On a Wednesday afternoon, the smell of teriyaki chicken wafts from a house off Anderson Road in Greenville. Inside, four high school girls are recreating a recipe they found via TikTok, preparing the dish in a scooped-out pineapple.

The young women are learning, laughing, and enjoying themselves in the process. It’s an intentionally fun moment for a group of girls who bear a lot on their young shoulders. All are recipients of GirlUp GVL’s free programming to enrich in-need middle and high school girls with education, empowerment, and life skills.

“These girls carry a lot of responsibility at home,” explains Kim Mogan, 32, a Greenville native and GirlUp founder. “They are caring for younger siblings, helping brothers and sisters with their schoolwork, or from single-parent households with a mom who works nights. It’s just hard. These challenges can prevent them from pursuing education like they could and the freedoms that come with childhood.”

Many nonprofits begin with a vision, and then, in time, the momentum begins. Mogan, by contrast, did everything at record speed. She knew the girls already, having mentored them through after-school programs at nonprofit the Frazee Center. With no programming available as they grew older, she quickly mobilized to provide it, despite her own commitment to pursuing a bachelors in human services at Anderson University. “I started off as this rogue lady in the community,” she smiles. “Then I formed a nonprofit.”

Photo by Will Crooks

A year into operation she has opened a GirlUp Greenville house for learning, employed a program assistant, Rebecca McClure, and provided computers and a safe, socially distanced space for GirlUp recipients to undergo remote learning, three days a week.

Mogan’s venture has been powered by community donations and her close relationship with every girl who comes under her wing. She keeps the numbers low—presently 17 girls, aged 11–18, attend programs—so that she and McClure can invest ample time in each individual’s growth.

The GirlUp crew receive whatever they need—mentorship, help with homework, exam prep or financial literacy, advice for first jobs or college decisions, transportation, driving instruction, or even swimming lessons. Mogan says her own experience as an unconfident teenager, the middle daughter of three children, shaped her vision.

“My parents worked hard, but they didn’t have a lot of money or time,” she says. “When it came to life decisions, I didn’t have a lot of support or confidence. Looking back, outside mentoring would have helped a lot. We recognize that racial injustice creates barriers that prove harder for these young women to get through. We want to do all we can for them to have an equal opportunity to reach their goals and dreams regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomics.”

Two girls recently headed to college with Mogan setting up a GoFundMe account to help fund their tuition. She calls them all the time.

“I told them, ‘I’m going to have to call you every day for the first two weeks!’” she laughs. “I’m hoping that through the years they’ve learned how to overcome obstacles, but my heart wants to protect them. I can’t imagine ever turning away from trying to help them.”

For more information about GirlUp GVL, visit girlupgvl.org.