You’ll Never Believe What These 12 Teen Girls Created to Battle Homelessness in Their Community

These 12 girls from the San Fernando Valley saw homelessness first-hand, and found a chance to help in the best way they could.

tentswindcoast/ShutterstockThis is what it looks like when girl power goes solar: 12 teenage girls from San Fernando High School in Los Angeles have developed a solar-powered tent for the homeless that can provide shelter, charge a cellphone, and fold into a stowaway backpack. Many of the brightest homeless solutions seem to come from kids, whether it’s a student who invented a sleeping bag/coat or teens who helped a paralyzed war veteran. The girl’s tent idea was so good that they’ve now won a grant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help bring their project to fruition.

Evelyn Gomez, the interim executive director of DIY Girls—a nonprofit that teaches girls from low income communities about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)—kickstarted the project by recruiting the girls. As an engineer who had grown up in the community, Gomez set the goal of recruiting a team of teenage girls to compete for a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program: The money goes to student groups attempting to solve real world problems through engineering-based solutions, and the competition culminates in an opportunity to present the inventions at MIT’s annual EurekaFest.

Gomez left the focus and details of the girls’ project up to them: They chose to focus on the homeless because of their own experience and observations. “We see homeless people in our community—at church, on the streets, and in our families,” the DIY Girls noted in their project summary. “Because we live here, we see [the homeless problem] growing constantly,” team member Maggie Mejia told Mashable. “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.” On the DIY Girls website, team member Aracely “Chelly” Chavez states: “As adolescents, we never thought we could take action to solve the issues we were passionate about.” Because the girls all come from low-income families themselves, donating money wasn’t that feasible, team member Daniela Orozco pointed out to Mashable. That all changed, of course, when the girls joined what eventually became known as the DIY Girls InvenTeam after becoming one of 15 groups nationwide to receive the grant.

Before joining up with Gomez, none of the girls had coded, soldered, sewn, 3D-printed, or done any hands-on engineering work. In the summer of 2016, the girls received formal coding training, depending heavily on Gomez for guidance—but the team soon took initiative to learn on their own using YouTube, Google, and trial-and error to acquire the skills they needed to build their tent. All told, the team worked on the project six days a week, including during school breaks. They even raised an additional $18,500 through a successful GoFundMe campaign, which helped cover their travel expenses to MIT. No wonder they coined the hashtag, #wegetitdone!

In March 2016, Congressman Tony Cardenas, a graduate of San Fernando High School himself, stood before the House of Representatives to commend the work of the girls, some of whom will be the first in their families to ever attend college. “I know we will continue to see great accomplishments from these bright, young women as they master science, technology, engineering,” he said in conclusion. The 12 team members behind the Solar Powered Collapsible Tent are: America Hernandez (grade 11), Aracely Chavez (grade 12), Daniela Orozco (grade 12), Kassandra Salazar (grade 11), Kenia Shi (grade 12), Maggie Mejia (grade 12), Paola Valtierra (grade 11), Patricia Cruz (grade 12), Paulina Martinez (grade 12), Prinsesa Alvarez (grade 12), Veronica Gonzalez (grade 12), and Wendy Samoyoa (grade 12). Congratulations, girls, you’re an inspiration!

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.