Dameyonna Willis thinks self-esteem and empowerment are royally important – and that’s exactly why she started QUEENIAM, a non-profit organization offering workshops and programs aimed at helping young girls to thrive. While COVID-19 cramped Willis’ face-to-face encounters, she didn’t let that stop her, instead creating a dynamic virtual “Queen in Quarantine” program to keep the movement going.
As part of QUEENIAM, girls are encouraged to develop a vision for their future.“Queen in Quarantine gives our daughters the opportunity to expect something every month,” says Willis, 26. “It also gives them a safe space to deal with isolation and any depression they may be feeling.”
Aimed at girls ages 7-17, the group meets on Zoom twice a month for themed virtual workshops such as pottery painting, lip gloss making, Zumba dancing, and other fun activities.
Willis usually partners with other local organizations to lead teaching, for example, Cleveland sews and Cosmic coils led participants in an embroidery project, while Tie-Dye by Keyanna hosted a t-shirt dyeing party.
“Every workshop I do I want the girls to be able to create something they can keep and say, ‘I did that at Queen in Quarantine,’” says Willis, who also sends weekly resources to families. participants. “It all comes down to individuality and self-love – we try to relate it to the idea that they are their own person while creating and learning something new.”
Cake decorating funThe initial spark for Queen in Quarantine came when Sweet CostoShelby Costo contacted Willis at the start of the pandemic to see if she could donate to QUEENIAM. “[Rather than make a monetary donation], I asked him, ‘Could you throw a cake decorating party?’ », Remembers Willis. “We delivered the cakes all over Cleveland, hopped on Zoom and decorated the cakes with the girls – there was such a great turnout I thought maybe I could do something again next month. “
Willis first founded QUEENIAM in 2016 when his baby daughter was hospitalized for two months after open heart surgery for congestive heart failure. At the time, Willis was a mentor and coach at Open House Academy (ODA), and while on leave to attend to her daughters’ medical needs, she took the time to mull over the close relationships she had forged with ODA students. “I missed them as much as they missed their ‘Miss Yonna,’ says Willis, who started working for ODA at the age of 19.
Dameyonna Willis with a QUEENIAM participantWillis decided to form his own girls empowerment organization, and after 45 girls attended the first information session, QUEENIAM was in full swing. Since then, Willis has hosted events across Cleveland at various libraries, schools, and recreation centers, as well as academic excursions and tours, with a focus on four main areas: financial literacy, college and career preparation, service learning, and health and wellness. The majority of participants come from Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland and Euclid.
Currently, Willis is sale of 100% handmade soy candles to raise money for supplies from Queen in Quarantine, while actively seeking sponsorship. She also participated in the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program and obtained grants from Neighborhood Connections to advance the cause, but she doesn’t stop there. “My end goal is to have a physical space that can be a refuge and a community center for the girls,” says Willis, who resides in West Park.
Until then, Willis will continue to offer virtual Queen in Quarantine programming and lead the movement that is QUEENIAM, all of which she does as a volunteer in addition to her full-time job as “Say Yes” Coach at Cuyahoga Community College.
“QUEENIAM has been a lot of long hours, weekends and nights, but it’s a passion project for me,” says Willis. “I have been rewarded in so many different ways, especially by these families who believe in me and allow me to be a part of their journey. ”