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Chicago organization mentors girls for medical careers

While working with the Clinton Foundation in Lesotho in 2006, Mable Taplin was impressed by the African country’s culture.

Realizing she wanted to inspire girls in Chicago with the power of cultural immersion, Taplin started Joanie Girl’s Heart in July 2011. Named in honor of her mother who was diagnosed with cancer while Taplin was a senior at Howard University’s nursing school, the purpose of the organization is to connect minority teen girls interested in health care careers with professionals in the field.

The three-year program also includes trips abroad to expose youth to other cultures.

The girls’ recent trips have included South Africa and Haiti.

“By exposing them to people with way less, they can come back and be change agents,” said Taplin, 37, an ex-adviser at an HIV clinic in Lesotho, a country surrounded by South Africa.

“The goal is to inspire in them, you have nothing to complain about.”

Buoyed by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust and private donations, Taplin does not envision the program expanding beyond about 15 students per class. Joanie Girl’s Heart has already graduated 12 young women from its program.

The group meets twice a month at the former Price Elementary School in Kenwood.

Goldie Fleming a mentor for the past three years with the group, said she had no problems deciding to join the program.

“You have to be prepared to invest,” said Fleming, owns a consulting firm that designs training programs for companies. “Everyone should put love into one young person.”

Fleming mentors Charial Garrett, a senior at South Shore International College Preparatory High School. Garrett, who wants to be a nurse, is considering attending DePaul University or Chicago State University.

“If you want to see things and become something in life, then this program is for you,” Garrett said.

For Taplin, a nurse, the program is an opportunity to give something back to the community.

“I was devastated,” recalled Taplin when her mother died in 2001. “It was other women who were able to help me cope. . . . If I didn’t have the support of mentoring by [them], the positive decisions that I made would have been different.”

For more information on the program, call 773-495-3750.

This is one in a series of articles being produced through a partnership between the Chicago Sun-Times and the Illinois Mentoring Partnership.

Matthew Connor, author of the story, is a Northwestern University student.