Harriette Bryant founded OurGEMS (Girls Empowered through Mentoring and Service) in 2008 while mentoring nine eight-grade girls at Ridgetop Junior High School. They asked her if they could continue the next year, which lead to mentoring through their senior graduation.
“I feel it was a calling to give back because of those who gave to me,” she says. “My mentors believed in me and encouraged me to use my God-given strengths and gifts to achieve my full potential. It made me feel good and confident and I wanted others to have that same opportunity.”
Run entirely by 19 volunteers and with eight advisory members and three board members/co-founders, OurGEMS has the mission to help participants become successful and influential leaders through a group mentor (team) approach. The program focuses on areas such as developing critical thinking and strong communication skills; providing professional career guidance and employability skills; assisting the transition from school to college, technical school or the workforce; and fostering compassion and empathy for others through civic engagement, community service projects and philanthropy.
Based in Bremerton, the nonprofit serves students in the Bremerton, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap, South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island school districts and currently has more than 400 participants in 18 schools. While OurGEMS was created to serve girls, the organization recently added a program called OurGENTS to serve boys.
To empower girls and boys to reach their fullest potential, the organization strives to build the permanent skills and resources that cannot be taken away. Through mentoring and diverse experiences and perspectives, the volunteers promote self-esteem, the value of education and leadership skills development. The students are also encouraged to advocate for themselves educationally, excel in school, attend college and return to their communities as successful men and women.
The organization recruits students starting in fourth grade and make an eight- to 10-year commitment to each participant. The program provides more than 200 hours of mentoring until their first year of college. To date, 98 percent and 196 of the program’s students graduated high school on time. During the 2019-2020 school year, 70 percent of the program’s high school students maintained a GPA of 3.0 or above, and 30 percent of students had a 3.5 GPA or above. Many of the graduates are attending colleges and universities around Washington state and across the country.
Bryant has been an active member of the local community in various roles, including as chair for the Olympic College Board of Trustees, Kitsap Community Foundation and Bremerton Housing Authority; president of the YWCA Kitsap County Board of Directors; and active member of many other boards and organizations.
She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award from Kitsap County Council for Human Rights and the YWCA Linda K. Joyce Award in 2020, Kitsap County Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award, NAACP Community Relations Award and Washington State African American Achievement Award.
For more information about OurGEMS, go to our-gems.org.
Why start OurGEMS
Good friends who were doing the work. I love family and building relationships that are meaningful and this was one way to share what I loved doing.
Why it’s important
Every person needs to have someone who they can trust and confide in. It was given to me and I wanted to reciprocate that back to others.
Building the genuine forever relationships with OurGEMS.
COVID-19 became a huge challenge because we had to revamp and be very creative in continuing the work and lasting relationships.
This statement from my daughter, Dalemeshia: “There are no words that can adequately express how proud I am of my mom, Harriette Bryant, and mentors for the work that they do for these beautiful children. It’s one thing to watch from Phoenix, but to see these amazing young people’s smiles, the love and hugs they give them, the grace and confidence they have gained. My heart for this program is so full! Mom, you are an amazing woman and I am so glad God chose you to be my mom.”
Things I can’t live without
My family, which includes every GEM because they have become like daughters to me.
Best way to relax
I love being in the presence of my family. Just hearing their voices and seeing their faces gives me life. Also, traveling to beautiful places that give me peace and renewed energy.
Hobbies outside of work
Taking long walks with my best friend in the breezy, fresh air.