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National Volunteer Month: Meet DeShong

Posted on 4/21/2017

 NVM_DeShong Perry

Written by: Claire Brumback, Public Affairs Intern

There are those who selflessly volunteer hours upon hours to various organizations of their choosing (which we are highlighting throughout the month!), and then there are those who decide to start their own organizations. Meet DeShong Perry-Smitherman, AES US Corporate Communications Manager, who co-founded A Girl's Gift, Inc., which aims to improve the lives of Indianapolis girls ages 10-15 through entrepreneurship and self-esteem development. Children, especially girls, are impressionable at a young age, and DeShong's nonprofit is making a tangible difference here in Indy. Check out her volunteer profile below:

Job Title/Department: AES U.S. Corporate Communications Manager

Years at IPL/AES: 1.5

Organization you volunteer for: A Girl's Gift, Inc.

What do you do?  “Our mission is to improve the lives of Indianapolis girls through entrepreneurship and self-esteem development. We teach the girls the 8 steps of the business plan, and after working on their business, at the end of the week they present their ideas to a panel of judges. It’s like a miniature version of the hit television show ‘Shark Tank.”

How did you get involved with this organization/event? “My friend Ericka Gibson (co-founder) and I started talking about some of the issues that girls face, especially at that age. At the time, Ericka had two daughters of her own and I had one as well. We both wanted to do our part to help girls see their potential and identify their gifts. I remember a time when my self-esteem wasn't the greatest, and it could have been easy to steamroll me. I didn't want other girls to ever feel that way. If there's a girl within my reach, I don't want her to suffer from low esteem or believe that she is less than awesome. Our organization, now with a chapter in Indy and Charlotte, works to better the lives of the girls we're able to reach. And we love it. Our next camp runs at Ivy Tech beginning July 9, 2017."

Why did you co-found this organization? “When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, I didn’t have anything like this. My friend and I started talking about some of the issues that girls face, especially at that age. There were times that my self-esteem wasn’t great. If there’s a girl within my reach, I don’t want her to suffer from low self-esteem or believe that she is less than awesome.”

How long have you been a volunteer? Since 2009

How often do you volunteer? “We have a one week program in the summer, but we also have small meetings throughout the year. But volunteering is not just something I do once a week each year. It’s something that I do every day.”

Favorite volunteer experience? “It’s a story I can tell about many girls. So many girls walk in so unsure of themselves on the first day, but by day seven they are singing, dancing, smiling, and they are happy. They have been around women who are willing to help them breathe life into their business ideas. Our program teaches them in a few short days to be confident early on. We have girls who do basic ideas, like babysitting services and jewelry design. We have girls who come up with unique ideas, too, that should actually be patented. These ideas are based off of everyday problems they've seen girls and women struggle with. It's amazing what a girl can invent when she focuses on solving a problem.”

In your opinion, what makes a good volunteer? “Someone who has the heart, who makes the time, who sees a need, and they can’t sleep at night sometimes because they see themselves helping someone else. It is something they always think about. I don’t just volunteer with this (A Girl's Gift, Inc.). I teach, I offer career advice, I look over resumes. Volunteering isn’t just something I do for one week a year. It’s something I do every day.”

Why do you continue to volunteer? “The news, the world, politics, and how women are treated around the world…there is such a need for girls to feel better about who they are and what they can become. And they should be able to look in the mirror of success and see themselves smiling back. This work will never stop. I would love for this program to grow and have chapters all over the world. Because it is needed for girls to feel like they can do anything.”   

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