2021 Good Neighbor Award Winner
REALTOR® Sydney Ealy knows from experience that some children don’t grow up nurtured by financial security and positive role models.
She feels fortunate to have had parents who taught her to believe in a higher purpose, which gave her strength to overcome her own challenges. When she was a young adult, Ealy called upon that inner strength to help other girls rise above their disadvantages.
In 2014, at age 27, she launched her nonprofit mentoring program, TWST4Girls (an acronym for Together We Stand Tall), to provide role models and opportunity for young girls. “I wanted them to avoid pitfalls that may occur in their teenage years,” she says.
Her nonprofit program started small as a paint-in-the-park project for seven girls. It has grown into an ambitious, one-stop hub of programs where girls from underprivileged communities, aged 11 to 17, engage in organized activities, sometimes for up to 80 young “TWST Kids” or older, 11th grade and up “TWST Scholars.”
Participants make friends, learn life skills, and learn community-building skills through workshops and mentors. Scholars also can take an expenses-paid tour of historically Black colleges as well as go abroad.
“I didn’t want them to wait as I did to feel a sense of wholeness by understanding their roots,” Ealy says.
Nurturing Joy and Empowerment
Every week, participants focus on topics like financial literacy, culinary skills, and networking. Special programs, such as an Earth Day camp or a self-defense workshop, bring them together. Adult mentors help one-on-one with schoolwork, personal challenges, and shared activities.
Altogether 1,500 girls—and a few moms—have participated in 30 programs, 100 have worked with one-on-one mentors, and 100% of the TWST girls who graduated from the program have also graduated from high school and entered college with dreams of becoming paleontologists, lawyers, veterinary technicians, and more.
“When some first come to the program, they may be angry, not trust anyone, or have hit emotional walls as I did when I was younger. We give them a sense of security, happiness, and guidance,” —Sydney Ealy
Those who witness the results say Ealy’s personality and drive provide the spark and glue that makes TWST4Girls successful. “Sydney’s deep empathy and understanding for the girls we serve and the challenges they face inform her choices on where we focus our efforts,” says volunteer chief operating officer Annie Mbride Rose, 32, a project advisor at ExxonMobil. “She wants the girls to be confident about who they are without letting outside influences define them. If she can’t meet someone’s needs, she finds someone who can.”
Ealy chose real estate as a profession as another way to help people achieve their dreams—this one to buy a home. Real estate also lets her flourish on her own merit. “I grew up in Section 8 housing where I couldn’t play an instrument because I’d make noise,” she says.
Many also attribute Ealy’s attention to detail—for example, recognizing the need for transportation to help low-income often single-parent teens—as fueling the triumph of her nonprofit. Because of Houston’s sprawl, Ealy and her 60 volunteers provide rides to and from events.
To date, Ealy has raised $500,000. She and her volunteers have contributed more than 50,000 hours.
Following in Her Footsteps
Ealy’s focus remains each girl’s personal growth—which has inspired many of them to help others as well. When the career program called for developing a service project, participant Kyrah Lewis, 17, donated personal care packages to women living in shelters. She and a friend approached Target for supplies, wrote a grant request that Ealy edited, and delivered 15 gift cards with heartfelt messages. “It helps us remember how good we have it,” Lewis says.
Ealy, whom proteges call Miss Sydney, also helped Lewis when she discovered she lacked school credits. “She kept checking to see if there was anything she could do,” Lewis says. “She’s like that with everyone. We love her because she’s in your corner.”
She shows the girls how to step out of their comfort zone, and that confidence will follow. Courde Hampton, 17, mastered speaking in public after Ealy, who knew Hampton was shy, encouraged her to recite a poem at a stand-up gathering on a college tour.
One reason Ealy’s lessons are embraced is that she delivers them with passionate exuberance. Her programs are carefully designed to appeal to young girls. A female gynecologist led a “Flower Power” health and hygiene workshop, and entrepreneurship was taught through having a lemonade stand, which gave the girls an example of preparing a budget and deciding whether to save or spend proceeds.
“She pushes their limits,” says Nora Brown, whose daughters Destiny and KaNiya have participated. Destiny, 16, says her increased confidence has helped her manage her stutter.
Many of the young women and their parents consider Ealy extended family. “She welcomes us with hugs, never shows anger, asks if we’re okay,” Hampton says. Some wonder how she finds the energy and time to meet everyone’s needs, along with her work with Brooks and Davis Real Estate Firm.
Ealy’s reply is characteristically humble. “How can I not?” she says, shifting to the next challenge. In response to COVID-19, she transitioned to virtual learning. The silver lining was that it allowed her to reach more people. She added an adult enrichment program for parents struggling emotionally or financially and organized a program for incarcerated girls.
“The greatest joy in serving through TWST4Girls is knowing that we’re making generational impacts on the youth, their families, our communities, and ultimately the world in which we live, ” Ealy says.