Quaker Valley junior spearheads charity to benefit women in El Salvador

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Sunday, November 12, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Kirsten Close is not your average transfer student.

The standout tennis and lacrosse athlete launched a unique program almost immediately upon walking through the doors of her new school, Quaker Valley.

Close, a 16-year-old junior who transferred from Sewickley Academy, has dedicated much of her time over the past year and a half to helping women in El Salvador and worldwide receive the resources and education needed to tackle menstrual or period poverty.

Period poverty results in missed school and work days, infections and social stigma.

“I saw on the news in 2020 that El Salvador has a really bad period poverty rate,” Close said, “and a lot of the women were struggling to afford products. I felt really bad for them because I personally don’t know how I would deal with menstruation without the proper materials and wanted to help in some way.”

Close started a charity called MePower, a 501c3 that specifically addresses period poverty in homeless, trafficked and underserved girls and women.

It also provides the tools to implement a sustainable business by making and selling reusable menstrual pads.

“This ultimately helps lift the women out of poverty and provides them with a dignified job and improved quality of life,” Close said.

The multifaceted Close traveled with her mom to El Salvador this summer. She worked closely with an El Salvadorian charity created a decade ago by Pittsburgh residents Jon and Danielle Snyder called Mission to El Salvador.

“I was in El Salvador for almost two weeks,” Close said. “We helped make a lot of change.

“Mission to El Salvador has definitely helped me the most. I’ve been able to be in constant contact about how the project is going there and with the women I’m helping, allowing me to see and help with the change even if I’m in a different country.”

Through MTES outreach programs to the disadvantaged, Close spoke to more than 30 women while in El Salvador and validated the need and viability of her solution.

“The women loved the product and the business,” Close said. “One El Salvadorian woman, Anna Luis, who just got off the streets recently with her four children, is the primary breadwinner for her children and aging mother. Through MePower and MTES, she participates in sewing and business classes to help her with pricing, money management and setting up a bank account.

“Anna Luis stated that she is excited to make reusable pads for her own use and as a product to start her own business and make money to help her economic situation.”

Danielle Snyder’s title with Mission to El Salvador is director of development. She also is on the board of directors.

“I love Kirsten’s project,” Snyder said. “It’s so wonderful to see her taking an interest in the challenges facing women in El Salvador, especially those dealing with poverty. As an organization, marginalized women are close to our hearts, so we have loved working with Kristen.

“She has done a wonderful job of taking a vision and organizing practical steps to make it happen. She planned a trip to come down to El Salvador last summer, worked with us to set up a few focus groups and tested the project. She also has worked to fundraise and follow up with us as well. All of these things are a great testament to her organizational skills and her passion to follow through on her vision.”

Close’s parents couldn’t be prouder of their youngest daughter, who was an inseparable teammate of her sister Ashley at Sewickley Academy.

“I think Kirsten has a great heart and is passionate about injustices that she sees,” Kelly Close said. “I think because she discovered the issue of period poverty, especially in El Salvador during covid, she had additional time to figure out potential solutions. She spent hours on the internet researching.

“Even though she’s really busy with school and tennis now, going to El Salvador really solidified her desire to make this a priority in her life and get others involved to make a big difference.”

Understandably, Close needed help with this massive project, so she expanded involvement to other students at Quaker Valley and Sewickley Academy.

She recruited mostly student athletes to join and contribute to the cause, although anyone could help.

Recruits include Nora Hammond (volleyball, softball), Marcus Richey (wrestling), Ruby Oliffe (diving), Vanessa Pickett (volleyball, track & field), Anna Hanley (soccer), Colin Benge (soccer), Jack Diemert (football, wrestling), Logan Benedict (football, wrestling, lacrosse), Olivia Jordan (track & field), Ruby Krotine (diving, lacrosse), Lily Pulkowski (soccer, lacrosse), Molly MacDonald (volleyball), Lucy Wagner (dance), Grace Wiehe (soccer, lacrosse) and Shea Cunningham (volleyball).

Hammond is serving as MePower vice-president, Richey as treasurer and Oliffe as secretary.

“Nora has definitely helped a lot,” Close said, “and helps me with many decisions. There are also other jobs people do. However, the charity is an official government approved 501c3, so we have adult board members too.

“I knew all the kids who joined the project beforehand, but it’s definitely helped me become closer with them by bonding with each other over trying to help others.”

MePower members came together for a fundraiser Oct. 14 by running a charity open house. It showcased the renovation of a historical house in Sewickley, located on Broad Street and built in 1857, through tours and photos.

The students guided people around the house and gave historical and renovation facts. They also sold T-shirts and sweatshirts, along with greeting cards made by El Salvadorian women.

“All these students organized and took time out of their busy schedules to help a promising cause,” Close said.

In total, the fundraiser raised $1,622 through donations and sales, which went directly to El Salvador to provide material to make the reusable period pads and expand the program to serve more women.

“Kirsten is such a great young lady,” Snyder said. “We truly enjoyed spending time with her in El Salvador last summer. She was a joy to be around. As an athlete, she had a great time hands-on with some of the beneficiaries of our programs.

“As a student, you can see her research and organizational skills as she implements her vision. As a person, she has great potential for leadership as she has also rallied others to her cause. I’ve been so impressed to work with her on this project.”

Snyder has been impressed and thankful.

“I’m so thankful Kirsten has taken such an interest in El Salvador and is working to educate others on the issues facing women who are marginalized,” Snyder said. “It’s so encouraging to see a high school student using her voice to speak up and draw attention to women’s issues around the world.”

A 5-foot-8, left-handed hitter, Close is a three-year varsity starter in tennis, two-time WPIAL and PIAA qualifier, and a two-year varsity starter in lacrosse.

“I normally play midfield for lacrosse and many times take the draw,” Close said. “I do indoor tennis training (in the winter months) in addition to working out and mental training. I also play a lot of tournaments on the weekends during my offseason.”

This season, she was undefeated at No. 1 singles for the QV girls tennis team. Her teammate, junior Joyce Olawaiye, also was unbeaten at No. 2 singles as the Quakers finished first in Section 5, winning their first section title since 2010.

As a transfer student, Close was permitted to compete for QV during the regular season but was ineligible for any postseason play.

“We were still thrilled to have her join the squad,” QV coach Christi Hays said. “And from the moment Kirsten stepped on the court that very first day of preseason, the impact she’s had on the whole squad has been incredible.

“What she brings is not only her immense talent but also a work ethic that is contagious.”

Future MePower plans include enhancing knowledge of period poverty through social media, hosting more fundraising events, selling T-shirts and planning a service trip to El Salvador for high school students.

Tax-deductible donations can be made payable to “MePower United Corp” and mailed to 324 Broad Street, Sewickley PA 15143 or via Venmo at @kelly-Close-7. Inquiries can be directed to MePowerUnited@gmail.com.

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