THE BRONX, N.Y. (PIX11) — Ingrid Bernabe is 18 years old and recently gave birth to a son. At 14, she was living in a juvenile detention center when she met Dawn Rowe, the founder of an organization called Girl Vow.
“A therapist can tell you anything,” Bernabe said during Girl Vow’s Summit 2023 at Lehman College. “Dawn has actually lived through stuff.”
As a teen, Rowe struggled with parental abandonment issues and dropped out of high school. At one point, she was slated for an “alternative to incarceration” program.
Mentors — and Rowe’s love of learning — made a difference and paved the way for Rowe to attend an alternative high school. She ultimately earned a master’s degree and became a mentor to vulnerable girls and teens with Girl Vow.
“There’s a burgeoning need to help young women and girls,” Rowe said, during a summit that has grown year to year. “Girls are suffering in silence. We know there are issues with depression. And we want to make sure we give girls a chance to live and thrive, so they can be successful.”
One of the girls who grew emotional while speaking of Rowe’s help was Beau Pelletier, 23, who spent time in the foster care system before earning a degree in astrophysics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
“Girl Vow has allowed me to honestly express myself in a more open way,” Pelletier said. “As a queer individual of indigenous descent, I feel my people, as a whole, have not really been heard.”
India Owens, an eleventh-grader who is 17 years old, said Girl Vow was helping her to prepare for job interviews.
“I feel like girls need communications with others that are empowered,” Owens said.
Bernabe, who was honored as Girl Vow’s “Participant of the Year,” has been inspired by Rowe.
“I want to help kids who have been incarcerated or have drug problems,” Bernabe said. “Dawn was homeless. Look at her now. She has a master’s and her own nonprofit.”
Girl Vow also honored PIX11’s Mary Murphy for her work on “The Missing” since 2021.
“We see you as a staunch advocate in our community,” Rowe told Murphy. “You tell stories that are hard-hitting, tell stories that are not often told.”
Rowe noted there’s a huge problem with adolescent and teen girls being lured from home.
“We’re seeing a skyrocketing increase when it comes to missing girls, when it comes to sex trafficking,” Rowe said. “We know that a lot of it has to do with girls being self-loathing, with girls being depressed, feeling they’re not cared about.”
To combat those feelings, a panel of “self-made” women spoke to middle school and high school girls from the Bronx.
Yesenia Quinones is now a vice president community manager at JP Morgan Chase.
“As a Hispanic woman, I was always afraid to give my ideas,” Quinones told the girls. “At 50, I decided to do something different. Community banking. We provide financial education for the community.”
Quinones told PIX11 News she talks to Bronx residents about the importance of credit, savings, and budget, adding that JP Morgan Chase has made a $30 billion “racial equity commitment” to address the racial wealth gap.
Quinones advised each girl to “find your niche.”