Portraits of a Division

Portrait of an ACPS Student: Grace Smith

After a full day of school, Monticello High School junior Grace Smith does what most other students in our division do: she sits down and finishes her homework. She has some dinner and maybe watches some TV, but then she sits down and does what most other students don’t: plans a nonprofit.

In January 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill requiring all public schools that serve girls in fifth through 12th grades provide feminine hygiene products for free. However, the bill did not allocate any funds to help the schools comply with the law.

So, Grace started a nonprofit organization to assist in funding these products at a local level. The nonprofit, called Ready Girls, aims to raise money and provide ACPS middle schools with “period kits” for girls who need access to free feminine hygiene products.

“A lot of girls don’t want to talk about their period because it’s embarrassing, especially at the middle school age,” Grace said. “Ready Girls helps specifically empower girls who might not be able to speak up for what they need.”

This topic sparked Grace’s interest after an internship with Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, where she helped plan a supply drive to collect personal hygiene products to distribute to those in need in the community. It was during this time that Grace started having conversations with doctors and other staff about health equity and how socio-economic factors often impact how some people receive medical care.

“Health equity isn’t about giving everyone the same thing,” she said, “it’s about making sure that everyone in the community has the same opportunities for good health and healthcare as everyone else.”

Grace’s experiences with her own doctors as a child sparked her interest in healthcare, which led her to join the Health & Medical Sciences Academy at Monticello.

“My doctors always made me feel safe and taken care of,” she said, “and I’ve always been interested in working with and talking to people and learning about their experiences. In healthcare, you can do all that while you help people.”

She also hopes to bring some of this real-world experience to her classmates by expanding involvement with Ready Girls.

“I’m hoping to be able to have a representative at each of the high schools to help with fundraising,” she said. That way, she can turn this community service into a true community effort.

Ready Girls recently received a small grant from Pads Across America, which Grace said will fund the first round of period kits. She hopes to distribute 120 kits across all five ACPS middle schools and anticipates that the kits will include a discreet pouch to hold the products, feminine wipes, pads and tampons.

She’s planning to hold another fundraiser in May during Women’s Health Month to fund another distribution of period kits at the beginning of next school year.

“They’re a basic necessity that everyone should have access to, no matter their situation,” Grace said.

If you’d like to donate to Ready Girls, visit its fundraising page or follow Ready Girls on Instagram at @ReadyGirlsCville.