WDIV anchor Rhonda Walker makes a difference in the lives of girls through The Rhonda Walker Foundation.
By Susan Peck
If you want to get something done, ask a busy person — someone like veteran WDIV morning news anchor Rhonda Walker. On top of her early morning TV anchoring that begins at 3 a.m., her typical weekly schedule will also include charity work like helping to raise money for the American Red Cross for hurricane victims, supporting the National Kidney Foundation or spending the weekend with 50 Detroit teen girls wall climbing and zip lining at the Rhonda Walker Foundation Camp I Can.
“It’s true I am really busy with all of the work I do, but it’s what inspires me,” Walker said. The Rhonda Walker Foundation (RWF) she started 15 years ago includes the annual weekend camp and other enrichment programs for inner-city girls “to be become our confident, successful, future leaders.”
“What inspired me to start the foundation was a private conversation I had with a teenage girl who confessed to me that her family repeatedly told her she wouldn’t amount to anything, and I felt a strong calling to help turn that situation around for as many inner-city girls as possible,” Walker said. “I know how fortunate I was to have my supportive parents who were the most amazing role models for reaching all of my goals and dreams, but I can only imagine how hard life can be without that. I started my foundation for those girls,” she added.
One of “those girls” includes recent graduate of the RWF program, Dayna White, who said, “The Foundation has helped shape me. Without all the experiences, I don’t believe I would have become the person I am today.”
Q: Can you tell us about your core program “Girls into Women?”
Girls into Women is a five-year support and empowerment program for inner city teen girls from middle school until they graduate from high school. This is one of the most impressionable times in a young girl’s life, and a time many don’t have the positive guidance they need to succeed in this world. Participants are recruited from Detroit International Academy for Young Women, Plymouth Educational Center and Consortium College Preparatory High School as incoming eighth-graders.
The advantage of our program is we work with the girls for five years running, providing workshops like Dress for Success and opportunities for job shadowing, internships, goal-setting, financial literacy, college preparation, public speaking and more. When you open the world to these underprivileged young girls and provide exposure to places like an art museum or Up North snow skiing, you help them to be engaged in the conversations taking place in the world outside of the inner city — making them more confident at college and in the workplace. And hopefully they get inspired to set goals for their own dream careers. We want the girls to come away knowing those dreams are all attainable.
Q: Has the program been successful?
Of the teens that have completed our five-year program, 100 percent of them graduate from high school and enroll in college. We also have a 100 percent college graduation rate among those girls. My dream is to literally transform these “girls into women” while in our program. We focus on instilling in every student the expectation that college is a must and not just a pipedream. It means preparing them for college with school visits, assistance with college applications, ﬁnancial aid and scholarships, and providing needed support while they’re in college. And we’re now offering year-round tutoring and ACT/SAT prep courses with our college prep partner Enact Your Future.
Q: Tell us about the RWF program Camp I Can.
Camp I Can leadership program, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, is the most anticipated activity of the year for the girls. It’s at the awesome Wildwood Ranch in Howell, and it’s all about RWF teens learning team-building skills and leadership qualities during a weekend retreat of super-fun activities, bonding and exposure to new experiences.
Q: How can people get involved with RWF to volunteer and help?
One of our most important fundraisers is the annual Moving with Success Empowerment Brunch, March 18, 2018, and we’ve also added an Empowerment Dinner going on Nov. 3, 2017. The Annual Automotive Industry Golf Fundraiser at Oakland Hills Country Club has been our largest fundraiser and a great day on the greens. You also can be a part of making every RWF teen’s dream of college come true by donating to our scholarship fund or sponsoring the Scholar Power Breakfast. And we are always looking for women to take on the important mentor role, with a one-year commitment. The girls really embrace giving back to their community with our annual Holiday for the Homeless Party with the Detroit Rescue Mission Genesis House II. This year it takes place Dec. 9 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Q: Lastly, how do you find balance in your life, juggling work and your charity efforts?
I’m lucky. I do great on about four hours sleep, so that helps! I do try to find down time. In the nice weather, I play golf at the Detroit Golf Club and I love to watch college football — I’m a big Spartans fan. I don’t know if there’s an art to balancing everything, but I can’t think of a better way to spend my free time other than my foundation and the other helping organizations I get involved with. When it comes to the RWF, I know I want these young girls to believe in themselves and reach their dreams, like I’ve been so blessed to do.
Photographer – Boswell Hardwick
Makeup Artist – Sydni Jones
Hair Stylist – Dezi Santiago
Location: Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro, Birmingham