Dayton woman helping young girls achieve their dreams

For girls to dream big, they need the resources and experiences to turn those dreams into reality.

The Rev. Dawn Martin is providing them through Girls Empowered and Mentored to Success, the organization she founded in 2007 to help girls who are committed to going to college.

Martin holds herself to the same standards that she asks of the GEMS. Not long after the first group of GEMS began, she enrolled at Sinclair Community College at age 34. She now has two master’s degrees, in human services and in clinical mental health counseling.

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“They had to see it being done by those who were mentoring them,” said Martin, now 53, of Dayton.

Martin faced many challenges in her childhood, and her GEMS are often confronting their own issues at home, such as an absent father or drug abuse. But the group is for any girl who needs an introduction to resources to accomplish her goals.

It’s no accident that Martin begins the mentoring program in sixth grade and follows each girl through their high school graduation. When Martin was in sixth grade, she and her family moved from Dayton to California. Martin was miserable, her mom was ill and everything was new.

Community Gem Project recognizes Rev. Dawn Martin of Trotwood. JIM NOELKER/STAFF
Caption
Community Gem Project recognizes Rev. Dawn Martin of Trotwood. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

An attentive English teacher and school librarian noticed her struggles in high school, and that experience convinced her that she was called to help other girls in similar situations.

“This is why I had to go back,” Martin said.

Martin has mentored around 50 girls since the program began. Several have become valedictorians or salutatorians of their schools, and two former GEMS are scheduled to graduate next year from Ohio State University, after attending with full-ride scholarships.

But Martin is proud of so much more.

“All of our girls are success stories,” she said.

Venus Brown is one of them. The sophomore at Central State University joined GEMS as she was entering ninth grade. She not only got to know other girls her age, but the program also expanded the number of adults she could reach out to.

Martin helps the girls in the program stay on track to accomplish their goals, said Brown, who now helps to mentor current GEMS.

“It was one of the best things that could have happened to me,” she said.

Girls in the GEMS program, which is in the process of relaunching for its next class, learn about etiquette, self-esteem, anti-bullying, community service and skills they may not learn in school. For example, cooking and sewing are taught by skilled mentoring partners, Martin said.

Because of the mental health issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Martin also has added a “Grief to Purpose” outreach program for teens and adult women.

In addition, Martin is planning to start a new program next year for girls ages 4 to 6, called WEE GEMS. Those who are Waiting to Emerge Elegantly will focus on skills like etiquette and table manners.

Martin’s son, Donovan Benton, nominated her as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem. Martin also has two stepsons and three grandchildren.

“I think the GEMS program that she started has given these young girls a different perspective of life,” said Benton, of Trotwood. He called his mom a role model and an example for them to follow in order to achieve whatever they desire.

Martin says that because students with C averages have dreams that are just as big as those with A’s, GEMS provides college scholarships for its graduates. The organization accepts donations for its scholarship fund and also is searching for a permanent home for the program.

Martin said she has never wanted any of the girls to feel that they have failed if they didn’t reach their goal right away. As someone who first went to college in her 30s, she knows that dreams may dim but they shouldn’t burn out.

“The goal is to make sure you still have the dream,” Martin said.

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