Libby Ludlow and Jilyne Higgins are co-founders of the nonprofit ZGiRLS, an organization that equips girls in sports with the tools and perspective they need to be confident, centered, and courageous.
Given that their mission is directly in-tune with what believe here at SheJumps, we are excited to be announcing a collaboration in order to truly take responsibility for getting this next generation to the next level. We recently had the opportunity to interview the two co-founders who are confident, centered, and courageous females themselves. They have just completed a fundraising campaign on IndieGogo to do their first nationwide push for mentors and participants.
Libby Ludlow (right) is a 10 year member of the US Ski Team and a 2006 Olympian in downhill skiing. Her co-founder and good friend, Jilyne Higgins, is a 7-time NCAA All-American skier as well. With a solid athletic background driving their focus for the girls who they mentor, it’s easy to see the direct correlation between sports and a can-do leadership attitude, something they hope to instill in all the young women who participate in ZGiRLS programs.
SheJumps is excited to be announcing this partnership. Interested SheJumpers can click here to find out more ways to be involved as a mentor in this phenomenal new program.
SHEJUMPS: Tell me about the mission of ZGiRLS? How did you come up with it?
LIBBY: We recognize that there are lots of external limitations out there that can get in the way, but usually it is the internal stuff—the self-doubt, fear, and insecurity—that holds girls and women back the most. We wanted to DO something about it! ZGiRLS equips girls in sports with the tools and perspective they need to knock down all internal barriers and live with ZERO limitations. Basically, nothing holds a ZGiRL back from realizing her full potential. (And because we always get the question: the “Z” comes from zero limitations J )
SHEJUMPS: Describe the average ZGiRL participant.
JILYNE: A ZGiRL is a female athlete between the ages of 11-16 years old. She may have just started doing sports, or she may have been competing for many years.
SHEJUMPS: Was there a moment when you were hosting your first ZGiRLS camps in Seattle when you thought, “This is just too hard?” What other challenges have you faced?
LIBBY: We’ve had SO many “this is too hard” moments! We’ve poured our blood, sweat, and tears into getting ZGiRLS off the ground. Like most startups, time and resources are scarce for ZGiRLS. Often times it is just Jilyne and myself, trying to pull-off a job meant for five people, and doing it in the scrappiest, least-expensive way possible. There were days when we were printing literally thousands of pages of the ZGiRLS Mentor Manual at the office where Jilyne used to work.
JILYNE: One of the challenges we’ve faced is breaking into new geographic areas because we’ve always grown in a word-of-mouth or grassroots fashion. It’s been a very comfortable way to grow, but we know we’ve been playing it safe, which is one of the reasons we decided to expand nationwide on June 1st.
SHEJUMPS: What about some AH-HA! Moments?
LIBBY: I think our biggest recent “aha” moment, was when we were trying to come up with a new delivery method and business model for ZGiRLS. Originally, ZGiRLS worked exclusively with sports teams, which was great in some ways, but fatally flawed in other ways (namely: waaaaaaay too many decision-makers between the coaches, directors, and all of the parents). While we knew that we didn’t want to offer ZGiRLS via sports teams, our curriculum is still specifically for girls in sports. But how could we actually GET to the girls? Our “aha” moment was when we acknowledged and finally internalized that our biggest supporters, enthusiasts, and evangelists are (a) parents/coaches who are passionate about involving their daughters/athletes in something positive like ZGiRLS, and (b) young women who are tremendously grateful for their athletic background… THESE are the people who reach out to us and tell us how excited they are about ZGiRLS. So, we thought, we can’t do this all ourselves, let’s use these movers-and-shakers and have them help us grow and run ZGiRLS… With our new model, we are now asking parents/coaches to be Circle Captains, and we’re having passionate young women be the Mentors. It took awhile to come up with our current “Circle” model, but when we did, we KNEW it was the right direction to take ZGiRLS.
SHEJUMPS: How has your desire to see ZGiRLS become a success changed how you approach the project? Have there been any huge changes from what you set out to accomplish?
LIBBY: The cool thing is, through all of the ups and downs ZGiRLS has experienced, all of the changes we’ve made to our business model, and all of the “back to the drawing board” moments we’ve had, our mission has remained the very same: We are hell-bent and passionate about elevating the next generation of girls… About helping them step into their own power… And guiding them to live their very best life. If we weren’t dead-set on pursuing that mission, I don’t think ZGiRLS would still be here today. It’s that very mission that gets us out of bed every day.
A huge change for ZGiRLS is that we just recently made ZGiRLS available nationwide. Once a Seattle-only program, now any girl in the United States can participate in ZGiRLS if she wants to.
