Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota

Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota

Data show that most young women in Minnesota are on a path for prosperity and well-being. However, when the data are broken down (or disaggregated) they show that some young women endure a disproportionate share of hardships and face barriers which often arise at the intersections of structural inequalities such as gender, race, locality, poverty, ability, and sexuality. The Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota (YWI MN) is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership between the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and the Governor’s Office of the State of Minnesota to achieve equity in opportunity. The Initiative, designed to be as participatory and inclusive as possible, is comprised of three core committees that will drive the work: Community-Specific Working Groups, a Young Women’s Cabinet, and the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota Council.

Current Work at UROC

The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota made a grant to the University of Minnesota’s Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center to conduct research, develop and run an intensive community action engagement process, and to manage project implementation. We will lead the Community-Specific Working Groups and The YWCA St. Paul will facilitate a Young Women’s Cabinet and provide leadership development for the young women who serve as leaders on the Cabinet.

UROC will engage communities, and work with the YWI Young Women’s Cabinet to surface narratives of community wisdom about what it means for young women to thrive. To measure our progress, UROC will also develop a community-grounded Prosperity & Wellbeing Index that will measure growth, positive change and what it means for young women to thrive.

Initiative Goals

The goal of the Young Women’s Initiative is to determine needs, programming, best practices, policies, and research to build the next generation of leadership and pathways to prosperity for young (aged 12-24) women of color, American Indian young women, and other young women facing the greatest disparities in outcomes.

By April 2017, UROC and our community partners will:

  1. Provide comprehensive analysis of services.
  2. Conduct a community engagement process which results in a shared public document of recommendations.
  3. Generate a stepped action plan for Minnesota.


We are in a planning phase to develop the statewide action plan to acheive equity in outcomes for young women. We want to hear from you! If you are a young women (including trans women, cis women and gender non-binary persons) aged 12-24, share your thoughts for the action plan. OR if you are a community member or professional who works with this population, we want to hear from your experience and expertise! Click here to share your story in our ten minute survey:

Further Information

If you are interested in participating in the initiative, please contact Stephanie Bahr at, or 612-301-1778.


Meet the Team

Feather Tapio, Graduate Research Assistant
American Indian and Latina Working Groups

Hi! My name is Feather Tapio and I am a Masters' student in the Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology Program (CSPP) at the University of Minnesota. When I am done with school, I want to be a counselor for women, Native American, and LGBTQ+ communities. My passion for life is to help people who are pushed aside and ignored by listening and finding solutions. I am excited to work with the YWI-MN because this project connects to my life zeal in every way. I get to help the communities of which I am a part, in the state in which I grew up, and make a real change by working with people who share the same passions are me. To say that I have having fun is an understatement! 


Aria Weatherspoon, Graduate Research Assistant
African Immigrant Working Group

Hello! My name is Aria Weatherspoon. I am currently a Masters' of Public Health (MPH) candidate (2017) at the University of Minnesota. I am passionate about societal issues and problems, especially those surrounding social justice and sexuality/sexual health for all people. I am very excited to be working on the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota (YWI-MN) project because as a young woman, I value embracing and empowering other young women (particularly young women of color) to be themselves, know they are magical, and strive for excellence.


Jonathan Watkins, Graduate Research Assistant
Greetings! My name is Jonathan Watkins. I am currently a second-year Masters' of Public Policy student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. I am concentrating on Advanced Policy Analysis and Population Studies. I am deeply grateful to engage in this work in collaboration with so many wonderful communities and a really amazing team of leaders.


Shakita Thomas, Graduate Research Assistant
Hotep (peace)! My name is Shakita Thomas, I am a first year doctoral student in the Culture and Teaching program at the University of Minnesota. I am blessed to be able to work on the YWI MN project with other amazing people. I understand the importance of the work that we are doing, and I am glad that the state of Minnesota and the Women’s Foundation has taken this on. 


Shanelle Lalor, Research Assistant
African American Working Group

Hello! My name is Shanelle Lalor. I recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor's in Sociology and a minor in Public Health. I am grateful to be a part of this incredible project because it allows me truly improve the lived experiences of young women of color across Minnesota. I am also excited to connect with all the wonderful young women in this project and I look forward to sharing our stories and experiences!


Kaeblie Yang, Research Assistant
Asian-American / Pacific Islander Working Group

Greetings! My name is Kaeblie Yang and I just graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA/BS in Sociology and Biology. As a young Asian American woman, I want our voices to create positive change. What drives my passion for anything in life is the journey. I am extremely excited to begin my endeavors with the YWI-MN project in helping young women succeed in their community and beyond. 


