Photo: Robin Romback, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Photo: Robin Romback, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

J.G. Boccella is a man who likes to bring people together.

He calls himself a “social change catalyst.” He speaks the unspoken. States the obvious. Comes right out and says what needs to be said.

Boccella believes that young girls need to begin to craft a portrait of their future selves, and they need fierce, successful women who truly care to share their stories and show them the way. He will do just that by bringing middle and high school-aged girls together with the FierceWomenProject.

This wasn’t a planned venture for Boccella, who stated, “I didn’t have a master plan, I just followed the energy and just said, I’ll see where this goes!”

It started as Boccella simply using his artistic talent to paint portraits of successful women. After he had completed a few of them, he realized, in his words, that he had some “fierce” women emblazoned in his art. Boccella then made the decision to turn what began as just a few paintings into a full project, painting as many powerful women from diverse places and backgrounds, as possible. When the women in the paintings learned what he was trying to do, they saw the bigger vision as well, and strongly encouraged him to grow the project further.

There are criteria for those eligible to be in one of Boccella’s paintings: “I wanted women who really care about mentoring young women and girls, and youth leadership development,” he says, “women who care about giving back. We may take some women who don’t fully meet those criteria, but they have to be super fierce!”

Our own, Dr. Shellie Hipsky, Boccella says, “was a natural fit.” Hipsky’s recent Common Threads Trilogy and her endless contributions to the community made her perfect for the FierceWomenProject. Hipsky was a speaker at one of the tour’s most recent stops at Carnegie Mellon University, engaging with the young women involved in the project and learning about the three core elements of the project: leadership development, mentoring, and men as allies.

13220506_1000976669995415_9040941569185189257_oBoccella believes that the first two core elements are obviously crucial in helping the girls in attendance to craft a mental portrait of their future selves. Before arriving at the tour stops, each girl will have viewed Boccella’s website. On the day of the event, each girl will meet with the speakers, listen to short speeches, and then be able to ask them questions and work with them on Boccella’s book The Official FierceWomen Vision Book, which is a step by step guide on how to build an effective vision board and helps the girls to grasp their sense of what’s possible in their lives.

The most interesting core element that Boccella incorporated into the program was having men as allies. Boccella felt strongly that this was a hidden demographic which could provide important support. “Lots of guys support women and equality, they just don’t rally or protest. They feel things should be equal, but they don’t speak up,” he added.

As a result, Boccella added two men as speakers, in addition to the fourteen women participating in the FierceWomenProject. He felt that it was just as important to see men alongside the female speakers, men who truly cared about the young women in attendance and wanted to see them succeed. It was important for the girls to see their faces and hear them voicing their support.

The most important point that Boccella wants to get across is that the speakers care about their audience, and that they value the opportunity to share their stories. He hopes that the FierceWomenProject will teach young girls important lessons that will prepare them for future happiness and success. And yes, everyone in attendance will be super fierce!