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Hundreds of girls across Los Angeles are hard at work on documentaries they hope will transform their communities.
The projects are part of a competition organized by Girls Build LA, an initiative that seeks to empower young women to use STEM subjects as a means for solving social challenges in their communities. Girls from winning teams will get $2,000 each in college scholarships.
"We're promoting this message of girls building themselves and empowering themselves, but also promoting organizations who already do this for us," said student Somkene Okwuego. She attends the LAUSD/USC Media Arts and Engineering Magnet, one of 50 schools taking part in the Girls Build LA program.
Each team works with a classroom teacher and a volunteer mentor to help guide their documentary projects.
Margaret Chernin, a mentor who works as the Senior Vice President of Development at Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's Pearl Street Films production company, said she wants girls to have the same sense of belonging that she feels in her workplace.
"I've always felt empowered to speak up and make my decisions and voice known and I think I'd like them to feel similarly empowered and supported," said Chernin. She said she continues to be impressed by the girls' creative drive.
"It's been very rewarding but also incredibly inspiring to see what the next generation of girls is like because they are a force," said Chernin.
Nonprofit organization LA Promise Fund started Girls Build LA two years ago. The initiative was born out of a desire to get more women involved in science, technology, engineering and math.
"Women are in less than 25 percent of STEM related positions in this country," said Chief Strategy Officer Claudia Keller.
The numbers are even lower for women of color. Only three percent of STEM positions are held by African American women, and only one percent by Latinas.
In addition to increasing the number of women in STEM related fields, the initiative also aims to provide a comfortable environment where girls can identify challenges in their communities and be part of the solution.
"This environment of having it be a female only project, really encourages girls to come out of their shell, very importantly, to support each other, in these different endeavors," said Claudia Keller.
Student Iris Portillo said the support Girls Build LA offers makes her feel like she's capable of doing great things. Like several of her classmates, she wants to become a doctor while also continuing to give back to her community.
"I don't want to be someone who will grow up and forget what they left from. I want to be able to come back to that and give them what they gave me," said Portillo.
Each team will present their community solutions to a group of judges in May. Six winning teams will split $50,000 in college scholarship funds.