Montana Filoteo, Research Assistant
LGBTQ and Young Women with Disabilities Working Groups

Hi! My name is Montana Filoteo and I'm graduating this semester from the University of Minnesota. I'm a double major in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies and Urban Studies with a minor in Social Justice. I love action research (AR) and this is the fifth AR project I've worked on with various organizations. I think I've found my perfect fit here at UROC. I'm so excited about the YWI because not only do I get to amplify the voices of my loved ones around me, but my own narrative as well. As a person who identifies as Filipino, queer, non-binary and disabled, I feel valued on this project. When I tell people my job, I get to say that people like me matter and that we can make a difference!


Anna Borromeo, Research Assistant
Hi there! My name is Anna Borromeo, and I am currently a second-year undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. I am working towards receiving a BS in economics and a minor in global studies, focusing on human rights and justice and East Asia. I am particularly interested in development economics, community engagement, and social justice. As a young Asian-American woman and a member of the YWI-MN team, I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to empower others and improve the lives of young women, especially those of minority groups, in the various communities across Minnesota.


Lungten Zangmo, Humphrey International Fellow
Hello! I am the Deputy Chief Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Officer working with the Government to Citizen Office under the Cabinet Secretariat in Bhutan and am involved with improving public service delivery initiatives. I hold a Bachelor of Science and Engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology, India and a Master of Health Informatics from the University of Wollongong in Australia. Upon my return to Bhutan, I plan to address current shortfalls in the country’s public service delivery system, such as setting standards for all public services, designing policies and strategies to strengthen ICT governance models, compliance indicators and regulations. With the YWI-MN, I am focusing on data analysis and the creation of the Prosperity and Wellbeing Index.


Christina Melander, Research Fellow
Good day! My name is Christina Melander, and I am a Research Fellow at the Robert J. Jones Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center of the University of Minnesota. I received my Masters’ of Social Work from the U of M with a focus on Community Practice, and my Bachelors’ in Sociology from the University of Chicago. My experiences include direct service, mixed-methods research, and community organizing with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, homeless populations, low-income communities, and immigrants in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Currently I conduct community-based and participatory research on commercial sex and trafficking so that through rigorous methodology, research can tackle some of society’s biggest social issues. I am passionate about the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota because of its community-engagement focus, and the significance of taking political and social action to advance equity in outcomes for young women, especially young women of color, in Minnesota.


Stephanie Bahr, Project Administration Coordinator
Young Women in Greater Minnesota Working Group

Hi! My name is Stephanie Bahr and I have the privilege of working as the Project Administration Coordinator for the Young Women's Initiative of Minnesota. I have over 25 years’ experience developing and managing constituent and community-led programs, striving to close the opportunity gaps for communities who are historically underserved and underrepresented in the US and in India. My work experience includes facilitation of community-led projects, research and program evaluation, and development and management of CBOs. I have work experience specializing in refugee advocacy, women’s and children’s rights, and sustainable environment education, as well as volunteer experience in India and Guatemala. I have a Bachelor of Science in Cultural Anthropology/Sociology and will soon be working on my Masters' degree. My daughter Emerson and I, and our three dogs, call Plymouth home.


Beulah Momanyi, AmeriCorps VISTA
Hello! I am currently an AmeriCorps VISTA on the Young Women's Initiative and the Trauma Recovery Project. I am passionate about social justice and changing perceptions in our society. I’m excited to be a part of the Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota because it is promoting inclusive practices that stray away from the norm of researching on people and instead focuses on research that partners with young women and gives them a direct and clear voice in their own success.


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Lauren Martin, Director of Research
Hi there! My name is Lauren Martin and I am the Director of Research at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), as well as affiliated faculty at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. My PhD is in Anthropology from the New School for Social Research in New York City. I have been conducting community based and action research with community partners since 2004. Most of my work is about sex trading, commercial sex and sex trafficking in its community context. My research mission is to co-create research that surfaces marginalized wisdom for social change. My official bio and links to publications are available on the UROC website’s People section.  I am so excited to lead the research engagement process for the YWI with my UROC colleague Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, and to work with an amazing team of emerging leaders and scholars. I am committed to the goals of YWI to advance equity in outcomes for young women in Minnesota and this is a great way for my work to move more upstream!


Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, Director of Community Outreach
Hello! My name is Makeda Zulu-Gillespie and I am the Director of Community Outreach at the University of Minnesota's Urban Research Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC). I work with the North Minneapolis community to establish relationships with the University. I coordinate the University-Northside Partnership's Community Affairs Committee, respond to community inquires, represent UROC at community forums, and develop activities to strengthen long-term partnerships between the University and community members. As a native of North Minneapolis and a former community organizer, I have worked with area youth, families, and community for more than 22 years. I am also a graduate of the University's President's Emerging Leaders program. As part of the YWI-MN, I am leading our team in community engagement and outreach with communities. I am excited to be learning so much from young women through this initiative!