Here’s How One 17-Year-Old Girl Is Trying To Make Your Life Better

elaineEvery once in a while, you hear about someone who is doing so many awesome things with their life that you feel instantly inspired to do the same. This was absolutely the case when I was introduced to 17-year-old Elanie Paredes from Riverdale, New York. You’re probably wondering who Elaine is, and how she could possibly make your life better.

Elanie is an ANNpower Fellow who is committed to making a difference in her community. Here’s the deal: the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is a program dedicated to helping young women become leaders. Sound interesting? High school sophmores and juniors can apply to become a part of this awesome initiative until March 8 on ANNpower.org. Winners will become ANNpower Fellows and will receive leadership training and mentorship by global women leaders. They will attend the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum, a three-day training program in Washington, DC, where they’ll learn so much from so many people.

After the forum, the Fellows put that training into action by developing projects that address societal issues, and they can also apply for ANNpower Grants to make sure these ideas become a reality. This is where Elanie comes in. She was awarded an ANNpower Grant for her idea on making a website dedicated to sexual health for young women.

Elanie has also become the face of ANNpower – her picture can be seen on Ann Taylor stores across the country. Elanie’s story is so inspiring and kind of makes me wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life. I got the chance to talk to Elanie about why she started this, and why she thinks sexual health is so important. Elanie could very well become one of the women who changes your life – and you should get to know her. Just in time for International Women’s Day, here’s our interview with Elanie:

1. What made you want to apply to ANNpower?
I was inspired to apply to the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative because I have always known that I wanted to make a difference in my community, but I didn’t know where to start. Once I discovered ANNpower, I immediately began writing my application. I knew ANNpower would be my start in creating change.

2. What inspired you to pick sexual health as the issue you wanted to focus on?
I chose to focus on sexual health because it is a topic that many people, especially teenagers, feel uncomfortable talking about. There is a negative perception surrounding sexual health and sexuality and I’d like to break that barrier.

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3. Can you tell us about how you want to spend your $2,500 grant?
I am currently using my $2,500 grant to develop a website that people around the world can access. They would be able to access information on sexual health without having to attend my workshops. I’m also using my grant for materials needed during workshops and marketing materials.

4. That sounds amazing. What do you want that website to be like?
I would like the platform to be a space where young women can anonymously submit questions that they feel too embarrassed or ashamed to ask in person. In this platform, young women will be able to relate to one another and discuss sexuality. I want young women to feel comfortable positively expressing their sexuality, therefore talking about it is the first step.

5. Why do you think sexual health is such an important thing for young people to talk about?
Sexual health is such an important thing for young people to talk about because young people deserve to discuss their bodies and have their questions answered in order to lead healthy lifestyles. Secondly, young people are in the process of discovering their identity and part of that is being comfortable with one’s sexuality. However, if the conversation of sexuality is never held or a person is scolded for expressing their sexuality, then the process will be much more difficult.

6. Do you feel like you were properly educated about sexual health growing up?
I was never denied sexual education in school, but I never felt comfortable asking questions about sex or sexuality, so like many of my friends our questions were answered through the internet.

7. What are some things you really want to teach young women about sexual health?
There are a lot of aspects to sexual health education but I believe the first step is discussing one’s sexuality and how to express it confidently. Girls should not feel ashamed for expressing their sexuality or for being curious.

8. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about sexual health or while trying to launch this program?
Throughout the process of launching my program, I have been supported and encouraged. Something very important that I was told was to narrow down my many goals to one. This has been helpful because I need a place to start and I tend to want to take on too much at once. It’s important to take everything step by step.

9. What is one thing every young woman should know about sex, sexual health, and sexual harassment?
I believe every young woman should make sure she feels confident and educated on her decisions and she must know that her health is first priority.

Elanie  photo on an Ann Taylor store in New York City.

Elanie’s photo on an Ann Taylor store in New York City.

10. Can you tell us about your goals for the future, both for you and this online platform?
In the future I hope to expand my project along with the online platform. Whether I’m in the medical field or not I will continue to work with young women and change the negative perception surrounding female expression of sexuality.

11. How do you think schools can improve upon their sexual health education?
Sexual health education should go beyond one semester in high school. Young people should be given correct information without bias and should be encouraged to ask questions without the fear of being scolded. There should be a comprehensive sexual health education course that helps curious students understand sex and sexuality from a holistic point of view.

12. Who is your role model?
I have multiple role models who give me different perspectives on being a female leader. From the women on the ANNpower team to my mentors and of course my mother. I have learned to be confident in my decisions, to be independent, to listen carefully, and of course to pay it forward!

13. How can other girls help in the way that you’re helping?
If you’re passionate about creating change, I would most definitely suggest applying to the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, which is currently accepting applications from high school sophomore and junior girls now through March 8th at ANNpower.org. Girls can also get involved in local organizations or start an initiative at their school.

14. What is your advice for girls who want to make a difference in this world?
My advice to girls who want to make a difference in this world is to seize opportunities such as the ANNpower Initiative, to be persistent, and to set goals! There is no doubt that accomplishing such large goals will be challenging, but it definitely isn’t impossible. Get people involved in your cause and make sure to focus on individual goals first.

15. Your face was all over Ann Taylor stores nationwide for a period of time during the ANNpower application period. What did it feel like to see that happen? 
My entire experience has been surreal. I am beyond grateful for the amount of support I have received from the ANNpower team. I know that people believe in my project and believe that I can make a difference.

16. What would you say is the most important thing about your cause?
The most important thing about my cause is the encouragement of healthy and positive expression of sexuality. One goal of my cause is to create a worry free discussion of sexuality therefore building confident young women.

If you want to change the world, apply to become an ANNpower Fellow right here. 

What do you think about Elanie’s idea? What would you do to change the world? Tell me in the comments!

 You can follow the author, Jessica Booth, on Twitter or Instagram.

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