Eryn PiNK Ltd. Aims to Inspire Girls With Leadership Skills and Self-Confidence
Founder Eryn Hathaway wants to empower and educate Columbus-area middle schoolers to set them on a path for future success.
Throughout her life, Eryn Hathaway has sought guidance, inspiration and encouragement from others.
“We all need people to guide us and steer us on the right path,” says Hathaway, 32, the founder of Eryn PiNK Ltd., a community- and school-based organization that promotes empowerment and leadership skills in middle-school-age girls in Central Ohio.
“It’s necessary to have that person who can lead you and guide you, whether it’s personal, life, career, professional—whatever angle it may be,” says Hathaway.
Mentors are important at every stage in life, but especially so for those just beginning their journey. Enter Eryn PiNK. She’s the fictional 13-year-old girl of color who anchors the curriculum of Eryn PiNK Ltd., which focuses on topics such as leadership, bullying, relationships and social-emotional learning. Hathaway named the character for herself and for her favorite color (it’s also an acronym for “purpose,” “integrity,” “now” and “knowledge”).
“It’s really important to catch youth at that age, where they can be influenced, before they get to high school and their decisions and their minds are kind of made up,” Hathaway says.
The program reaches girls through schools, word of mouth and social media, among other avenues. Columbus City Preparatory School for Girls has partnered with the organization for several years. “I get students from all over the city of Columbus, because we’re an alternative school,” says Principal Shannon Tucker. “Some of them come from not-so-great environments; some of them don’t believe in themselves.”
Eryn PiNK, though, has made a difference, instilling in young women a belief in themselves and “what you can do, no matter where you come from,” Tucker says.
The youngest of three siblings, Hathaway didn’t have Eryn PiNK to look up to, but she did have her older sister. “It’s a natural thing that girls do,” she says. “We look up to teenagers and girls who are older than us.” Later, as an undergraduate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Hathaway forged a friendship with Office of Diversity director Lisa Patterson Phillips, her college adviser, who also hired her for a work-study job. “She would give me opportunities or assignments that would build and craft my skills,” Hathaway says. “From there, even after college, she’s been someone that I’ve called on for advice.”
Along the way, Hathaway recognized that she was evolving from mentee to mentor. “I became that older teenager, that older young adult, and then that’s when the role changed,” she says. “I took on that responsibility of mentorship for the younger generation.”
Hathaway began focusing on youth issues with her future husband, Sherome. “While we dated, we became Sunday school teachers,” Hathaway says. “From there, we both began to plan youth events and programs.” Then, with the formation of Eryn PiNK Ltd. in 2011, the personal and the professional merged: Hathaway’s organization operates under the umbrella of her husband’s nonprofit group, Image Character Etiquette Inc., which offers similar mentoring programs to boys. “I don’t know, when we got married, if we knew we would do this work,” says Hathaway, who also serves as ICE’s executive director. “We expanded beyond our church and looked toward the community and what does the community need.”
One of the biggest needs: for young women to recognize that their voices matter. “When we surveyed [girls], they said that they were stereotyped,” Hathaway says. “They felt like they didn’t have access to leadership opportunities because they were considered loud, mean, bossy and too Black.”
Eryn PiNK, which is funded by donations, grants and corporate sponsors, has a roster of volunteers who help teach middle schoolers how to develop leadership skills, manage their time, improve mental health and combat micro-aggressions.
Role models include college-age program coordinators as well as high schoolers who might have already come through the program. “The girls graduate from our program into a high school position, where we train them to be mentors,” Hathaway says.
About 2,500 girls have been touched by Eryn PiNK’s various initiatives, including Give That Girl the Mic, a talent show that shines a spotlight on young women whose skills range from dancing to singing to fashion design; every girl, no matter her talent, is celebrated. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year’s version will be broadcast on WCMH-TV (NBC4). “If I couldn’t do it on the professional stage at the Lincoln Theatre, what was the next best professional way I could do it?” Hathaway says. “Our team decided, ‘Well, let’s broadcast it on our local news station.’ ”
Give That Girl the Mic is personal for Hathaway, a former dance student who felt stymied in pursuing her passion. “I danced at Otterbein, and the dance world is very competitive,” says Hathaway, a resident of the King-Lincoln/Bronzeville neighborhood who is a mother to two young children. “Being a girl of color, I didn’t always get the lead part, and I didn’t always get the part.”
Yet now, Hathaway’s biggest and best part is providing a helping hand to young women throughout the community. YWCA Columbus recognized her earlier this year as one of five “Women on the Rise” who are making a difference.
“This is an organization run by a powerful Black woman with creative ideas, and it’s important to get funding [to] her to allow her to build that,” says Kelley Griesmer, president and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, which has supported Eryn PiNK with grant funding.
“That lived experience that she has is critical to us changing our world as we see it.”
Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.
This story is from the Fall 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.