Do You Know Ophelia’s Story?

May 15, 2020

How did Ophelia Project begin? Let’s follow the chain and look at some interesting facts:

Our Annual Ophelia Luncheon was to be held on April 23, 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID19 pandemic. Our new date is set on April 21, 2021.

One of the highlights of the luncheon scheduled on April 23 of this year was going to be recognizing and honoring William Shakespeare on his birthday. Ophelia Project exists because of the literary genius of Mr. Shakespeare and, for the first time in 22 years, our annual luncheon event was falling on the date of his birthday. Here is the 456-year chain of events.

On April 23, 1564, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon in the UK. At the age of 45, Shakespeare wrote the play “Hamlet” introducing the world to the character of “Ophelia”. Ophelia was a young girl dealing with many insecurities and challenges, oppressed by the social structure of the time that eventually led to her tragic end. But centuries later, the story of Ophelia awakens an awareness of great potential. Given the opportunity, young girls become strong women. (Another interesting fact is that Shakespeare died on his 52nd birthday – April 23, 1616, at his home in Stratford-on-Avon, UK.)

Shakespeare’s work inspired a well-known author and professional speaker of our time, Dr. Mary Pipher. In 1994, Dr. Pipher published Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. Through this seminal work, Dr. Pipher introduced us to young women struggling against the many negative influences surrounding them. Her words encouraged young women to find the self-esteem needed to find their way through the darkness of oppression of their own time.

Dr. Pipher’s book inspired Professor Susan Wellman. In 1997, Susan Wellman founded the first official Ophelia Project in Erie, PA based on Dr. Pipher’s book. Wellman developed a variety of programs, delivered by trained volunteers, addressing adolescent issues. Wellman’s Ophelia Project became well known across the U.S. for creating safe social climates for all youth. Studies revealed that mentoring was the most powerful tool to use with adolescent girls.

In 1998, Patti Gribow was greatly inspired when she and Dr. Patricia Crone (head of Palm Valley School) attended a conference in San Francisco where Dr. Pipher spoke. The literature handed out directed interested parties to Susan Wellman’s Ophelia Project on the east coast. Gribow contacted Wellman to find out how to bring Ophelia Project to Coachella Valley. Gribow shared her enthusiasm with JFK board members Bill Powers, John Shields, and Gale Hackshaw who also became inspired. Together, their efforts established Ophelia Project in the desert.

Ophelia Project in Coachella Valley started with a single school and rapidly expanded to provide the Ophelia Project to 14 schools in all three Coachella Valley school districts. In 2014, the programming in Erie closed and Ophelia Project in Palm Desert, CA became the National Headquarters of Ophelia Project. Today, the program continues to deliver life skill topics to develop young women’s confidence and self-esteem. JFK Foundation continues buildout plans to serve a total of 28 schools by 2022!