Valerie Goodloe strives to help at-risk women through the work she does at W.I.N. LIFE, an organization she founded. | Photo provided

On March 4, a new program kicked off, aimed at providing essential skills to at-risk mothers in Proviso Township.

The road from adolescence to adulthood is bumpy for almost everyone, but if you are young, black and female there will be some added challenges to getting where you want to go.

As one way of addressing these challenges, a new program, WIN Life Plan for Women has started, a program that aims to bring “empowerment and parenting strategies for effective family and community well-being.”

According to the promotional materials, the 16-week program “assists women (ages 18-25) to explore a variety of situations that impact their personal growth potential. We will explore personal growth and empowerment beneficial to creating a well-functioning family environment. Recognizing personal strengths and building upon a strong set of values will help to eliminate unproductive thinking that interferes with the potential for having a positive influence on the well-being of the family and community.”

Valerie Goodloe, who created WIN Life, said, “African-American women today are in a living situation where almost as soon as they walk out the door, they’re at risk. Many things contribute — unemployment, being marginalized in communities where there is no access to things they need, and maybe inaccurate information passed down from their parents.”

That said, Goodloe and her husband, LeMonde, who together run their nonprofit WINDOW (Women In Need of Discovering Own Worth) focus not on challenges outside of young women but on what is going on inside them.

 “We focus on common-sense things,” Valerie explained, “that may help them make better choices regarding, for example, time management, dependability, health, and self-esteem. The biggest force against us in our community is not having functional households.”

A recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 40 years, she has six children from three different relationships. “I hadn’t made good choices when it came to men,” she said, “until this man showed me a different way to live. Until he came, I never knew about that other type of life.”

One goal of WIN Life, therefore, is to hold up to the young women who participate a different narrative for their futures. She has observed that many young black women think “ain’t no use in going to school cause I ain’t going to get the job anyway.”

“We have to start changing how we think,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t know that and sometimes they don’t even know the life they have is not good. Sometimes we think that what we have is the way it is supposed to be. Sometimes it’s enough to open someone up to know that choices can become available.”

LeMonde added, “We always have to make choices. We hope the WIN Life Plan will spark something in them that says ‘this is not the way it is supposed to be. I don’t have to accept just any relationship.’”

According to Valerie, “I want the women to know this: we have to quit laying down and accepting things, prior to knowing who we are.”

A Maywood resident named Barbara Cole invited her to come to Maywood and run her program after viewing Valerie’s documentary film Gang Girl: A Mother’s Journey to Save Her Daughter.

After seeing her work, Cole knew they were kindred spirits. The Maywood Youth Mentoring Program, which she has been directing since 1992, has the stated mission of “improving the quality of life for Proviso Township youth through mentoring activities, to improve critical-thinking, leading to good decision-making, literacy, and cultural enrichment of Proviso Township youth.”

Valerie Goodloe’s life is testimony to the effectiveness of her program. In her 70 years, she has journeyed from a life of using drugs and serial relationships to being married to LeMonde for forty years, getting certified as a photo journalist by the prestigious Medill School of Journalism, working as a staff photographer for Johnson Publishing, and accompanying Barack Obama as a photographer during his campaign for the presidency.

For info: Barbara D. Cole, Maywood Youth Mentoring Program Inc., 708-344-3577, or Valerie Goodloe, executive director, WINDOW,