Summer Seal, program director for Girls’ Empowerment Mission (GEM), always knew she wanted to help kids. Getting there was quite the journey, but every step has helped make her the stalwart leader GEM girls have come to know and love.
“It’s true I left college after my freshman year and I learned a lot about myself while taking time as an adult to figure out what it is exactly I like to do,” says Summer. “After sailing around the world on the Pride of Baltimore II, I worked for the Living Classrooms Foundation in their shipboard department taking youth out on sailing educational excursions. It was during these experiences and my volunteering with Junior Achievement that I realized that helping kids in need was going to be my life’s purpose.”
Eight years after she left college, Summer found herself back at the University of Baltimore earning her undergraduate degree in nonprofit management and community leadership. It was during Summer’s senior year that she learned about GEM while researching options for her capstone internship. After connecting with GEM founder and director, Debbi Weinberg, Summer became GEM’s first intern.
“I really got to know the program and the girls, and shortly after I started I became a part-time leader while I was still in school,” she says. “When it was time to graduate college, I did not want to leave GEM. I did not want to leave the girls. My dream of starting my own nonprofit organization to help children shifted to staying and continuing to support a program that already existed.”
Devoted to the organization, Summer proposed a new position, program coordinator, and became GEM’s only full-time employee. A decade later, Summer has seen more than 100 girls successfully graduate from high school and pursue college thanks to GEM. “I know they need us, and I know they would not have what they have today without GEM. It feels good to help and make an impact, teaching and guiding them. Most importantly, they know they have someone.”
Over the past 10 years, Summer has seen the girls through happy and very challenging times. “There have been occasions where I’ve just sat at home crying because—through no fault of their own—these girls have been through really horrible things and it’s heartbreaking,” she says. “I’ve wondered many times if I brought her home with me, could that help make her life better.”
Now a mom to a young son, Summer says her GEM experience has positively impacted her approach to parenting. “As a parent, I feel even more for these girls who I consider like my own daughters,” she says. “My heart just explodes when I see them as college students and working women because I know it was all possible because they were in GEM.
Summer maintains the girls’ lives would be vastly different than they are today if it were not for GEM. “There would be no college, no opportunity to see a show or experience staying in a cabin, no ropes course, and no exposure to amazingly influential and inspiring women,” she says. “Every girl should have a pack of women who surround and support them. It’s gravely important for GEM girls, and in order to provide support we need money to do these kinds of activities and expose them to new and different things so they start thinking and believing there is a whole world beyond their home and community.”