How LitShop is Expanding Girls' Horizons in St. Louis - Mary's Pence

Women's Stories  |  Grants

How LitShop is Expanding Girls’ Horizons in St. Louis

LitShop is an organization that encourages building and making skills, literacy, and leadership to empower and cultivate confidence in girls and gender-inclusive youth. Founded by Kelli Best-Oliver, a seasoned educator with over 15 years of experience, the organization emerged from a profound desire to move away from the conventional, test-centric educational paradigm and break the stigma of alternative post-secondary paths. 

After working in education for over 15 years, Kelli found that her enthusiasm for her work was fading as she realized how the traditional educational landscape was failing to meet the diverse needs of students. In many public schools, curriculum prioritizes test scores over engaging and meaningful experiences. Additionally, the focus on high-stakes testing neglects hands-on interdisciplinary learning, particularly early exposure to hands-on building and making.

However, she held firm to her passion for teaching and her community. She says, “I felt that there was something better out there for kids.” This feeling grew until Kelli knew she needed to take action.

She found inspiration after visiting innovative organizations nationwide as a part of a fellowship,  she was struck by one particular organization that taught girls practical skills through hands-on activities. Kelli paired this idea with her passion for literacy and education, and LitShop was born. 

LitShop established three core pillars: building, literacy, and leadership. Together, these pillars serve a common goal of betterment for girls in the St. Louis community. In Kelli’s words: “It gives girls the opportunity to see that given the right tools, they can do anything, and that is something girls need to hear right now. Also, our workshops introduce and empower youth with building and making skills, broadening their career options and opportunities.”

Holistic Education and Programs

LitShop began creating programs and workshops for summer camps and schools in 2019. As the pandemic hit, LitShop programs went online. Today, as they transition away from the pandemic, LitShop is growing. Expanding its physical presence, programs, and reach, LitShop opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in January 2023, demonstrating its commitment to tangible, real-world impact.

LitShop aims to create unique workshops and programs to improve writing and reading, foster creativity, and provide real-world skills in an interactive and lively environment. Currently, they are doing a mini golf design and fabrication project. They have partnered with a local art gallery to design a mini golf hole each of the last three years alongside eight artists. This year, girls must transform a room into a roller rink and incorporate a roller skating theme into their mini golf hole. Girls hone their artistic skills and cultivate essential life skills such as project management, teamwork, and self-expression by engaging in creative endeavors.

Removing Barriers to Ensure Equal Access 

In the context of deep-rooted segregation and racial inequities in St. Louis, it is essential to account for these factors and ensure equal opportunity,” this means we have a more racially and socioeconomically diverse community of participants closer to matching the actual demographics of St Louis.

LitShop’s programs also serve an even broader goal. A 2023 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report indicates that just over 10% of the construction workforce is female. A significant contributing factor to this disparity is the systemic discrimination faced by women joining this workforce, where they usually find toxic work environments.

LitShop aims to challenge these attitudes by training girls and gender-expansive youth and normalizing building and trades in a validating and affirming way. Ultimately, LitShop uses its programs to show girls that they can do anything, despite what others may tell them, and serves as an act of resistance against discrimination. 

Looking Ahead

After opening their first brick-and-mortar shop, they have experienced increased demand. LitShop has already outgrown its new space and intends to move to a larger shop. They are also looking to hire full-time employees to continue serving more girls in the St. Louis community. 

With the help of a grant from Mary’s Pence, LitShop is offering a program titled “Shine your Inner Light,” which involves mindful movement, reading, and light-related projects. This unique program is centered on social-emotional learning and encourages girls to connect to themselves. In the future, LitShop hopes to continue to use grant funds to create and run new and existing programs for girls in the St. Louis community. 


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