Ms. N’bete Smallwood is the executive director at the Foundation for the Advancement of Girls in Liberia. She is a social worker by trade, and she started the Foundation for the Advancement of Girls in 2017 to help mentor, educate, and empower girls in her home country. She visited Utah in January 2020 as part of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program on volunteerism and civic action.
During her time in the U.S., Ms. Gizzie explored best practices in civic engagement and nonprofit work, examined how to use storytelling as a tool for marketing and volunteer recruitment, and discussed the impact of volunteerism in society. Ms. Gizzie attended various training sessions on how to grow her organization and encourage volunteers to work with her Foundation. She was also able to experience volunteer culture in Utah, by volunteering herself and interacting with a panel of Utahns who regularly volunteer. Her group met with diverse professional resources, ranging from grassroots nonprofits to mega-corporations. These organizations included: the Community Foundation of Utah, the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism, Zions Bancorporation, Utah Microloan Fund, and Westminster College’s Dumke Center for Civic Engagement.
One exceptional meeting for the volunteerism and civic action IVLP group, that Ms. Gizzie recalls with great excitement, was the opportunity to participate in The Dumke Center for Civic Engagement’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. The group was able to participate in volunteer activities on this day when the Dumke Center brings together K-12 students from South Salt Lake on Westminster’s Campus to encourage them to stay in school and seek higher education. The group worked side by side with community volunteers on a service project, participated with youth in a science project, and physical activities led by Westminster soccer teams, as well as an educational dream led by youth mentors at Westminster.
Highlights of Ms. Gizzie’s trip include attending an NBA Basketball Game in Utah’s Vivint Smart Home Arena (Utah Jazz vs. Sacramento Kings) and meeting Utahns through UCCD’s Home Hospitality Program. Ms. Gizzie looks back fondly on the graciousness, warmth and respect with which she was received by the Kindred-Huang family.
After she visited Utah, Ms. Gizzie felt a renewed sense of purpose in her work as the IVLP meetings and resources increased her knowledge as director of a nonprofit organization. Additionally, she felt a greater connection to her community, a clearer understanding of how her work in the community impacts others, and how she can encourage others to be a part of the work she does. She is happy to say that even she volunteers more since visiting Utah, in addition to all over her responsibilities as Executive Director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Girl, and seeks out opportunities to share her thoughts on volunteerism to anyone who will listen.
According to Ms. Gizzie, the knowledge she gained in Utah on how to use her organization’s story as a tool to grow and expand her reach prepared her to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Liberia, which have cost her substantial government funding and community donations that in the past have helped finance her program. She said, “Gathering volunteers to give back to their community has helped me during this COVID-19 period. Also networking with other community based organizations has helped me navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. Those were all skills I learned while I was in the USA.” These skills have helped her keep her organization afloat and ensured that she can continue to make an impact for girls and young women in her community, even while in the midst of a global pandemic.
In the face of exacerbating circumstances, Ms. Gizzie has managed to provide girls in her community with access to the tools they need to grow into self-confident women, who themselves will grow up and make an impact on their communities, and perhaps on the world. For many of these girls, access to the mentorship of Ms. Gizzie’s organization is the one relationship they can count on, that will always be there to empower and lend a helping hand. We send our sincerest thanks and admiration to Ms. Gizzie and organizers like her who work tirelessly to ensure communities have access to resources that will strengthen, empower and sustain them.