By Amanda Wyatt; Photography by Michael Heller
Next week, when most students start shuffling back to school after spring break, two Sag Harbor girls will be noticeably absent from their seats.
Lindsay Cox and Elizabeth Grigonis, seniors at Pierson High School, will instead be thousands of miles away from home in the bustling tropical metropolis of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. But their trip abroad isn’t just to soak up the sun and the sights; these two have a much larger mission.
Cox and Grigonis — along with D’aja Mitchner, Charlotte Palmer and Jordan Tapley of Riverhead High School — are among 30 young women selected to represent the United States at an upcoming international seminar on girls’ empowerment in Rio. Girls from elsewhere in Latin America, as well as from Jordan and the Ukraine, are also slated to attend the three-day long conference.
Nancy Lynott, director of the Town of Southampton Youth Bureau, will be accompanying the girls on the trip.
“The purpose of [the seminar] is really to bring young girls from around the world together to discuss ways to empower women, especially in countries like Brazil, where there is not as much progress on that front as there may be in the United States — although that may be up for debate, too,” said Lynott.
According to Lynott, the conference is being sponsored by both the Brazilian government’s department of human rights and the U.S. embassy in Brazil. The U.S. State Department, as well as the Mary Kay Foundation, is also covering the girls’ expenses.
Lynott was first told about the conference by her daughter, who works for Partners of the Americas, an Non Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Washington, D.C. The organization has been working with the U.S. Department of State to bring American girls to the conference, she said, and it was particularly interested in finding girls from New York to attend.
All five East End girls heading to Brazil have been involved in various community and charitable organizations, and some sit on the Southampton Youth Board, an advisory board for the town. In addition to their other volunteer work, both Cox and Grigonis serve as teen leaders at HUGS, Inc., short for Human Understanding and Growth Seminars, a Westhampton-based youth organization.
The girls are looking forward to attending workshops on education, human trafficking and other global issues affecting young women.
Cox, who is a co-president of Pierson’s Model U.N. Club, said that the topic of women’s rights is “such a crucial issue in today’s world, not only in the United States, but all over the world in countries like Brazil, [as well as] in South America and the Middle East.”
Grigonis agreed, adding, “I think we need to be more aware of what’s going on everywhere else in the world.”
As Lynott noted, one purpose of the conference is to “prepare girls to be positive agents of change in their communities. One of their charges is that they need to bring back what they’ve learned and somehow use it in the community that they’re coming from.”
“Just coming back and volunteering in the community and spreading the message of the conference is something we look forward to doing,” said Cox.
When asked whether there was progress to be made locally on the subject of young women’s empowerment, the two girls pointed to a couple of issues.
“On the East End, we’re mostly focusing on violence against women,” said Grigonis.
Other areas of concern, added Cox, were teen pregnancy and helping young mothers continue their education.
In any event, next week’s conference will certainly be a stepping stone for both girls, who said they intend to continue to be globally-minded when they start college next year.
Grigonis, who plans to attend the State University of New York at Oswego, said, “I’m actually going to school to be a childhood educator and I definitely want to study abroad and help kids go to school, and especially get more women into school.”
Cox plans to pursue a major in international relations and studies.
In the meantime, the girls are simply looking forward to their first trip to Brazil.
“I’m so excited to go. I feel honored that I was chosen to be a part of this group.” said Cox. “I think it’ll be a great opportunity not only to meet the world’s next leaders, but also to gain some great resources and some great friends.”