When Meaghan Barakett, GSS ’16, steps out onto Columbus Avenue, she walks like a New Yorker with purpose. It’s a fitting stride, since this former Miss New York is the prime mover behind a conference titled “Women in Charge: All It Takes is One Girl.”
The event was presented in part by One Girl, Barakett’s nonprofit, which seeks to empower young women to be leaders in their chosen philanthropic cause. She said she started the organization after meeting so many young women from the pageant circuit, who had specific philanthropic goals but got sidetracked by life events ranging from college to work and children.
“For me, I wanted to do more with my community, but I didn’t know how to get involved,” she says. “Through the conference, we’re creating community that helps young women get involved or keep the momentum on projects they may have already started.”
For her part, Barakett doesn’t easily tout the volunteer work she has done. It takes a bit of probing before she reveals personal passions. Her main concern is keeping others on track to give back.
“Being a part of their journey is what’s important to me,” she says.
The Nov. 17 event, now in its third year, aimed to help women network and discover how they can make change in their own lives and the world around them. The event included panels on social change through activism, through business, and through personal wellness.
The Graduate School of Social Service (GSS), the Institute for Women and Girls, and the Center for Nonprofit Leaders cosponsored the conference. Barakett got her master’s in nonprofit leadership from GSS just two years ago. She said that she had already set up a 501(c)(3) when she started at Fordham, but needed a bit more to get her organization organized.
“I had the passion, but I lacked the formal education underneath,” she says. “They took me through all the behind the scenes stuff, like the paperwork, and the taxes. It just gave me a lot more confidence.”
In addition to Fordham faculty experts on women’s issues, like Marciana Popescu, Ph.D., associate professor of social work, the event featured GSS students out in the field, like Ph.D. candidate Felicia Pullen, CEO of the Pillars, a Harlem-based recovery center. It also included social media influencers, like Sophia Roe, and spoken-word poet Dailyn Santana.
Many of the panelists detailed how they arrived at their particular cause and how they got involved, says Barakett.
“We really try to get into the individual and find out what they care about,” said Barakett. “It usually comes from something personal, maybe something happened to them or to a family member, or maybe something struck their heart strings, like a book, and that opens the flood gates.”
For Barakett, a book detailing an activist’s imprisonment and eventual escape from the sex trade inspired her activism. She began working with an organization that combined activism and yoga—which she practices regularly. She was soon teaching yoga to victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence.
“The work we do for the community is important, but so is the internal work that we do,” she says, stressing the importance of wellness for those caring for others.