Women of Influence: Kristen Greenwood, Executive Director of GirlSpring

[Photo Credit: Style Blueprint]

Kristen Greenwood is a woman on a mission; a mission to empower young women in Birmingham.

Greenwood has been the director of GirlSpring, an online community for girls by girls, since 2016. GirlSpring was founded in 2010 by social activist and philanthropist Jane Stephens Comer. Comer realized she had the opportunity to make a difference when she attended Gloria Steinem’s 75th birthday party.

Steinem challenged those in attendance to commit one outrageous act for justice, to do something that would make the world a better place. “Three months later, seven women gathered in my living room to discuss what could be done to raise awareness of gender equity and the power of women to empower each other,” said Comer. The outcome of the meeting was GirlSpring, Inc. a nonprofit organization based in Birmingham, Ala. that focuses on the issues, activities, and concerns of girls and young women.

Greenwood has taken to this vision wholeheartedly, and has led the organization to new heights by launching GirlSpring’s website, the hub of the program since 2016.

The website currently serves 10,000 girls, ages 13 to 18, each month. It offers resources on “tough topics” and allows girls to use their creative abilities by permitting them to submit original content for the site in the form of writing, poetry and artwork.

“Girls also have the opportunity to interact by commenting and sharing content with other girls their age, so they can receive feedback and know that someone is looking at their work…Locally, we have a teen leadership group that really drives the website and is our main team of content creators. We also have public programs, such as films, lectures and seminars, that address issues relevant to girls in our target age range,” Greenwood told Style Blueprint.

But Greenwood hasn’t just served girls through GirlSpring.

Graduating in 1998 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a Bachelors of Art in Art History, and in 2006 completing her Master’s in Art History from the same school. She spent the next decade working at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

[Photo Credit: Birmingham Museum of Art]

Starting as a Public Programs Manager, she became an Assistant Curator of Education in 2006, and an Associate Curator of Education in 2012, a position that she maintained until Dec 2015 when she left the museum to work for GirlSpring.

Greenwood has always had a heart for working with teens. At the Museum she started a program called Teen BMA; a volunteer group at the Birmingham Museum of Art that gives high school students hands-on volunteer experience, access to Museum staff and operations and opportunities to work with arts professionals.

“My own preteen and teen years were difficult, and I know firsthand all of the things that teen girls have to deal with, so when I heard about this job (GirlSpring) from a friend, I knew it would be a perfect fit and that it would be something that could really make a difference in girls’ lives,” Greenwood told Style Blueprint.

As Executive Director, Greenwood takes on many different roles at the organization. Not only does she engage in big picture strategy, fundraising, PR and marketing, but she also serves as a recruiter, a liaison to the organizations Springboarders, and supervises interns; only furthering her influence in these young women’s lives.

Greenwood is a driven, successful and ambitious woman. In spite of her busy schedule, she managed some extra time to answer some questions from Alabama Today:

How have other women influenced your success?

My grandmother, Rose Cerniglia Pilato was a role model and inspiration for me. She died when I was only 11 but she was a great influence. She didn’t officially work outside the home, but she had a side business flipping houses in the 1970’s when women really didn’t do that type of thing. She had a strong work ethic, loved gardening and ate healthy before it was in style. Even though she isn’t here, I hope I am making her proud! In my career, I’ve worked with a number of women who have inspired me and whom I look up to, including the founder of GirlSpring, Jane Stephens Comer.

What advice would you give young women considering careers in art history or nonprofit organizations?

There are so many great opportunities in the field of art history, but it is competitive and many jobs require a PhD. I think it’s important to know that going into the field. There are not as many opportunities locally, but in bigger cities, across the U.S. and internationally, the opportunities are numerous. If it is something you are interested in as a field of study, especially as an undergrad, I would say definitely pursue it, but also use that time to learn as much as you can about the field outside of the college classroom.

Intern at a museum or gallery, and read as much as you can about careers in art and art history. Art News Daily is a free email subscription and is a great way to stay informed of what’s going on in the art world, and it’s a good place to find what sparks your interest. It’s hard to know what you will be best at, but there are so many career options — curatorial work, museum education, teaching, appraising, gallery work, auction house, and many more. If you are passionate about it, you will find the right fit.

The non-profit world (which includes many museums and art galleries) is very broad and there are many types of organizations, some local, some global, some huge, and some very small.  If you are interested in non-profit work, know that it can be challenging as there is always a struggle to find funding, but it can also be very rewarding. I think to be good at it, you have to truly care about the mission.

Non-profits can also be a way to put your professional degree to work for the greater good. There are many people I know that make good directors of non-profits because they first got their law degree or MBA and then had the skills needed to run an organization well while tapping into their true passion. Again, internships and even just coffee meetings with people can be a great way to learn about an organization, a cause, or a career field. Reach out to as many people as you can. People love to share their knowledge.

Have you read any books that have shaped your perspective on life?

I honestly didn’t read much (except for school assignments) until I was well into adulthood. This was one of those things I wish I could change about my pre-teen and teen years. I did read a book about ten years ago called Mindset, by Carol Dweck. The overall theme of the book was about how much your mindset contributes to your success. The initial chapters in the book talk about people with a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and how people with a growth mindset look at failure as an opportunity to make things better, while those with a fixed mindset tend to see failure as a sign of eternal doom and gloom.

It’s hard, for me at least to look at failures and setbacks as positive, but this book really did change my perspective, and I realize now that mindset and attitude play a huge role in overcoming obstacles and paving the way for success, whether in career, relationships, or life in general. My other life perspective changing book was Charlotte’s Web. I am sure I read a children’s version when I was very young, but it was the first time I really understood that things and people don’t live forever. To this day I won’t kill a spider!

What influenced your interest in working with young girls?

My pre-teen and teenage years were not easy. My family was average middle class, and I went to a decent high school where I felt I received a good education, but life as a teenage girl is just hard. Even before social media, there were struggles to fit in, to look a certain way, dealing with body image, self-esteem, and confidence. I think because those years were hard for me, and because I don’t have kids of my own, I can relate to this age group and girls in particular very well.

When I worked at the Birmingham Museum of Art, I managed our educational programs and started a group called Teen BMA, which gave me the opportunity to work first hand with teens. I saw the issues that girls have to deal with in school and their social lives, including social media, and it’s pretty overwhelming. Girls have so many things to deal with both in school and when they get out into the workforce and sometimes you need someone to talk to outside of your normal friend and family circle. I wish that my pre-teen and teen years had been done differently and I hope that through my role at GirlSpring, I can help girls as they start on the path towards college, career, and family.

What has been your favorite area of service, and what is your favorite thing about that position?

I worked at the Birmingham Museum of Art for fifteen years, and until I started at GirlSpring two years ago, that was my only real career experience. I thoroughly enjoyed that job I thoroughly enjoy this job, so it is hard to pick a favorite! I organized our educational programs at the Museum and what I enjoyed most about it was the conversation and discussion that was sparked using art as the tool. Art can be used to bring people from all different backgrounds together around that one common interest.

The same could be said about my work now with GirlSpring. We serve all girls, and through our website, and our public programs, girls from various backgrounds can come together and realize that they are all dealing with similar issues. They have a lot more in common than they think and when they talk about these issues together, they all learn from each other. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but my favorite thing about both of these positions has been bringing about positive change by bringing people together.

For her impact in the lives of young people, specifically young women, in Birmingham, and her service to the community through the Birmingham Museum of Art, Kristen Greenwood is undoubtedly a great woman of influence.