SHEJUMPS: At the beginning of June you launched an IndieGogo campaign to fund ZGiRLS. What has that process been like?
JILYNE: We have been blown away by the outpouring of support and excitement around ZGiRLS’ national launch. Honestly, connecting with parents and coaches across the country is what keeps me motivated and excited about coming to work each day. We’ve really enjoyed watching our primarily Seattle-based community expand across the entire country.
SHEJUMPS: What is your (Jilyne/Libby) team dynamic like? What are the different traits that you both bring to the table?
LIBBY: We’re pretty lucky to have such a solid partnership. We almost couldn’t be more opposite from each other, but that’s actually one of the reasons why we work together so well. Jilyne is a former sales-person, great with people, creative, and endlessly optimistic. Libby is an introvert, loves to write, occasionally “thinks like a lawyer” (she went to law school), and is usually pretty pragmatic. Our strengths are complementary and we balance each other out perfectly. The foundation of our partnership is regular, open, and honest communication.
SHEJUMPS: Would you say you “balance” each other out? Are there aspects of the ZGirl curriculum that has come from learning about this relationship between friends? If so, what?
JILYNE: I truly believe that ZGiRLS would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the balance of Libby and my personalities, work-styles, and skills. She is an introvert. I am an extrovert. She is detail-oriented and organized. I am efficient and fast working. Her passion is in curriculum development. My passion is in community development. I feel so fortunate that I get to call Libby my business partner and friend. In fact, there is a quote that sits on my desk that I think summarizes our partnership perfectly, “A successful partnership allows you to recognize your own weaknesses, and draw on a partner’s strengths, without being uncomfortable about that vulnerability. That comfort comes from a complete lack of envy in a partnership. Partners must value trust, they must discover how to keep their ego in check, and they must put a premium on not just brains, but human decency.”
SHEJUMPS: How does SheJumps and ZGiRLS relate?
LIBBY: In a lot of ways, ZGiRLS are just young Jumpers! Through our curriculum and mentorship, ZGiRLS is trying to get girls to the mental space where, when they encounter an opportunity to “jump,” they don’t hesitate for a moment. They dream big, take calculated risks, and chase down their goals. Sounds like a lot of the women I know in the SheJumps community.
SHEJUMPS: SheJumps has a huge community of women committed to helping each other reach their highest potential—like ZGiRLS but for adults! How can a SheJumper become a ZGiRLS mentor?
JILYNE: One of Libby and my favorite parts about our job is connecting with our Mentors. Our ZGiRLS Mentor training not only prepares women to support, empower, and elevate girls, but it is designed to help women realize their full potential as well. We encourage any SheJumper that would like to become a mentor to fill out an application on our website (HERE: http://zgirls.org/get-involved/). Mentor training is online in September and then ZGiRLS Circles start “huddling” in October!
SHEJUMPS: What has been the highlight of the past month with your IndieGogo campaign?
JILYNE: My favorite part about our Indiegogo Campaign is, without a doubt, connecting with like-minded people who see the value in empowering young girls. They see the potential and believe in this next generation of girls as much as we do. This community we have built is invaluable and truly fills my soul.
SHEJUMPS: What kinds of activities do you find yourselves doing to deal with the challenges OR and stress of undertaking such a huge (and wonderful) project?
LIBBY: Every single day, I either trail run, mountain bike, or do yoga… My yoga and outdoor time has genuinely been my saving grace the last six months preparing to launch ZGiRLS nationwide. Trail-time is my opportunity to rinse out stress, clear my head, and tune back into the bigger picture of life. It is such treasured time. Thank goodness I have trails right out my door, because I don’t know what I’d do without them!
SHEJUMPS: Where do you see ZGiRLS in 5 years—what your goals for the nonprofit?
JILYNE: The thing about goals is sometimes they are terrifying to put out there, but as we teach at ZGiRLS, one of the ways to realize your goal is to share it with your friends and community. So here it goes…ZGiRLS will be bigger than Girl Scouts. We will be the organization parents refer to because we help their daughters build and maintain confidence and high self-esteem. We will be the organization that current female athletes enjoy volunteering their time to because they see the immediate impact of being a role model to this next generation of girls.
SHEJUMPS: Who have been your biggest support pillars throughout this process? Is there anyone in particular you’d like to thank?
LIBBY: My husband has been unbelievably supportive and patient throughout this crazy and stressful journey. He believes in ZGiRLS and has made it possible for me to pursue this dream. I also have to say that the girls have been a huge inspiration! Every time we work with girls or hear their feedback, it is SO energizing. Girls just have such an infectious spirit and energy, and every time we connect with that, we remember, “oh yeah, THIS is why we’re doing ZGiRLS.” I love that.
SHEJUMPS: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WHAT YOU DO!