Photo courtesy of Nakia Beasley
Gwen Elliot passed away in 2007 at the age of 62.

By Alyse Horn

Gwen’s Girls, an organization that has dedicated its time to help at-risk adolescent girls, will hold an event on June 12 to celebrate what would have been the founder’s 70th birthday.

The free event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Gwen’s Girls headquarters, 711 West Commons.

Gwendolyn Elliot, a retired Pittsburgh Police commander, founded the organization in 2002 because of the difficulties she saw young girls facing during her years of service. Elliot passed away in 2007.

Nakia Beasley, the development and communications coordinator for Gwen’s Girls, said in an email that Elliot “had such a profound impact on the community, and we wanted to host an event where we could bring Gwen’s Girls clients (past and present), donors, community members and those whose lives have been impacted by Gwen’s life and legacy all together in one place.”

Girls between the ages of 8 to 18 can seek assistance with tutoring and childcare to help finish school, and the program gives the girls a safe place to live and offers them personal mentoring at Gwen’s Girls and career services.

Lynn Knezevich, executive director of Gwen’s Girls, has been with the program since it began 12 years ago. Knezevich said Elliot was the type of person who could talk to anybody and “if there was a problem, she always thought of the solutions.”

Knezevich said there are currently 15 girls in the residential program on the Northside, and up to 50 girls come to the facility for care management and after school programs.

McKharia Kennedy, 19, became a Gwen’s Girl when she was 12. Kennedy said through the program she gained the ability to control her anger and found a real family within the staff who are “respectful and really easy to talk to.”

“[The staff] makes you feel comfortable when you’re here, and all of the girls [in the program] get along,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said she now volunteers at Gwen’s Girls and helps the staff when she can.

Since opening their doors, Knezevich said about 2,000 girls have passed through the program and it is normal for past participants to keep in touch with staff members.

“One of the things we do here is establish really positive and strong relationships,” Knezevich said. “[Girls] will come back in good and bad times, and see support with the staff.”

Knezevich said the organization would like the public to come and pay tribute to the legacy of Elliot, and to see how her vision has lived on even though she has departed the Earth.

“Every day we are still trying to do her work and we have impacted so many girls in the community,” Knezevich said.