She’s The First helps girls across the world, one cupcake at a time

By Samantha Savery – Contributing Writer

Outside Brown Hall on the UNC Asheville campus, a few students are having a bake sale.

They’re part of She’s the First, a club dedicated to helping girls in low-income countries get an education.

Their table is covered with cupcakes, all brightly decorated, a sight to hungry students. Slowly, they start making sales when a professor approaches. He doesn’t want a cupcake, but offers $20 to the cause.

Every dollar counts for She’s the First, whose UNCA chapter sponsors four to five girls a year. The cupcake sales help the members buy uniforms and books for the girls, along with paying their tuition.

Still, Vice President Amber Abunassar, a senior Spanish and mass communication student, says she thinks quality over quantity is more important.

“We could sponsor hundreds of girls,” says Abunassar, from Tryon. “But we want to make sure we aren’t sending a girl to school for only a year. That wouldn’t make sense. We want to do it until she graduates and she’s the first to go to school and the first to graduate. We want to be with her every step of the way.”

The national organization She’s the First was founded in 2009. In 2011, it came to UNCA, thanks to the help of Becca Wertheim, an alumna with a degree in education.

Abunassar says Wertheim is still incredibly driven, working at Claxton Elementary now.

The club was only a year old when Abunassar and Michelle Dubé, a senior psychology student from Cary, both joined. They were transfer students, and have been in the club almost three years now.

Helping girls get educated is what draws most members to the club, including co-president Meredith McLain of Matthews, N.C.

A sophomore political science student, McLain says she thinks the work She’s the First does is important.

“I think it’s just great to be able to pass on what I’m getting the chance to do for somebody else who maybe wouldn’t have the chance to do that,” McLain says.

In one of the executive suites in Highsmith Union, the group, full of personality, spends the first 10 minutes of the meeting talking and laughing. McLain finally gets the group to focus after joining in the conversation herself.

The plan is to discuss fundraising and events for the fall semester. Baking is number one on the list.

This fall will consist of a handful of bake sales, most notably Tie-Dye Cupcake Week. The tie-dye cupcake is the club’s signature creation, Abunassar says, and she always looks forward to making them with others.

Along with the bake sales, the biggest event of the fall is the International Celebration of the Girl, a week dedicated to teaching and holding discussions with the community about She’s the First’s mission. The group is planning two panels along with a few workshops to take place that week in Highsmith Union. The date has yet to be decided.

Abunassar says a big focus for this year is the club’s discussion panels. The ideas for each panel include professors speaking on how they raise their daughters compared to their sons and on the international experiences of faculty and community members.

Treasurer Maggie Daum, a sophomore women, gender and sexuality studies and anthropology student, is excited to get to know the new group members. Daum, a Chapel Hill native, says making friends is what got her to join She’s the First her freshman year.

However, helping others can sometimes become frustrating. Daum’s favorite memory demonstrates this.

“One funny slash sad thing was that the first time we all did baking together,” Daum says. “We kept burning all of the cupcakes. And, I don’t know, it was really frustrating, but we kept on eating them to be like, ‘Oh, we didn’t waste them.’ We just ate a bunch of burnt cupcakes.”

When asked about role models, the club officers all speak of people they know. Daum says the founder, Tammy Tibbetts, inspires her with her passion. McLain and Dubé say they both have role models from the UNCA chapter who have now graduated or transferred.

As fall goes on, the members of She’s the First will be seen around campus, their table of colorful cupcakes in tow. Abunassar thinks their cause is different than that of other student organizations, partially because of their mindset.

“My favorite part in general, I guess, is how we get things done here,” Abunassar says. “The way we influence students with delicious cupcakes and also — we educate people here. Not only are we helping people abroad, but we’re also educating people here and helping them recognize the issues that are occurring. We’re doing that in a positive way.”

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