For a law school class on nonprofits, Alexandra Young came up with the idea of the Center for Girls' Leadership.

It would be a place where middle school and high school girls could learn about their values and build the confidence to pursue their career dreams. It would be a place where girls would learn to become leaders.

When Young graduated from the University of St. Thomas School of Law in 2012, her idea became reality.

"I had the most exciting graduation gift," she said, "I had the Center for Girls' Leadership to run."

Since then, hundreds of school-aged girls have taken free programs at the nonprofit, which is funded by individual donations and run by volunteers.

"That's the age to motivate, inspire and empower them," said Young, who is executive director. "We give them tools to develop leadership skills so when the opportunity is there, they're ready."

CGL, as it's called, includes an all-day camp that helps girls focus on themselves and their relations with others. "You have to first know yourself to be a good leader and lead others," explained Young.

There's also a half-day career exploration workshop where "successful women talk about the different career paths they took to get there and some of the barriers they had to overcome."

Girls learn about a variety of jobs related to law, the arts and STEM. An April 22 program on girls in media will explore how teens interact with social media and its effects on self-esteem.

Young said CGL ( has allowed her to witness firsthand how girls react to and absorb the messages of empowerment.

During a career panel, a girl asked, "What do you do if your parents tell you that you aren't good enough?"

"It broke my heart," said Young. But if her organization can help even one girl feel she's good enough, "that's our mission in action."

Young, a Benilde-St. Margaret graduate who grew up in Plymouth, said she was lucky to have strong and consistent support from her parents.

"They encouraged me to get a wide variety of experiences, in plays and student government. They were also OK with me quitting things."

In addition to heading CGL, Young is the education coordinator for WSB & Associates, a consulting and design firm in Golden Valley. She's also come full circle, teaching a class on nonprofit law at St. Thomas.

"Ideally, I want there to be a day when we don't need to instill leadership skills in girls," said Young. "But since we haven't reached that point, we need to continue to inspire and support the next generation."

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619