Rocky junior surprised with $10,000 grant

Originally Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2012, 2:35 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 27, 2012, 12:18 am
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By Jonathan Turner,

ROCK ISLAND --Royal Neighbors of America and Jasmine Babers both work to inspire, encourage and empower young women to better themselves.

The Rock Island-based nonprofit --one of the nation's largest women-led life insurance companies -- helped the Rock Island High School junior realize that goal Monday by presenting a $10,000 check to her and other student members of the staff of her quarterly magazine.

"This can't fit in my locker," a stunned Ms. Babers said of the outsize check, unveiled at a surprise ceremony in the school library, thronged by media, students, and school district and Royal Neighbors staffers. Later, she said: "I was speechless; I didn't know what was going on. I was surprised. I'm so grateful, so thankful. I'm so excited!"


The funds from the Royal Neighbors "Nation of Neighbors" program will help Ms. Babers enhance the 1-year-old magazine, LOVE, Girls, which she publishes with fellow students from Rocky, Davenport Central, Davenport West, and Assumption high schools. She and her team are dedicated to empowering young women and improving self-esteem.

LOVEstands for "lead," "overcome," "value," and "empower," and the free magazine -- which is available in area public libraries and beauty salons -- features articles on topics such as careers, fashion, hair care, makeup, and community service.

"It's changing our community," said Ms. Babers, the magazine's editor, crediting her mother, Teresa, for coming up with the idea of starting the publication. "I just want to help one girl become more inspired. I think it's doing that. I think it's worth it."

Cynthia Tidwell, Royal Neighbors president/CEO, said part of the company's mission is to give back to women and empower young women to improve themselves. "Nation of Neighbors" has granted $1 million nationwide, roughly one-fifth of which is in the Quad-Cities, she said. The 5-year-old program has helped 900-plus families and individuals in reaching their goals and rebuilding their lives.

An Royal Neighbors employee nominated Ms. Babers for the grant "for the great work she's done," Ms. Tidwell said. "She's very visionary."

"We want to encourage young girls to take risks, do things they thought they'd never be able to accomplish," she said. "We love to find these synergies, to see groups of women who believe in empowerment. We hope this makes a difference in her life, in her staff, that they get noticed."

Each year, RNA members and sales agents across the country are asked to nominate women they know who want to change their lives for the better. A panel reviews each nomination and determines the recipients and the monetary amounts awarded.

"This is pretty exciting. You feel like you won the lottery," Teresa Babers said Monday. "It's especially exciting for the girls, seeing how hard they worked over the last year."

Earlier this year, Jasmine was chosen as one of 10 winners nationwide in the Spark Opportunity Challenge, announced at the White House Youth Summit. She submitted her magazine as an idea on how young people can help create jobs and other opportunities for local youths. As a winner, Jasmine received an iPad, a $1,500 grant, and mentoring from business and civic leaders.

Michael Oberhaus, Rock Island School District superintendent, and Rocky principal Tim Wernentin on Monday also presented Rocky's "Whatever It Takes" award to the young magazine entrepreneurs, for serving as positive role models for other students.

Jasmine said she would use the RNA money to add pages to the 20-page magazine, cover printing costs (1,000 copies are made), and start a new version in January in Memphis, Tenn., where contributing columnist Jada Meeks is based. Dr. Meeks -- who has a doctorate in education from the University of Memphis -- is an educational consultant and offers education and career advice.

Jasmine and eight other students attended an inspirational workshop of hers in Memphis over the summer, Teresa Babers said. The students will also use the RNA grant to start a new college scholarship for a female graduating senior, she said.

To learn more about LOVE, Girls magazine, visit

Jasmine and her mother are members of the Rock Island chapter of RNA, who participate in volunteer activities to help make a difference in their local community. The organization's philanthropic efforts are dedicated to changing women's lives through its national programs, including the Nation of Neighbors, and the Royal Neighbors Foundation, a public charity.

With branch offices in Mesa, Ariz., and Austin, Texas, Royal Neighbors serves more than 200,000 members and is licensed to do business in 42 states and the District of Columbia.


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