after they leave? If so, how do you instill the importance of this in Oasis participants?
Yes! At Oasis, we believe strongly in the power of connections, especially among young women because there are so many things that serve to divide them in our city- race, class, neighborhood…and boys. We find that in arriving to Oasis, many girls have never had close girlfriends and the power of building sisterhood with other young women is among the most impactful outcomes of our programming. The friendships girls form at Oasis last well beyond our programming, with Oasis friends signing up to participate in other programs together! In addition, we seek to help our girls build connections with other resources in the city that will support them after their time at Oasis- health clinics, shelters, and a variety of other nonprofit organizations that support youth.
In addition to women of color, Oasis specifically focuses on girls from immigrant families. Why do you believe that immigrant populations are so important to countries around the world?
We estimate that roughly 30% of the young women we serve are immigrants or of immigrant descent, but with the current housing crisis in San Francisco, that number is decreasing. Oasis remains committed to serving immigrant young women because we find that they are among the most vulnerable youth because they face such a unique combination of challenges- acculturation and language acquisition to name a few. For those that are undocumented, poverty and isolation are often significant factors due to lack of right to work documents and fear of deportation.
You’ve worked in the Youth Empowerment space for a long time. What advice do you have for professionals working in this field, or aspiring to work with youth?
I’m not in the habit of giving advice, but I would encourage youth development professionals to build experience in a variety of aspects of the work- direct service, operations, fundraising/finance, and human resources- because it will allow you to approach your work with a stronger understanding of the bigger picture. In my experience, this experience and approach will allow you to make the greatest impact!
Where do you see Oasis for Girls 5 years from now?
In five years, I envision Oasis moving into the Youth Employment space, cultivating opportunities for young women to build work experience in a specific field that will ultimately, support them and their families in transcending the cycle of poverty!